Spagnola: Defense Takes Another Step In Right Direction


Not only did the Cowboys have two interceptions, but they also got their hands on nine other Jake Locker pass attempts.

         Like, all that man defense they were playing, all three corners – Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore – turning in encouraging performances.

         And this Rolando McClain kid? And really, with only three years of NFL experience going into this season, he's still a kid at 25. Did someone tell me when he showed up the first of July that he hadn't played in a football game since Nov. 25, 2012?

         Well, now he's played in two, trying to cover for Lee's absence. He had 12 tackles in the first game. He had seven more against the Titans, along with one sack, one interception that if not whistled incomplete would have been about a 65-yard return for a touchdown, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.

         Man, can't wait until he's played his third game in the past 22 months. Talk about a physical, athletic dude with great hands whose tackles are usually just … just … well, violent.

         My guess is you saw Henry Melton out there, starting his first game since the third week of last season when he tore his ACL playing for the Bears. He tipped the pass McClain intercepted. He was getting a push, earning a half sack. You noticed Kyle Wilber out there, too, rushing on some nickel downs from the weak-side defensive end spot, earning himself the other half of that sack.

         Even Terrell McClain got on the field for the first time, and Anthony Spencer tells me he's planning on at least starting individual drills at some point this week in practice. And who knows, the Cowboys should get Scandrick back from his four-game suspension once all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted on the revised NFL drug policy.

         Bring on the reinforcements.

         Now, having said all this, guarantee you defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will not be satisfied with the pressure on Locker from his rushmen. Yeah, two sacks, but too many times he had the time of day in the pocket. [embedded_ad]

But at least he did not sit back to allow the Titans to dictate to him. He blitzed. Blitzed linebackers. Blitzed Moore out of the slot.

         Remember, Jake Locker is not Drew Brees, and he's showing up in two weeks, although, what, the Saints are 0-2? Got beat by Hoyer Football? Guess the Saints can mail it in now, right? How will anyone take them seriously again because we know what happens to 0-2 teams?

         OK, what you say, let's move on to Week 3? Let's see if a defense made up of a bunch of guys no one knows their names can take another step in the right direction.

         And remember, this isn't me after the game. Just going by those numbers up there. They're doing all this yakking.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Let the numbers do the talkin'.

         The Dallas Cowboys held the Tennessee Titans to 314 yards. Only four times last year did the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense hold an opponent to less, and one of those was 313.

         The Cowboys intercepted Titans quarterback Jake Locker twice. Last year's third-worst defense in NFL history had just four interceptions the final eight games.

         The Dallas Cowboys led the Tennessee Titans 16-0 at halftime Sunday afternoon. Only once all of last year did the worst defense in franchise history hold a team scoreless in the first half, that being Philadelphia the first time around.

         The Dallas Cowboys held the Titans to a grand total of 68 yards on six first-half possessions. Normally for last year's historically-bad defense that would be an opponent's first-possession total.

         The Dallas Cowboys held the Titans to two first-half first downs.


My guess is they never did that last year. Ever. (OK, I'm wrong, leave it to the Rams. They had but one, 20 fewer than the Saints did on their way to setting the NFL single-game record.)

         And how about this? This Cowboys' no-name defense, the one still without the long-gone DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, the one playing without the likes of Sean Lee, Orlando Scandrick, DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Spencer, along with missing defensive co-captain Justin Durant in this game, had pitched a shutout for four consecutive quarters – the first two Sunday here at LP Field and the final two in the previous Sunday's season opener against San Francisco.

         I do not fib. Saw it with my very own eyes in the Cowboys' 26-10 victory Sunday over a Titans team everyone had been hailing as tough following its opening-game 26-10 victory (yep, same score) at Kansas City, yet another striking example that you should never, as Jason Garrett likes to say, write the history of a team's season after the very first week.

         Not the Titans (1-1), and maybe even not that of the Cowboys (1-1), as many were doing after that 28-17 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, when four turnovers certainly did them in and already had the wolves calling for Garrett's head, along with searching the list of 2015 draft eligible quarterbacks, defensive tackles, defensive ends, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties, which just about covers the gamut on defense.

         And now, guess we might as well play the final 14 games of the season since the Cowboys did not begin the season 0-2, which we were told all last week teams doing so rarely, if ever qualify for the playoffs. Praise 1-1, as if one victory will or should change everyone's minds about what they think of this 2014 edition of the Cowboys.

         Am I right?

         Just like had the Cowboys won that final preseason game playing with and against a bunch of slappies to stave off 0-4 would have made you feel infinitely better about this team. The lesson being, don't get caught up in the rhetoric, and remember as Cowboys offensive play-caller Scott Linehan said of his side of the ball rushing for 220 yards, 167 of those by DeMarco Murray, "Again, it's one game, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."

         But if the Cowboys defense's first-game performance was encouraging, really holding San Francisco to only two touchdowns without the benefit of interceptions, then Sunday's second performance was at least a step in the right direction. Especially considering the rather modest – a highly polite term in this age of political correctness – expectations.

         Aside from the Cowboys' inability to cover the tight end – Delanie Walker caught 10 for 142 yards and a 61-yard touchdown – the Titans wide receivers were limited to just seven catches for 83 yards.


Not only did the Cowboys have two interceptions, but they also got their hands on nine other Jake Locker pass attempts.

         Like, all that man defense they were playing, all three corners – Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Sterling Moore – turning in encouraging performances.

         And this Rolando McClain kid? And really, with only three years of NFL experience going into this season, he's still a kid at 25. Did someone tell me when he showed up the first of July that he hadn't played in a football game since Nov. 25, 2012?

         Well, now he's played in two, trying to cover for Lee's absence. He had 12 tackles in the first game. He had seven more against the Titans, along with one sack, one interception that if not whistled incomplete would have been about a 65-yard return for a touchdown, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.

         Man, can't wait until he's played his third game in the past 22 months. Talk about a physical, athletic dude with great hands whose tackles are usually just … just … well, violent.

         My guess is you saw Henry Melton out there, starting his first game since the third week of last season when he tore his ACL playing for the Bears. He tipped the pass McClain intercepted. He was getting a push, earning a half sack. You noticed Kyle Wilber out there, too, rushing on some nickel downs from the weak-side defensive end spot, earning himself the other half of that sack.

         Even Terrell McClain got on the field for the first time, and Anthony Spencer tells me he's planning on at least starting individual drills at some point this week in practice. And who knows, the Cowboys should get Scandrick back from his four-game suspension once all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted on the revised NFL drug policy.

         Bring on the reinforcements.

         Now, having said all this, guarantee you defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will not be satisfied with the pressure on Locker from his rushmen. Yeah, two sacks, but too many times he had the time of day in the pocket. [embedded_ad]

But at least he did not sit back to allow the Titans to dictate to him. He blitzed. Blitzed linebackers. Blitzed Moore out of the slot.

         Remember, Jake Locker is not Drew Brees, and he's showing up in two weeks, although, what, the Saints are 0-2? Got beat by Hoyer Football? Guess the Saints can mail it in now, right? How will anyone take them seriously again because we know what happens to 0-2 teams?

         OK, what you say, let's move on to Week 3? Let's see if a defense made up of a bunch of guys no one knows their names can take another step in the right direction.

         And remember, this isn't me after the game. Just going by those numbers up there. They're doing all this yakking.

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