ARLINGTON, Texas – The biggest bright spot Sunday night for the Cowboys’ starting defense, which is a work in progress to put it kindly, was safety Gerald Sensabaugh’s playmaking.
Sensabaugh made a spectacular leaping pick on the first unit’s final snap, although the interception was overturned after a review, with the referees ruling the heel of his right foot landed out of bounds. Sensabaugh also forced a fumble with a vicious hit on Chargers running back Mike Tolbert in the first quarter.
The near pick was pretty. The forced fumble was painful, but that’s the play that Sensabaugh was most proud of.
“It was good to go in there and get a hit,” said Sensabaugh, who buys into Jason Garrett’s emphasis on the importance of winning the turnover battle. “I know I need to work on that aspect of my game.”
Sensabaugh proved down the stretch last season that he has some ballhawking skills, making three of his career-high five interceptions in the final four games. He hasn’t forced a fumble during his two seasons in Dallas.
Abram Elam’s ability to get the ball loose stood out to Sensabaugh as he studied film of the Browns running Rob Ryan’s scheme the last two seasons. Elam forced three fumbles in the last two seasons and six in the last three years. That’s an element Sensabaugh wants to add to his game.
That means an emphasis on trying to rip the ball out when a running back, receiver or tight end is stood up but still fighting for yardage. It also means being a physical tackler, which Sensabaugh wasn’t often enough last season.
The forced fumble Sunday night was a simple case of being physical. Sensabaugh unloaded on San Diego’s Mike Tolbert, who is built like a fire hydrant at 5-foot-9, 243 pounds, getting low enough on a textbook form tackle to put his facemask on the ball and jar it loose.
Sensabaugh ended up on his back, but so what? The ball ended up on the ground, although the Chargers recovered.
“It was a good hit,” Sensabaugh said. “My neck’s kind of sore now, but I’m all right.”
If Sensabaugh can be a consistent playmaker, the odds of the defense being all right increase significantly.