The scoreboard in San Diego showed a 28-20 loss for the Dallas Cowboys. But for members of the first-team defense, who pitched a first-half shutout and were not on the field for the Chargers’ late rally, the post-game buzz was optimistic.
Especially because four defensive starters _ OLBs DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, DTs Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher _ never took the field while the Cowboys built a 10-0 halftime lead that sent the Chargers into the locker room hearing boos from the hometown fans based on the play of the starters. Reserves for both teams dominated the second-half action.
As a defense, the Cowboys played better against the run than in Monday’s pre-season opener at Oakland, a 3-0 victory. Cornerback Brandon Carr stopped two drives with first-half interceptions, giving first-team DBs three picks in limited duty during the pre-season. The secondary was the most maligned part of the 2011 defense.
Bottom line: The Cowboys’ defensive starters have yet to allow a point during the pre-season. They’ll get their most extended test to date Saturday against the St. Louis Rams (7 p.m., Cowboys Stadium)
“I thought we did a lot of good things. I think we took another step forward,” said inside linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ signal-caller on defense. “The secondary did a great job of causing turnovers when they were starting to move the ball a little bit. We made them earn every yard ... There’s stuff we can correct. But you have guys who are more confident, more polished.”
Players attribute that to being in their second season under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. And to the addition of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, who played together in tandem for the first time against San Diego. Carr had two interceptions.
Although it’s only the pre-season, Carr said it “counts for something” that Dallas’ top defense has yet to allow a point thus far.
“I think it’s huge,” Carr said. “We want to win, of course. But at the same time, we’re out there working as a unit. We’ve only got so many plays to take care of our business. We just continue to build on momentum. The momentum from Monday against Oakland and now San Diego.”
Carr said players realize they have stepped up in areas of creating more turnovers and minimizing long completions, two points of off-season emphasis. The task, clearly, is not finished.
But linebacker Victor Butler, who had the team’s lone sack against the Chargers, said he likes the idea of having Claiborne and Carr manning the corners throughout the regular season.
“I’m truly excited,” Butler said. “With (Claiborne) and Brandon Carr back there, we should be getting coverage sacks out the wazoo this year.”
_ Jimmy Burch