Cowboys defense good enough where it counts

IRVING, Texas - No one has said the Dallas Cowboys have a great defense, which makes sense because they don't.

Then again, their offense is so good this defense doesn't have to be great.

It just needs to be solid -- and it is.

Focusing on how many yards the Cowboys allow per play (6.1) or their puny sack totals (6.0) is a poor way to determine this unit's effectiveness.

We know it's a flawed unit -- it has been that way since Day 1 of training camp -- so it's important to understand what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is trying to accomplish.

Ask any defensive player and he'll tell you the first tenet of the Cowboys' defense is to play as hard as humanely possible until the officials blow their whistle. That's why several times this season, a Cowboys' defensive linemen has rushed the passer than helped make the tackle 20 yards downfield.

Effort can indeed hide a lot of flaws.

The Cowboys were the worst in the league in allowing 79 plays of more than 20 yards last year. Understand, that virtually every scoring drive involves a big play because it's so hard for offenses to consistently drive the ball the length of the field.

This season, Dallas has allowed 22 plays of 20 yards or more. Only seven teams have allowed fewer.

The lack of big plays the Cowboys have allowed corresponds with the Cowboys ranking in scoring efficiency. The Cowboys have yielded just 15 touchdowns in 75 possessions.

Detroit, San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia are the only teams better, and they have combined win-loss record of 25-9.

And only four teams have more the 12 turnovers the Cowboys have forced, impressive considering their lack of a consistent pass rush.

This defense, as currently built, is going to give up yardage, but if the Cowboys keep the big plays to a minimum and keep forcing turnovers, then it'll be good enough to win games with this offense.