The 2nd in our two-part series, working to assign grades to each respective unit. Make sure to check out the offensive grades here and let us know how we did!
Defensive Line: B
These guys have looked good so far, and that's without all-pro NT Jay Ratliff. Players like Jason Hatcher, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lissemore, and Josh Brent have all made a name for themselves throughout Cowboys nation. Rob Ryan has a solid rotation of fresh legs to throw in there at any given point. Sure, nobody is putting up sack numbers like J.J. Watt is, but he's a freak.
With the addition of the most talented player of the unit (Ratliff), this group should continue to improve. It will be interesting to see if Crawford's looks continue to increase with the return of Kenyon Coleman from injury as well.
The linebacking core has been one of the strongest units on the team, both inside and out. Anthony Spencer has settled into his role comfortably, and is playing like a top-tier run stuffer opposite Demarcus Ware. Ware has been fierce and up to his usual tactics, making big plays and strip-sacks like it's nothing. Both players could begin to receive some pro-bowl buzz if they keep up their production.
On the inside, Bruce Carter has been a revelation. The team signed Dan Connor this offseason in case Carter wasn't ready yet, and Connor's lack of defensive reps prove that that wasn't the case. He looks fast and strong in both coverage and run-stuffing. Haven't seen a whole lot from him in pass-rushing, but that's because he's usually the player subbed out during passing downs. Oh yea, and Sean Lee is incredible. He leads the team in tackles, interceptions, and general bad-assery. Seemingly every play he is somewhere near the ball and making a play. At this rate, Lee will likely surpass Ware as the Cowboys best defensive player by year end.
This grade should be higher, except for the lack of one very important statistic: turnovers. The combination of Carr and Claiborne have looked like a major upgrade over last year's group. Opposing teams cannot simply throw the ball all over the field at will as they've done in years past. Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick have also played well in support of the two starters.
If they can start coming down with the ball, the cornerbacks will overtake the LBs as the MVP's of the defense. Carr and Claiborne are two guys that can make things happen with the ball; now all they need to do is start catching it.
The safeties have been an interesting group so far. They haven't played bad, but nobody has really played great either. The loss of Barry Church will effect this team, but it will take time before we know how much. Danny McCray and Mike Jenkins will likely get the chance to fill his role, and will need to be playmakers when called upon.
Gerald Sensabaugh, while not great, is still a good safety. He is usually in the right position and makes good plays on the ball. As long as he can stay healthy he will play a large part in compensating for Church as well. We also need to see some interceptions and game-changing plays from this group as well. If they can do that, this grade will continue to rise.
The Cowboys' identity as a team has seen a transformational shift from an offensive to a defensive-based team. With the excess of talent on the defensive side of the ball, it's fun to see what Rob Ryan can do with good players. While the lack of blitzing in Seattle was a head-scratcher, the rest of the game plans have been well-designed and well-executed. It's nice to have a good, rock-solid defense in Dallas again, and we have Rob Ryan to thank for that.
Going forward, this unit will need to continue to win this team games. The offense has shown that they're not going to outscore pretty much anyone, so the pressure will be on to make plays every single game. With the likes of Demarcus Ware, Sean Lee, and Brandon Carr, we feel pretty comfortable saying they'll continue to make those plays.
How'd we do? Let us know!!
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