It’s no secret the Dallas Cowboys have put more resources in their offense than defense.
They’ve invested five of their past seven first-round picks on that side, and it’s paid off with one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
But, as legendary coach Bear Bryant once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”
And the Cowboys’ defense might be peaking at the right time for the organization to legitimately feel it could snap a 21-year championship drought this season.
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The defense has held its past two opponents to 15 points (Minnesota) and 10 points (New York Giants), respectively, and is coming off a game against the Giants in which it produced multiple sacks and takeaways for the first time this season.
“I’m very proud of how our defense is playing,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It’s very encouraging.”
But the Vikings’ offense is ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams and the Giants’ offense is ranked 27th, so it remains to be seen whether this is purely a mirage. The matchup Sunday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be a telling sign of many strides the defense has made since giving up 505 total yards to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving.
The Bucs’ offense is ranked 15th, but Tampa Bay, with a five-game winning streak, is arguably the hottest team in the NFL.
“This week will be a tough test, the Buccaneers are playing extremely well on all levels,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “For us, we know we’re going to have to continue to improve if we want to play well.”
It might not look like we played a good game of defense, but that’s what we needed to do that game. There was no flashy plays or anything, but we got what we needed to do done.
Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford
Lee’s play is among the biggest reason for optimism. He set a franchise-record with 22 tackles against the Giants.
But the Cowboys also know they have to continue getting a sustained pass rush, which will be more difficult this week with DeMarcus Lawrence out with a back injury.
The Cowboys have had three sacks in each of the past two games but are still on pace for just 32. That is more than they had in 2015 (31) and 2014 (28), but could be a downfall in the playoffs.
Defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks, downplayed the notion that the pass rush has been shaky. Crawford pointed to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli adjusting the game plans to simply get the team a win as a reason why the statistics might be underwhelming to some.
“It might not look like we played a good game of defense, but that’s what we needed to do that game,” Crawford said. “There was no flashy plays or anything, but we got what we needed to do done. That’s a lot of what we do.
“Not a lot of people might understand that because they like seeing sacks, interceptions, PBUs [passes broken up], all the good stuff that comes with the game of football. But where Marinelli calls his defense is real simple and easy and gets the job done.”
Crawford also didn’t like the notion that the defense might be underappreciated because the talent isn’t as strong as it is on offense. In fairness, the defense has its share of talent, with first-round picks such as safety Byron Jones and high-dollar players such as Lee, Crawford and cornerback Brandon Carr.
“For someone to tell me we don’t have any talent on the defense is BS to me,” Crawford said. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They can be entitled to it as far as we go with this.”
Carr echoed those thoughts and understands why. He joked that his own kids know more about the offensive standouts such as Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott than defensive guys.
Defense is the dark side. We like that. It’s gritty. We’ll get our accolades in due time.
Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, on the defense not being appreciated
“That’s the nature of the game. Defense is the dark side,” Carr said. “We like that. It’s gritty. We’ll get our accolades in due time. Our biggest mission and goal is to get a couple hours away from here [for the Super Bowl in Houston], so they can talk whatever they want to talk. We’re going out there trying to make plays.”
If the Cowboys continue to make plays on defense, the cliché of “defense wins championships” might ring true once again.
Carr is a firm believer in it and so is Marinelli, who coached the defensive line during the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run in 2002.
“I believe it. No question. We did it in Tampa,” Marinelli said. “But I just think it comes down to how do you manage a game. Whatever it takes.
“We know we have a terrific offense, so don’t give up easy plays, big plays, to the best of your ability. Then get tightened up in the red zone and force field goals. We’re hoping we’re going to score seven, or might even block it. So it’s like that. You just play that way. Whatever it takes to win.”
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers
7:30 p.m. Sunday, KXAS/5
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers
7:30 p.m. Sunday
Radio: KRLD/105.3 FM; KMVK/107.5 FM (Spanish)
The line: Dallas by 7