IRVING, Texas –This is the time of year when All-Pro teams are being distributed. The Pro Bowl has already been announced and will be played at the end of the month.
Whether the players are formed by the entire league or just their respective conference, we've once again formed our list, based solely on the opponents the Cowboys played this year, and more importantly, how they fared in the game against the Cowboys.
The Cowboys faced perennial defensive studs such as Ray Lewis, Justin Tuck and James Harrison but none of them are on this list. It comes down to their performance against the Cowboys this season, whether it was from one game or two games.
Today, we'll break down the defensive unit:
Michael Bennett, TB – The brother of former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett spent most of the day in the Cowboys' backfield. Bennett filled up the stat sheet with two sacks, four tackles, including two for loss with a forced fumble and pass deflection.
Jason Pierre-Paul, NYG – Obviously, JPP didn't have the same impact in these two games as he did a year ago, but he was still quite disruptive, especially in the second game at Cowboys Stadium. Not only did he have a sack, but displayed his athleticism with a leaping interception and touchdown return.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Graham, PHI, Juqua Parker, CLE
Geno Atkins, CIN – By the time the Cowboys faced Atkins, he was a household name around the league. And he was as advertised, getting four tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and one quarterback knockdown as he controlled the middle of the interior line.
Gerald McCoy, TB – With his teammate Michael Bennett dominating the outside, McCoy worked the middle, with four tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Honorable Mention: Henry Melton, CHI; Ahtyba Rubin, CLE, Linval Joseph, NYG; Jonathan Babineaux, ATL.
Lance Briggs, CHI – The Bears shut down the Cowboys' offense for a Monday night win, and one of the key plays was an interception return by Briggs 74 yards for the score. He also added six tackles and a forced fumble, as Chicago's defense was simply too strong on this night.
London Fletcher, WASH – After getting a key interception in the second quarter of the Thanksgiving Day game, Fletcher made an even bigger impression in the season-finale showdown. He sacked Romo twice, recorded 11 tackles, with two for loss, and was all over the field while helping his team claim the NFC East title.
Luke Kuechly – It wasn't a flashy game for the rookie linebacker, but he did end up with 15 tackles, including nine solo stops. Kuechly also recovered a fumble by Miles Austin in the open field.
Honorable Mention: Lawrence Timmons, PITT; Brian Urlacher, CHI; Vontaze Burfict, CIN
Brandon Browner, SEA –Entering the game, we all thought this would be a mismatch area in the game, and it was, just not the way we thought. Browner and teammate Richard Sherman out-manned the Cowboys' receivers all day. Browner had four tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in the Seahawks' convincing win.
DeAngelo Hall, WASH –Remembered more for an open-hand slap to Dez Bryant's face on Thanksgiving, Hall still had two productive games between the whistles with an interception in the first game and an even better performance in the season finale. He matched up with Bryant for most of the day and held him without a touchdown for the first time in eight games.
Honorable Mention: Richard Sherman, SEA; Charles Tillman, CHI; Aqib Talib, TB; D.J. Moore, CHI
Stevie Brown, NYG –In the first game, Brown had no defensive stats and just two special teams tackles. But he's on this list for the second game, in which he had two of Tony Romo's four interceptions.
Major Wright, CHI –The Bears were forcing all kinds of turnovers and the Bears safety had two of Romo's five interceptions. Wright was likely the beneficiary of a steady pass rush by the Bears and the fact Romo was in the mode of forcing the ball, trying to get his team back in the game.
Honorable Mention: Kam Chancellor, SEA; Chris Conte, CHI; Reggie Nelson, CIN
John Ryan, SEA – Seattle didn't have to punt often, but of Ryan's four punts, he averaged 53.8 yards and had two downed inside the 20. He made sure field position was a problem for the Cowboys, who had trouble driving on the Seahawks' stingy defense all afternoon.
Joshua Cribbs, CLE – While he didn't score a 98-yard touchdown like Johnson from the Eagles, Cribbs had a pair of 20-yard returns that led to touchdowns for the Browns and was more of a difference in the game.
Honorable Mention: Demaris Johnson, PHIL