Cowboys’ defense had help looking good, but that’s OK

(Yes, Nick Foles was terrible. So was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley).

What scientists thought to be impossible a few weeks ago is now a distinct possibility: the NFC East can get worse. The beneficiary are your Dallas Cowboys, who left Philly with a gaudy 3-0 record against their division buddies so far this season.

With a special tip-of-the-cap to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, the Cowboys are in first place in the division with the only winning record among the four teams. They are here because their defense is just barely ahead of its putrid pace a year ago.

The easy thing to do is acknowledge the wart-covered nose on the NFC East’s face — this division is four-team bottom heavy; one week from now the Cowboys will likely be 4-4 after losing in Detroit and its real quarterback in Matt Stafford, yet still in first place.

That’s for next week. Today is about the one guy who deserved this moment. Sunday was more proof that it’s seldom about the coordinators, and the players they have. Sunday was about The Old Man and the D.

(Yes, Nick Foles was terrible. So was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley).

When the Cowboys hired Mr. Monte Kiffin away from USC to run this defense the running joke was that he could not stop Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon. That Eagles v. Cowboys would be another showing of Ducks v. Trojans.

“It seems like I would remember that,” Kiffin said after the game.

Chip’s offense averaged about 50 points and over 600 yards vs. Kiffin’s defense.

On Sunday, Kiffin’s D held a Kelly O without a point in a half for the first time in Kelly’s career as a head coach. The Cowboys’ 3-0 half ime lead felt insurmountable.

Would Sunday have been different had starter Michael Vick played? As stated, Nick Foles was terrible as was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley.

Sunday was a three-hour lesson in the difference between the talent disparity that still exists at the top of the college game, the minimal differences that exist in the pro game, and the necessity to have your starting quarterback to have a shot.

Much to Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s credit, their defense shut down an offense that was ranked second in the NFL entering the game. This was a line that was missing DeMarcus Ware and still sacked Foles three times, and intercepted Barkley three times.

The Cowboys’ defense held the NFL’s leading rusher — LeSean McCoy — to 55 yards and a 3.1 yards per carry average.

“I was here two years ago when he went for 180 on us,” linebacker Sean Lee said.

If it had not been for a Tony Romo interception in the second half, Kiffin’s defense would have pitched a shutout.

(Yes, Nick Foles was terrible. So was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley).

If we are going to destroy Kiffin after his defense allowed Peyton Manning to have fun scoring 51 points, he deserves a little blue ribbon when the same unit makes the Eagles look like Oregon Junior College.

(Yes, Nick Foles was terrible. So was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley).

Give the guys up front credit for making life hard on Foles. Career backup defensive end George Selvie continues to pressure the quarterback. Tackle Jason Hatcher is having a Pro Bowl season, and saving the Cowboys’ butts for not addressing the defensive line. He is beginning to see increased double teams and extra help, and he is still making plays.

“There is a lot of pressure in that position and he has really grown,” Marinelli said. “He doesn’t want a ceiling.”

The defense with Sean Lee and without Sean Lee is still striking. The man has the ball skills of a safety and makes plays near at the line of scrimmage. He just needs to stay healthy.

The secondary can make a few more plays, and rookie safety J.J. Wilcox might be in over his head right now, but it looks like he may yet develop into a player.

This defense did not have to be dramatically better to make a positive impact for this team. Just force a few more turnovers, make a couple of more stops and 8-8 becomes 9-7 or 10-6.

That’s what the Monte Kiffin defense is doing. They are plus-six in turnover margin.

If that figure holds, they are going to win the Big 12 North and make the playoffs.

But, yes, it really helps when Nick Foles is terrible, as was his injury replacement, backup Matt Barkley.

And The Big Mac Blog

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