Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys’ defense is playing better than expected

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain gets a sack on Bengals QB Andy Dalton during the third quarter Sunday. McClain had a career-high 1 1/2 sacks.
Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Terrell McClain gets a sack on Bengals QB Andy Dalton during the third quarter Sunday. McClain had a career-high 1 1/2 sacks. Special to the Star-Telegram

For as much credit as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are getting for the early-season roll of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense, the defense is jelling and playing just as well.

The defense pitched a shutout for three quarters Sunday against a Cincinnati Bengals team that has made five consecutive postseason trips. The Cowboys also have yet to allow a 100-yard receiver.

That says something, considering that the Bengals had the top receiver in the league going into the game, A.J. Green. The Dallas defense had already faced elite receivers such as New York’s Odell Beckham Jr., Washington’s DeSean Jackson and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery this season.

“[Green] has gotten a lot of attention his whole life and he always seems to be productive,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday. “So it was a real challenge for our corners outside. Mo [Claiborne] and Brandon [Carr] had to play well in this ballgame. They were going to be out there by themselves with him at different times in the game, and each of those guys really stepped up. They were physical with him at the line of scrimmage, physical with him at the point of the catch. They did a good job.

“I also thought the pass rush and affecting the quarterback gave him less time to give those routes downfield a chance to develop. It all works together. Rush and cover work together.”

The Cowboys had a season-high four sacks in the game, and the pass rush seems to be getting better and better. DeMarcus Lawrence returned and played 17 snaps, and Terrell McClain continued to be a force inside and recorded a career-high 1  1/2 sacks.

Garrett, though, wasn’t entirely pleased with the defensive effort. Sure, he liked that the Bengals had to punt five times and missed a field goal on their first six possessions, but wasn’t happy with the two late TDs they scored.

“You just have to keep the standard high for that,” Garrett said. “The two scoring plays are things very directly where we missed a coverage and we didn’t have the right leverage. Those are the things that you want to bring up to your team and get better at.”

And, even though Cincinnati rushed for less than 100 yards as a team, it did average 5.1 yards a carry.

Romo talk

Quarterback Tony Romo underwent an MRI on his back Monday, and the results were positive, as expected, according to a source.

Owner Jerry Jones said after Sunday’s game that he expected good news on Romo’s back and that the compression fracture in the lower back has fully healed.

But Garrett deflected questions about a pending quarterback controversy between Romo and rookie Dak Prescott, and wasn’t ready to give a timeline for Romo’s return.

“[Romo] is working hard with our trainers, he’s working hard with our strength coaches, he has been throwing a little bit the last week or so,” Garrett said. “Depending on how he feels with the work, you try to ramp him up each day as we go. It takes a lot of feedback, the player has to be honest with you about how he’s feeling, then you make your decisions from there.”

Garrett added that he felt it would be “a little bit further down the road” before Romo would be able to work his way into team drills on a limited basis.

As far as the QB situation the Cowboys could face in the coming weeks, Garrett said: “You certainly want to have competitive situations on your team, there’s no question about that. One of the things that we’ve really strived to do a better job of with our team this year is if someone does go down, have a guy who can go in there who can play and allow us to function.”

Injury updates

Wide receiver Dez Bryant has missed the past two games, and he’s not expected to play Sunday at Green Bay.

Bryant is dealing with a hairline fracture in his right knee, and the Cowboys could take advantage of getting Bryant extra rest with the bye week coming up after the Green Bay game.

Garrett acknowledged that the bye week factors in to some of the organization’s decision-making.

“Sometimes you evaluate injuries like that, but I think what you try to do is you try to see who’s going to be available for the game independent of that as much as you can,” Garrett said. “These games are important. You’ve got 16 of them, so all hands on deck every week if guys are available.”

Left tackle Tyron Smith returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing two games with a bulging disk in his back, and Garrett said the All-Pro came out of the game fine physically.

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison