If Dallas Cowboys fans listened to the predictions from analysts – or really, everyone – during the summer and immediately after the pre-season, no one would have been surprised if we’d all hung up our hats and called the 2014 season a wash before the first snap of the regular season was taken.
But, Cowboys Nation faithful held onto hope that a cadre of guys whose names could hardly be recalled by many would be able to get the job done. Their play over December has shown that hope was not misplaced as they’ve not only stepped up to the challenge.
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But their performance in December and the Wild Card win against the Detroit Lions showed a trend for the Cowboys that should be a welcome factor for Cowboys fans as the team gears up to take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Here are a few numbers to consider:
Average points against allowed: Over the course of the season the Dallas allowed 22 points per game, on average. In December and the playoffs? That average dropped to 19.8.
Average yards per game: The average number of yards per game the defense allowed over the course of the season was 355.1. December and January saw that average drop to 341.8.
Average rushing yardage allowed per game dropped from a season average of 103.1 to 61 during the same time period. Now, on the flip side, average passing yardage allowed experienced in an uptick from 251.9 to 280.8.
Buried in those numbers are additional indications that these guys are playing their best football, exactly when it matters most. Jordan Ross over at CowboysHQ.com tweeted these out on Friday:
- Defensive tackle Nick Hayden had 3 quarterback hurries through the first thirteen games this season. In the last four games alone, he’s had 5.
- Defensive tackle Terrell McClain had four quarterback hurries through eleven games this season. In the last three games, he’s compiled 5 quarterback hurries, a sack and a forced fumble.
- In the first thirteen games of the season defensive end Jeremy Mincey had 3 sacks and 4 tackles for a loss. In the last four? He’s notched 11 quarterback hurries, 4 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss and a pass broken up.
- In the last three games defensive end George Selvie has matched the number of quarterback hits he had in the first fourteen games of the season with three.
- In his first nine games of the season, defensive end Anthony Spencer had 7 quarterback hurries and 3 quarterback hits. Over the last five he’s recorded a sack, 4 quarterback hits, 8 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass broken up.
- Rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence made bold predictions for his debut season with the team, but upon his return the lineup after his training camp injury he only netted 4 quarterback hurries in his first five games. In the last three games, he’s recorded a sack, 6 quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries.
- Linebacker Bruce Carter notched just 1 interception and 5 passes broken up in his first nine games. In the last four? Count ‘em: 3 interceptions and 6 passes broken up.
Now, many will say that any small number of games over the season could be analyzed to death in order to get the statistics you want. It’s a fair point.
But the fact remains that the same players on the defensive side of the ball that no one thought could get it done continue to improve and are clicking at just the right time. Time and time again, that momentum has been what propelled teams to and through the post-season.
While the springtime departure of defensive end DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, followed by the season ending injury to middle linebacker Sean Lee spawned headlines like ‘Cowboys’ Defense Still Relying on Patch Jobs” and had many predicting a backslide from the previous 8-8 seasons, these guys remain committed to one another and to the overall goal of improving their game week in and week out.
Back in October, Justin Durant summed it up best in Peter King’s MMQB piece:
"“We may not be the big household names, but we play hard, I can tell you that. We fly to the ball. Every single guy on this defense embodies the tough, smart and fast guy that coach Marinelli wants in his players. They did a great job finding players who all play this way.”"
With the biggest game of the season – and perhaps each of their careers thus far – on the line tomorrow at Lambeau Field you can believe these guys will continue to play with that mentality and commitment. If they get the win all of Cowboys Nation so badly wants, it won’t matter whether they were 19th or 10th in the league.
All that will matter is that they get to play one week more and #FinishtheFight. And that’s all they and their fans really care about on the stats sheets.