IRVING, Texas – Nearly half the defenders on the field Monday night for the Cowboys weren't starters at the beginning of the season.
The Cowboys were forced to use five backup players in starting roles against the Bears, as the defense waits until the bye week to return closer to full strength. Despite injuries to the typical starters, the makeshift defense allowed just three points to Chicago's offense in the first half.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff, safety Barry Church and defensive end Kenyon Coleman were expected to be out this week. Linebacker Anthony Spencer was questionable and missed the game with a pectoral injury, and Bruce Carter left with a hip issue.
The various ailments and injuries forced safety Danny McCray, defensive linemen Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent and linebackers Victor Butler and Dan Connor into more permanent roles. Those players weren't just content to be on the field. Despite 14 of the Bears' 34 points coming on interception returns, the Cowboys defense expected more out of itself.
"In the secondary, we preach make them go the long way," McCray said. "We gave up those big plays. Nobody is feeling too good on how we did as a unit. If one plays bad, then we all play bad."
McCray said the players thrust into starting roles know what they're doing and have enough experience to be adequate defenders. Three of the top five leading tacklers for the Cowboys were McCray, Lissemore and Brent.
The defense should return to its more traditional look after the bye week. Carter came back at the end of Monday's game, Spencer should have enough rest to recover and owner Jerry Jones said he expects Ratliff to play against the Ravens.
Though he looks forward to the normal starters returning, linebacker Sean Lee said the loss had nothing to do with the new players on defense. "The guys who have stepped up in their roles have done a good job," Lee said. "They're going to continue to get better. Obviously, we want to get those guys back, because they're great players. Guys like Jay, we really rally around. But the guys who are stepping in are doing a good job and working hard."