Commentary

Cowboys D takes care of business

Dallas made the adjustments and plays necessary to grind out a win at Carolina

Updated: October 21, 2012, 10:41 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett asked his defense to close the show Sunday afternoon.

And when the Carolina Panthers' last efforts of the day were exhausted, it was the Cowboys' defense that secured a 19-14 victory at Bank of America Stadium.

"We trust our defense immensely," Garrett said. "Our defense was outstanding."

[+] EnlargeClaiborne
Bob Donnan/US PresswireMorris Claiborne made the first interception by the Cowboys' secondary in the past 333 pass attempts.

This 2012 season is becoming more about Rob Ryan and his defense than what Garrett is trying to do with the offense.

We're two months into the season, and the Cowboys finally made the adjustments necessary to win a game they desperately needed.

It started with the secondary finally getting a turnover. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's end zone pass in the second quarter was intercepted by 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne.

His pick was the first by the Cowboys' secondary in 333 pass attempts.

Shocking as that sounds, it's true.

"It's good just to get on the board," secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. "And hopefully now they'll come in bunches."

The Cowboys responded to adversity after inside linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the second half with a sprained right big toe. It meant Bruce Carter would call the signals, something he did a little of in Week 2 at Seattle, and veteran Dan Connor saw his snap count increase.

When the game was over, Carter was credited with a big tackle for loss and Connor assisted on two tackles and almost picked off a pass.

And then there was Newton.

In the first half, he controlled the game by rushing for 64 yards, mainly on scrambles out of the pocket where he juked past defenders for a 12.8 yards per carry average.

In the second half, the defense contained Newton in the pocket and got in his face with rushes from nose tackles Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent. There was tight coverage on the outside from the corners and safeties, and when the game was on the line, the Cowboys elevated theirs.

In the second half, Newton had zero rushing yards, just one carry, and he threw for 133 yards.

"We communicated well," Carter said. "The defensive line did an excellent job. In the first half, he got out of the pocket a lot and in the second half, we were able to contain him and make him make plays with his arm. And the secondary, I thought, covered well and I thought that was the difference."

With Carolina down 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Newton completed an 11-yard pass to Louis Murphy. On the next play, under pressure, he tossed a pass to Jonathan Stewart, and Carter was there to smack him down for a loss.

On second-and-11, Newton was knocked to the ground by Ratliff as he threw an incompletion.

Newton found Steve Smith for a 10-yard gain on third down.

Then, the play of the game.

The Panthers were faced with a fourth-and-1 from their 40, and the Cowboys were sending in subs. Ryan isn't allowed to call timeouts, and the referees apparently weren't paying attention to Garrett.

Ratliff was standing in the middle of the field signaling timeout with 2:11 to play as Anthony Spencer was going off the field. Flags flew. Twelve men on the field?

No.

The Cowboys were granted a timeout.

"I don't think it was that close," Ryan said regarding the flags and when the timeout was actually called. "We were calling timeout, trust me I was going to run out there and snap the ball myself. An assistant coach can't call it. Jason is yelling timeout and they didn't listen to him either and we were (expletive) pissed."

After the timeout, Newton targeted Murphy, but Claiborne was there and tipped the ball away.

There appeared to be contact and Murphy wanted a call.

No call.

"We were just man-to-man and the guy ran a quick stop route and I was blessed enough to come down and break it up," Claiborne said. And with a smile he added, "They say I interfered with him, but I feel like I had good coverage."

The defense has to grind out victories from time to time.

Sunday afternoon was that time.

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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