IRVING, Texas -Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan won't belittle the fact that the Cowboys sit at No. 1 in total defense through three weeks of the regular season.
Ryan said it will be a much more significant feat if his defense remains the NFL's best after 16 games, but he's not ashamed to praise his defense for what it's achieved thus far, leading the Cowboys to a 2-1 record.
"It's exciting," Ryan said. "Our guys have really worked hard for that. We're not making apologies for being No. 1."
Ryan's defense, which is allowing just 250 total yards per game, has dealt with a flurry of injuries within each game. As players limp off, the different looks Ryan provides get tweaked. Now he'll have to deal with the loss of safety Barry Church for the season, while linebacker Anthony Spencer is questionable for Monday's game.
But he said this year's defense is adept at handling injuries because of its depth. With so many players getting hurt, every defender suiting up must be ready to join the starters.
"Everybody has to be accountable for the job that they have," Ryan said. "Whether it's just playing third down, whether it's playing in the middle of the defense, whatever it is, I think everybody's role's important. We have a team here on defense."
The losses on the defensive line and in the secondary are less impactful with developing stars in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter manning the inside linebacker positions.
"We're probably one of the few unique teams that play nickel on third down, as opposed to dime, so we can keep both those guys in," Ryan said. "Most people have liabilities in coverage. These guys excel in coverage. We like to keep both of them out there as much as possible. They've been doing a great job."
Ryan said he's excited about where his defense is at through three games, but he's more excited about where he sees it going. From the coaching staff to the players, he said the defense is functioning together, and no one wants to let anyone else down.
"This group is all in together," Ryan said. "We worked hard last year. We just weren't quite as effective. All our guys believe in each other. They're playing hard. I think they believe in our coaches."
If something is different about this defense this year, it begins with Ryan, who said last week he doesn't want to be a distraction. The usually outspoken and blunt defensive coordinator now carries a more reserved demeanor.
He said he's trying to conform to the way head coach Jason Garrett runs his team, but he's still the fiery, emotional coach he's always been.
"I've always been a loyal guy – a loyal, hardworking guy," Ryan said. "I see the picture better this year. I know our team and where we're going and the direction we're going. Absolutely, I try to advance what Jason's saying, but I'm always who I am."