The Cowboys have done some things very well defensively this season, such as pressure opposing quarterbacks, get off the field on third downs and limit red-zone possessions. But there have been enough disappointing trends through the first portion of the season to say that the team has underachieved as a whole defensively.
The team was playing at an exceptionally high level late last season prior to the playoff loss to the Vikings, which was perhaps the best that Wade Phillips' defense had played under his watch in Dallas. But it's easy to forget that the defense was fairly inconsistent prior to that point, not unlike how it has
performed to date.
OLB Anthony Spencer, one of the team's breakout players last season, thinks the team can follow a similar path this time around.
"Very similar (to last year," Spencer told PFW. "We were disappointed then. We're disappointed now. But it's almost the same guys, and we can get to where we were again. We have to."
One of the troublesome spots has been the run defense, which hasn't been bad overall, but the team has played good run defense on seven or eight plays out of 10 and then allowed a few big runs. RBs Arian Foster and Chris Johnson were held to a number of one-, two- and three-yard gains before bursting out for several medium and long runs.
"We're usually pretty consistent defensively," Spencer said. ""It's frustrating. When that happens it has been one or two guys getting out of their gaps on plays. We just have to be more conscious of what our jobs are. If everyone takes care of their own job, we don't have to worry about what everyone else is doing."
The pass-rush numbers have been good, primarily because of Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, and Spencer said that the Cowboys have created enough pressure — and not just sacks — to be successful.
"We definitely can use more, but we're happy with the pressure we're creating. We're not too worried about that. We know we can crank it up at any time," he said.
The solution to getting back to that elite level from last season, Spencer added, is to not try anything radical or different.
"I think we're doing all the things we need to do to be a great defense again," he said. "I am seeing it. It's not happening every time, so the consistency has to get better, but it's all there to be great again."