IRVING, Texas – From the statistical standpoint, the Cowboys have the fourth-best defense in the league. Against the pass, no one has been better this year.
And to think, the Cowboys still haven't had one of their best players in the lineup.
That should change this week with the return of defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who has missed the last five weeks with a high-ankle sprain he suffered in the third preseason game on Aug. 25. That injury occurred just a few snaps after Ratliff made his preseason debut, after missing some time with plantar fasciitis.
Ratliff has been inactive the last four weeks and backup Josh Brent has played well, with Sean Lissemore also getting some nose-guard reps.
As usual, Ratliff politely declined a request to speak to the media on Monday. But make no mistake, his coaches and teammates are excited about the return of their four-time Pro Bowler.
"He's worked very hard to get himself back in shape to play coming off the injury," Jason Garrett said on Monday. "He's an outstanding football player and has been for a long time. He makes a big impact on our defense and our football team."
Ratliff's teammate Marcus Spears, who came into the league together at 2005 when they were drafted in the first and last round, said Ratliff is more valuable than people even realize.
"Getting Jay back is like getting three guys back," Spears said. "In the nickel packages, in the base packages and then teams actually game plan for Jay Ratliff. It'll give other guys the opportunity to probably make more plays and have more success because he's in the game."
But don't expect Ratliff to be turned loose right away.
"Well, we've just got to monitor him day by day but he did practice last week," Garrett said. "So we're excited about seeing how he does (Monday) and how the week goes on."
Brent will remain in the rotation even with Ratliff back. Garrett said the same goes for Lissemore and Spears when and if Kenyon Coleman (hyper-extended knee) comes back this week.
"Those guys play so much," Garrett said. "We don't get too caught up in the defensive line who is the actual starter."