After a rough start to the season, the Dallas Cowboys defense played with a full deck of cards in a statement victory against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys defense had not forced a turnover since a Week 2 blowout loss against the Denver Broncos. It seems like months ago that rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis picked off a meaningless pass in that 42-17 debacle at Sports Authority Field that was a precursor of things to come – at least for a few more weeks.
But then came Sunday’s Week 7 meeting with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.
Can you say three turnovers and a slew of big plays from the Dallas defense?
Remember how so many media folks were talking about how these 49ers were better than advertised? It seemed like that winless record was a mirage given the fact that San Francisco had lost five-straight games by just 13 points.
Well, on Dwight Clark day in Northern California, the 49ers lost by 30 points to a Dallas Cowboys team that badly needed a win after losing two-straight games at home while also giving up over 30 points in each loss. This defense needed to make a statement, and it did.
Back in action were key players like Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens, Dallas’ top two linebackers who finally managed to take the field together for the first time in 2017. These two vital veterans helped shore up a run defense that had been destroyed in those two home losses against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams, both winnable games had so much as a single big play occurred in the second half of either contest.
49ers running back Carlos Hyde ran for just 68 yards on 14 carries and never got close to the end zone. Hyde posted a 16-yard run and Dallas tackling wasn’t always stellar, but it was more than good enough to prevent San Francisco drives.
We’ve known for a few weeks now that the Dallas offense was starting to look like the unit that all but owned the league last year during the regular season. Sunday offered more affirmation that the combination of Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott will be a force moving ahead.
But the big story on Sunday was the three meaningful points that were given up during the competitive portion of this game that was never much of a contest.
Above all else, the defensive line was the determining factor in this game, which should be music to the eyes of Cowboys Nation. Together for just the second time this season was defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and defensive tackle David Irving. Both posted sacks and Lawrence’s strip-sack-recovery just before the half not only prevented a potential 49ers touchdown, but it cost San Francisco points of any kind just before entering the locker room at the half and just before getting the ball first to start the second half.
Think about that.
If recent history had repeated itself, the 49ers could have easily made this game 20-17 early in the third quarter.
And how about the top highlight of the afternoon: Linebacker Jaylon Smith’s blitz up the middle that blew up rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard and also caused another fumble that the Cowboys recovered.
No, a 3-3 record doesn’t mean that Dallas doesn’t still have some issues. The defensive line, while talented, isn’t deep at all and the same can be said of the secondary.
But all teams are a literal shell and they find some quality depth when they can and where they can.
If the Dallas Cowboys can stay healthy, then Sunday’s blowout win offers proof that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has the tools to dramatically improve a defense that looked all but incapable just two weeks ago.