IRVING -- It's a little early to call the play of the Dallas Cowboys' defense Doomsdayesque.
Three strong games against run-oriented offenses are not enough to draw comparisons to the great Dallas defenses of yesteryear, let alone erase the memory of last year's abomination that featured one of the worst units in team history.
The Cowboys set team records for futility -- ranking last in points, yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2010.
So far, the Cowboys' defense has been a strength, not a liability.
They lead the league in sacks, rank second in yards and are sixth against the run while dominating the fourth quarter of the past two games -- two come-from-behind wins that have them tied for first place in the NFC East.
A truer test is on tap Sunday against the Detroit Lions and an even bigger one lies ahead in two weeks after the bye against the New England Patriots. Both teams feature two of the league's elite passing offenses, averaging 33.7 and 34.7 points per game, respectively.
But the early numbers about the Cowboys' improved defense don't lie, including a league-high number for curse words used and jokes told on the sideline.
Credit the former, latter and everything in between to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for giving the Cowboys' defense its swagger back.
"That is Rob man. I give it all to Rob," said cornerback Mike Jenkins, when asked about the team's renewed swagger and confidence. "It comes from the play of the guys on the team, but he is instilling it. He has great schemes. He makes us feel good. When we are down or somebody makes a mistake, he might tell a joke or something to get us back on track, a little crazy stuff to have you thinking and get your mind off the bad."
Ryan, who has proved to be as brilliant in scheming and creating mismatches for his defenders to exploit as he is profane, has the Cowboys' defense completely forgetting about last season when they couldn't stop anyone on the ground and routinely got beat deep.
First and foremost, the Cowboys have been stout against the run, forcing opposing teams into one-dimensional passing games that has allowed Ryan to unleash his blitz packages and pressures. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware leads the league in sacks with five, but linebacker Anthony Spencer and defensive end Jason Hatcher also have multiple sacks with three and two each.
There's also the emerging and standout play from inside linebacker Sean Lee, who leads the team in tackles (36), interceptions (2) and fumble recoveries (2) and is second in pass deflections, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for September.
Coach Jason Garrett said the players have stepped up, but Ryan's impact, especially without benefit of an off-season to properly install his defense, is quite evident.
"Rob has done a great job installing this defensive system in a short period of time," Garrett said. "I think the thing that's been most impressive is the teams we played the first three games are typically very, very good running teams. If you can take it to the next step and make it difficult on the opposing offenses, the opposing quarterbacks, you can start to be a defense that is tough to reckon with."
The Cowboys acknowledge the upcoming challenges are different because of the caliber of offenses coming up, starting with Detroit. Quarterback Matt Stafford is an emerging superstar. Garrett called receiver Calvin Johnson "the best football player in the NFL" because of his outstanding size, speed and ability to make big plays.
"We are real talented on defense, mixed together with Rob's scheme," safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. "It's an awesome pair."
So far it has been.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.