Two preseason games are in the books, and so are two wins for the Dallas Cowboys. Certainly not the norm in these parts, so why the cause for concern?
Simply put, the defense hasn't lived up to expectations as a playmaking, run-stuffing, drive stopping menace. The Carolina Panthers, 1-15 just one year ago, ran over just about everyone in the Cowboys defensive backfield Saturday night.
Never mind that the Panthers scored on their first three possessions and that quarterback Chris Weinke completed 11 of his first 12 passes and finished 14-of-17 for 101 yards and a touchdown. Carolina also gained 65 yards on the ground in the first half. RB DeShaun Foster carried seven times for 36 yards and Lamar Smith five times for 24 yards.
Foster looked like a Hall of Fame running back on a 27-yard scamper that brought the home crowd to their feet in Ericsson Stadium Saturday night. Foster broke about 5 tackles on is way down the field to set up a Carolina score.
"I still really feel good about these guys," said defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. "I told people we're not the type of dominant defense everyone thinks we are. But I feel a lot better after Carolina than I did after Oakland last week. We may have looked like crap, but I feel better about the things we did."
Strong safety Darren Woodson agrees that the defense has not lived up to expectations through the first half of the preseason. "We just weren't tackling. The only bad thing we did defensively was we didn't tackle better. I don't really think we missed many assignments or anything like that," Woodson said this weekend. "We were in position most of the time, we just didn't make the plays."
Fortunately for Dallas fans, these games are meaningless, and the Cowboys will have actually two more chances to get their act together before they travel to Houston on September 8th to battle the expansion Texans.
"I don't care whether it's a preseason game or a regular-season game, two weeks in a row, we've had trouble stopping the run," DE Ebenezer Ekuban said. "The only way we are going to get to the quarterback is by stopping the run, and the past two weeks we haven't done a good job of it."
The bulk of the problem lies in form tackling. Once a running back is getting through the line of scrimmage, he often is able to scamper for an additional 7-10 yards, simply because guys aren't wrapping up. Mike Zimmer has already hinted around that the team will work more on the fundamentals of tackling this week. "We were flying around and we were pretty physical. We just missed tackles," Zimmer Sunday afternoon.
But don't expect to see the Cowboys come out running full fledged tackling drills in practice. "The only way you can get better at tackling is by having live tackling. You can't do that in practice. But we're not worried." said defensive tackles coach Andre Patterson.
Sure, it's only the preseason and there really isn't a need to be alarmed just yet. Even though most of the starters on defense played for almost 2 full quarters Saturday night; the focus, the concentration, isn't going to be there for a veteran player in an exhibition game. It just doesn't happen too often for a guy that is a lock to make the team.
Zimmer knows it, Campo knows it, and veteran Darren Woodson knows it. "We aren't in any panic mode," said Woodson. "We've got time to fix this, and we can do it."
Concern About the Defense
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