Dallas Cowboys vs. St. Louis Rams Preview: Defense

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Can the defense stop Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams?

It is still unclear whether Sam Bradford will play Sunday, but if he doesn’t, expect them to lean heavily on their talented running backs. I think that Jackson is the best running back the defense has faced all year. He is averaging an astronomical 5.4 yards per carry. The arrival of Cadillac Williams (who surprisingly has more carries so far this season than Jackson) has lightened the load for Jackson; he is averaging around only 10 rushing attempts per game. Last season he averaged over 20 carries per contest. This suggests that he will be much fresher in the 4th quarter.

Jackson has amazing speed and agility for man his size (6’2” and 240 lbs).The key to stopping him is to force the Rams to throw the ball. If the Cowboys can get out to an early lead, the Rams will have to abandon their rushing attack. I will be watching to see if the Cowboys continue to look like they are the best defense in the league at stuffing the run.

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Can Victor Butler continue his stellar play?

If you read my weekly previews, you know that I am huge fan of Butler. Apparently Rob Ryan reads my columns and then follows my advice: he played Victor Butler on 30 snaps against the Patriots, which is more than he has ever played in a single game in his career.

I believe Butler is the best pass rusher on the team other than D-Ware. I don’t think he should start in place of Spencer because Spencer is better at defending the run, but I would argue that he should get more opportunities at rushing the passer. He has been very effective this year. The 4th quarter interception by Sean Lee was a direct result of the pressure Butler was putting on Brady.

What has been interesting so far this season is the multitude of ways that Ryan has used Butler. He has rushed the passer when both Ware and Spencer have been on the field; he has also played as a down lineman when they go to a traditional 4-3 alignment.

I will be watching see how Butler is used, how effective he is at getting after the QB, and whether he is ever utilized in place of Ware. It looks to me like Ware only sits out 1 or 2 defensive snaps per game, yet he is still able to be a force in the 4th quarter. I have to wonder whether he would be even more effective if he was rested a little more often.

Can the secondary continue its excellent performance?

I am probably one of the few who can honestly say that I am not surprised with how well the secondary is playing. I am also one of the few who did not want the Cowboys to sign Nnamdi Asomugha: I didn’t think that he was worth the exorbitant money he was going to get. Moreover, I thought that Jenkins and T-New were much better than everyone was giving them credit for.

Despite the fact that they lost, and they gave up a late TD, their performance against the Patriots was better than anyone could have hoped. They held Brady to two TD’s; they also managed to intercept him twice. Welker was held to a pedestrian 45 yards. This is better than any defense has played against the Pats in a very long time.

I assume that their collective play against the Pats will go along way in silencing the critics of Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman. I am starting to think that Newman’s poor health was largely responsible for his unimpressive play last season.

Jenkins is stating to play with more swagger and confidence. I will be watching to see if he continues to look confident.

Signing Elam looks like a great decision. (Once again: why does no one praise Jerry Jones for the wise moves he makes? We only hear about the mistakes). Elam is not exactly a play-maker back there, but he is doing a marvelous job of doing what Ryan asks him to do: avoid getting beat deep and be a sure tackler in run support.

Sensabaugh has convinced me that he was not the problem last year. It appears that all he needed was a decent supporting cast around him. Our editor had the opportunity to interview Sensabaugh this week, so if you have not checked it out yet, hurry up and do so. Click here to read that interview. Pay special attention to the end of page two where he talks quite confidently and optimistically about the rest of the Cowboys season. One thing that shocked me in this interview was when he described Jason Garrett as “fiery”; he also stated that Garrett’s pre-game speeches were extremely effective in motivating the players. The interview is quite long, but it is well worth the time it takes to read it.