Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is as old school as they get.
In leading his unit, he is traditionally fast to condemn and slow to praise.
So despite shocking the NFL with a complete shutdown of the high-flying New Orleans Saints in a 13-10 victory last Thursday, Marinelli refuses to call his defense elite heading into Sunday’s first-place divisional showdown against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cowboys held the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to 27 points below its average and limited Saints quarterback Drew Brees to just 127 yards passing, the second fewest when he played a full game in 13 years.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Now, the Cowboys have the league’s fifth-ranked defense in yards and is second in points allowed, giving up just 18.6 points per game and is the primary reason they are riding a four-game winning streak and in first place in the NFC East at 7-5.
Yet, Marinelli is not satisfied.
“More turnovers, need a few more turnovers,” Marinelli when asked if the Cowboys had an elite unit.
And if they do that?
“We got to keep doing everything,” Marinelli said. “You are not elite until you can be consistently good every single week. You have to constantly build on it. You got to build on it. That’s our challenge each and every week. The challenge isn’t the opponent the challenge is us.”
What Marinelli will acknowledge is that this is the best defense he had since he took over as coordinator in 2014.
He says it’s because they have better players and the best players are the hardest workers, like defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones, and linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch.
“Just sound and simple and we got better players,” Marinelli said. “The talent has grown every year and the talent is playing hard. Sometimes you get extra talent and the talent doesn’t want to achieve like that. Our most talented players are probably our most highest achievers and that helps.”
Smith said the unit appreciates praise from Marinelli but the players are not satisfied either.
“That says a lot. That says a lot. A guy who’s had so much success in his career, to say we’re one of the best he’s had here is a great feeling but it leaves a lot of responsibility as well,” Smith said. “We have to continue to live up to the expectations of what it takes to be a great defense.
Marinelli said the best thing he likes about the defense is they play within the scheme and everyone does their job.
“The thing I really like about them is they make the plays they are supposed to make,” Marinelli said. “They are playing really good team defense right now.”
Said Smith: “Relentless effort to the ball, we care for each other, we play for one another and when someone’s down, you’ve got to pick your brother up. I think that’s just the essence of who we are.”