Crippled by injuries and fraught with new faces, somehow, someway, this defense has managed to field a competitive unit that, even after giving up 51 points to the Broncos, is still ranked 17th in the league in average points per game.
Growing pains were to be expected for a unit changing schemes this season, moving from a 3-4 base to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3. They weren’t supposed to shut down opposing offenses in the first half – they were supposed to get torched at times, and develop into a big-play defense as the season progresses.
But there have been flashes of real promise through the first eight games. Yes, the Cowboys were gashed by elite passers such as Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford, but they dominated lesser quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Sam Bradford and Nick Foles. Experience suggests that will continue this week against Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman.
The Cowboys are 4-4 at the season’s midway point, but they’ve lost three of those games by a combined five points. This .500 team, implementing scheme changes on both sides of the ball and devastated by the injury bug on defense, is literally just three plays away from being 7-1.
If those plays go the other way in the second half, there’s no reason to think the Cowboys can’t go 6-2 down the stretch. They’ve shown through their first eight games that they’re good enough to compete with any team in the league. The reason the margins have been so tight in their losses, is the Cowboys are as good as any team they’ve played.
Some weeks they may need to lean on the offense more than others, but the defensive unit should continue to improve despite the injuries, as the players and the new system are tweaked to fit each other.
So enough with Chicken Little routine. The sky isn’t falling on the Cowboys 2013 season because of a defense that “can’t stop anyone.” In truth, the Cowboys defense is about where we expected it would be at midseason – near the middle of the NFL in points allowed, making game-changing plays at times and getting burned at others.