OAKLAND, Calif. _ For the record, the Dallas Cowboys did something Monday night they had not done in 17 seasons. They pitched a shutout in a pre-season game, defeating the Oakland Raiders, 3-0, in a game defined by vanilla play calls from both offenses.
But the Raiders missed two field goals, never found the end zone and the Cowboys _ who struggled defensively last year in their first season under coordinator Rob Ryan _ hung their first goose egg around the neck of a pre-season opponent since defeating the Houston Oilers, 10-0, on Aug. 26, 1995.
It’s probably jumping the gun but it’s worth noting that those 1995 Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl. But we digress. Back to Monday’s performance and what it means _ or doesn’t mean _ in the grand scheme of things.
To the guys on the field, it meant a lot and served as validation for their training camp talk about being more comfortable in Ryan’s scheme in Year Two.
“Any time you can shut out a team, no matter what game you’re playing, it’s an accomplishment,” said inside linebacker Sean Lee.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” said fellow linebacker Alex Albright. “It’s big for morale. It’s big, especially, for the defense. It’s what we strive to do. Even if it is pre-season, it’s tough to shut out teams in the NFL. I’m very proud of our defense.”
The Cowboys held the Raiders to 253 yards on 67 plays (3.8 avg.) and intercepted two passes. The first one, by safety Gerald Sensabaugh, came on the fourth snap of the game and set a tone, said cornerback Brandon Carr, the team’s $50.1 million, free-agent signee from Kansas City.
“That was a big pick. It came at the right time, on the opening drive,” Carr said. “They had some momentum going. They’d had some successful plays.”
But not a whole lot thereafter.
“It feels good. That means all of our units came in on defense and did what they had to do,” Carr said. “That means keeping points off the board. That’s our goal each week.”
To Sensabaugh and others who were in Dallas last season, it offered proof about the increased comfort level in Year Two under Ryan.
“We’re 100 times more comfortable,” Sensabaugh said. “Last year, we were just kind of thrown in there ... We’re all on the same page (now). There’s no excuses this year. The communication’s awesome.”
Fellow safety Barry Church said: “As long as we’re communicating, the sky’s the limit for this defense.”
Although he cited areas that need to improve, notably against the run, coach Jason Garrett did nothing to dampen the post-game enthusiasm among Cowboys’ defenders.
“The defense did a real good job. I thought our intensity was good,” Garrett said. “Any time you hold an opposing offense to zero points, that’s a good thing.”
_ Jimmy Burch