In the preseason, there seemed to be legitimate reason for concerns that Rob Ryan's defense would not be adequately installed in time for opening day. The starting unit had allowed over 400 yards of total offense, and nearly 30 points.
Most discouraging of all was the way they were being pounded in the running game. Denver, San Diego and Minnesota combined for more than 130 yards rushing against the Cowboys, in roughly a full game of action in the preseason.
Preseason is preseason, yes, but it's all anyone had to go on when considering the progress of Ryan's defense in Dallas. But against two run-first teams to start the season, the Cowboys have done an excellent job.
First, the Jets were limited to 45 yards on the ground, and the 49ers only amassed 71 - 21 of which came on scrambles by Alex Smith. Opposing backs have averaged a measly 2.6 yards per carry against the Cowboys through two games.
"I think it was a growing process," linebacker Sean Lee, the team's leading tackler, said of the preseason. "It's one of those things where we hadn't had OTAs. It's our first time as a group, it's your first time with your run fits. It's a lot of new techniques, a lot different, and I think now that we have it locked in, we're playing faster. We're more comfortable, you can see it."
Ryan's ability to construct a run-stopping defense was one of the things that made him an attractive coordinator candidate for Jason Garrett in the first place.
"I think first and foremost, you have to play sound defense," Garrett said. "That's the most important thing, and I think we've seen that the last couple weeks where we've been able to defend the run in a real sound manner. You have to prevent big plays. We've done that the first couple weeks."