Dallas defense rebounds, but issues remain

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
11:20
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the joyous Cowboys' locker room after an ugly, yet needed 24-21 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher talked about eating a Giant as fake blood streamed down his face.

Cornerback Brandon Carr sat at his stall feeling good despite playing in 25 degree weather at MetLife Stadium.

Carr's teammate Orlando Scandrick, talked with reporters about shutting down the Giants Victor Cruz, who caught two passes for 27 yards on the cold day.

Yeah, the Cowboys' defense was feeling pretty good on Sunday evening.

Maybe one man, the man who counts around here, Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner/general manager, summed up what the defense did on Sunday: "I hate to say the word redeem but I sure thought he and our defense played well tonight."

[+] EnlargeDallas' Jason Hatcher
Photo by Al Bello/Getty ImagesJason Hatcher records one of his two sacks on Giants QB Eli Manning.
The he is defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin who worked some magic, finally. Minus starting middle linebacker Sean Lee, Kiffin installed a dime package for the first time this season to compensate. He moved safety Barry Church, probably the best tackler among the defensive backs, to a linebacker role, Scandrick begged to remain on Cruz, who he battled every snap as if it was a 12-round fight, then he got some gifts from a few no-named players.

There was rookie safety Jeff Heath snatching a fumble out of the air, caused by Scandrick, and taking it 50-yards for the first touchdown of the game.

Kyle Wilber, playing outside linebacker, after starting the season at defensive end, had a tackle for loss on a first-and-goal from the Cowboys' 4, which eventually forced the Giants into a field goal.

In the fourth quarter Wilber and another no-named guy, Drake Nevis, stopped Andre Brown on a third-and-1 from the Giants' 25 to force a punt. Why was this significant? Considering how the Giants rushed for 202 yards on 30 carries against the Cowboys, any stop is a good one.

"It is disappointing," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said of the run defense. "We had some missed tackles (and) we should have had and some fits that didn’t go right. But they were really big gains on us. We're going to see that this week (in film study) and we're going to harp on it and teams are going to attack us that way and we're going to get better there."

Giants quarterback Eli Manning was held to just 174 passing yards and a 1-for-3 effort in the red zone.

"The defense hung in there," coach Jason Garrett said. "They played good situational defense in this ballgame, particularly down in the red zone and it made a difference in this game."

Confidence in Kiffin seemed to be waning after the New Orleans Saints game two weeks ago. The Saints ran up a NFL-record 40 first downs and had 625 total offensive yards, the most the Cowboys have allowed in the franchise's history.

We're not going to even talk about the four quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 400 yards this season, something that's never happened in the history of the league.

The defense has endured injuries this season including to Ware, who said he was 85 percent healthy on Sunday. Hatcher's return from a stinger netted him two sacks and revenge on the smack talk from the Giants earlier in the week.

"I just finished eating a Giant," Hatcher said. "That's some leftover blood. They said blood was going to be shed right?"

Whose blood is it?

"Giants blood from the Giants. I don't know which one it is, but I ate them."

Scandrick and Carr were chirping as well, a little irked, but happy.

"It feels good to shut them up," Carr said of the Giants.

The Cowboys have to move on now because they have their annual Thanksgiving game to worry about against the Oakland Raiders.

This defense, while it should feel good about what it did, might not have cornerback Morris Claiborne next week because he re-injured his left hamstring again. Lee and fellow starting linebacker Justin Durant are still out.

Opponents are still targeting rookie corner B.W. Webb and middle linebacker Ernie Sims isn't looking like a suitable replacement for Lee.

"It's usually called the no-named defense, guys just getting out there and just playing and doing what they needed to do," Ware said. "To get the job done and when guys go down like starters, we still have guys who can go out there and still make plays and really show that it's not a one-person team we can play together."
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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