Nothing about Rob Ryan says Chicken Little. And although the Arizona Cardinals scored on a five-play, 80-yard drive on the first series of overtime last week, Ryan is far from declaring: The sky is falling!
He is quick to point out the Cowboys allowed the Cardinals only 10 points in the second half before Arizona's overtime touchdown.
"Guys, honestly now, I mean, they had a couple of drives there, but with 10 points in a half, that's not anything to jump off a building for," Ryan said before adding, "although people around here are. But don't worry. They won't be this week or any other week.
"...If you want numbers out there, we're in the top 10 in scoring defense, run defense, takeaways, sacks. That's usually pretty good."
For the record, the Cowboys are 11th in yards allowed (330.7). But they are ninth in rushing defense (100.5), tied for second in sacks (35), 11th in takeaways (22), tied for sixth in turnover margin (plus-5) and tied for 10th in points allowed (20.3).
They can be better.
"We've definitely had games when we've played lights-out defense," Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "But we've had games where we didn't put both halves together. During this time of year, we're going to have to put everything together. We're going to have to come out first half and play good. We're going to have to come out second half and play good."
That's how the Cowboys ended the 2009 regular season. They had back-to-back shutouts of Washington and Philadelphia to end the '09 regular season, which led to the team's first playoff victory since 1996.
"That's the type of defense you want to play all the time," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. "Is that a realistic feat? Probably not. You're going to give up some things, because those guys work and prepare hard, too. We just want to be better than the offensive unit we're playing against."
The Cowboys have won four of their past five games, but the defense has not been dominant for four quarters in any of the past three games. They have allowed 336, 352 and 327 yards, respectively, while giving up 24 points, 19 points and 19 points.
The second half has been their bugaboo.
The Redskins had 103 yards and 14 points in the first half and 233 yards and 10 points in the second half and overtime. The Miami Dolphins had 124 yards and six points in the first half and 228 yards and 13 points in the second half. The Cardinals had 49 yards and three points in the first half and 278 yards and 16 points in the second half and overtime.
Ryan, though, takes offense to the idea that the defense has struggled of late.
"I heard someone coming in saying how bad we were," Ryan said. "The bottom line is over the last five weeks we're fifth in the league in scoring defense. That's pretty good. We haven't been perfect by any stretch, but we're playing hard. Our guys are starting to get it. There's a reason we're starting fast: We're really preparing well.
"We're really going to be a hell of a defense here down the stretch."
The Cowboys, though, face the best offense and the best quarterback they have seen in a while. The Giants rank ninth in total offense. Only three offenses the Cowboys have faced this season -- Detroit, Philadelphia and New England -- are better.
Eli Manning is sixth in passer rating. The Cowboys have faced only one quarterback, Tom Brady, with a higher rating.
"The guy's playing excellent," Ryan said of Manning. "He does a great job. He's got an unbelievable touch. He will stand in there in the face of a hurricane and throw the ball. He's really tough. We're looking forward to this challenge. We've played some great quarterbacks during the year, and this guy is no exception. ... He's in that elite group for sure."
Dallas is 2-2 against quarterbacks in the top 10 in passer rating this season, but Ryan's defense has made life difficult for all four.
None of the four passed for more than 300 yards. Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Brady and Matt Moore combined to complete 59.3 percent of their passes for 996 yards with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and an 85.9 passer rating.
"Every week is different. You either stop players or you stop schemes. That's what you do," Ryan said. "...I think the only game we stunk up the joint was when I got out-coached in Philadelphia. The rest of the games, take a look -- a real look -- at how we've done, and we've done a good job in coaching. The thing is also we've done an excellent job of playing."