Heading into this past week, many questioned the Arizona Cardinals defense and if they'd be able to slow down the vaunted offense of the Dallas Cowboys. We heard from the very beginning of the game that the Cowboys should be able to beat the Cardinals with a power running game and that the Cardinals secondary wouldn't be able to keep up with the high powered passing game. The Cardinals ended up holding the Cowboys offense 33 yards under their per game average in total yards and six points shy of their points per game average. While the Cardinals' defense didn't shut down the big plays of the Boys, they did do a good job of disrupting the offense and kept Tony Romo and their running game from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Defensive Line: Considering that Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith made Tony Romo's day in the desert down right miserable, it's hard not to be pleased with their performance. When you add in the fact that Marion Barber and Felix Jones were limited to 67 yards on 20 carries (3.4 avg), their day was nothing short of spectacular. Double D and Smith combined for seven tackles and a sack but they were robbed of their biggest plays.Dockett sacked Romo on their second drive and forced a fumble (that Travis LaBoy recovered), but a quick whistle negated the fumble and left Whisenhunt unable to challenge the horrible call. Dockett had an even bigger play taken away when he sacked Romo on the goal line. The ball squirted loose and Antonio recovered for an apparent touchdown, but that play was overturned by the infamous "tuck rule." Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson also did a good job holding the point of attack and allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and clean up the trash. Calais Campbell had another good game including a big hit on Marion Barber that forced a fumble. Grade: A+
Line Backers: The defensive line wasn't the only unit that stayed in Romo's grill all game long. Travis LaBoy applied as much pressure as anyone on the field and his game was much better than the box score (3 tackles) would suggest. He continues to prove that he's a premier pass rusher and an excellent free agent signing. Bertrand Berry on the other hand, is proving every single week that he's still got some good football left in his blood. He's somewhat limited to a situational pass rusher, playing behind LaBoy, but who can't be happy with a sack a game. Berry logged another sack (one in every game he's played this year) and another forced fumble. Chike Okeafor wouldn't be outdone either as he registered a sack on the Cowboys' first play in overtime and that was also the play that Romo broke his pinkie finger. He and Haggans also registered a handful of quarterback pressures and knockdowns. Inside backers Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes did an excellent job of shutting down the running game and each finished with six tackles. The only black-mark I can put on the backers was Marion Barber's 70 yard touchdown reception. The pass was a dump off and a couple guys, namely Gerald Hayes, had a shot to bring him down. Grade: A-
Secondary: I'm somewhat torn on the job that the secondary did because the overall numbers of the Cowboys looked awfully impressive but watching the game, I thought the secondary was doing a pretty good job. Romo did end up completing over 63% of his passes en route to 321 yards and three touchdowns but 125 yards and two touchdowns came on two big plays. For most of the game, Romo was forced to take dumpoff passes to Barber because of the pressure and decent coverage. Roderick Hood did a very good job on Terrell Owens, whom he was locked up on all day, and Owens finished with just four receptions for just 36 yards. Owens was limited to short, quick routes (his long reception was 10 yards) and he could not get any kind of separation against Hood. Eric Green and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had so-so days. It looked like Green would have been burned on a deep pass to Miles Austin, late in the second quarter, if Romo had not been pressured and hit while throwing. The pass ended up a couple feet past the outstretched arms of Austin while Green trailed the play. DRC wasn't as fortunate though as his big moment of the day came when Austin caught a touchdown while DRC was manned up on him near the goal line. It's tough to tell what DRC saw or reacted to, but it appeared that he almost gave up on the short out route before the ball was even in the air. Antrel Rolle finished with pretty good stats (8 tackles and a pass defended), but his biggest play was a interception that Crayton knocked out of his hands. Rolle continues to struggle in his transition to free safety, although it's tough to tell because he's lining up against slot receivers on a regular basis. Adrian Wilson had a solid, yet unspectacular game and his biggest contribution isn't measurable by looking at his stats. Wilson spent much of the game covering Jason Witten, who finished with his worst game of the season. Aaron Fransisco and Matt Ware also got extensive playing time and Ware had a big play when he was blitzing on a play that snap got away from Romo, resulting in a loss of 16 yards. Grade: B
Overall, the defense had a good game and when you consider the opponent, they might have even had a really good game. The pressure on Tony Romo was amazing and the relentless nature in which DD, Smith, Laboy and Berry attacked the offensive line inspired the team as a whole. They held Barber to his lowest yards per carry of the season and the secondary frustrated Terrell Owens for the majority of the game. Thoughts? Agree/Disagree?