Yesterday, I published my quarter-season awards for the Cowboys offense. It’s the defense’s turn today, and my job was made a whole lot more difficult because, despite a slow 2-2 start, there have been a lot of solid individual performances thus far in 2012. Here are the defensive MVPs for each unit. . .
Defensive Line: NT Josh Brent
With Jay Ratliff sidelined for the Cowboys’ first four contests, Brent has quietly been really stout inside. Even a casual observer of the defense can notice that opposing offensive lines simply haven’t generated the same push we’re accustomed to seeing. A big part of that is Brent’s strength inside, where he has a 7.6 percent tackle rate. That’s remarkable for a nose tackle. In comparison, Ratliff’s 2011 tackle rate was 3.6 percent.
It will be interesting to see how Rob Ryan uses Brent and Ratliff once the veteran returns. I really think the defense could benefit from leaving Brent at nose tackle and playing Ratliff at end, at least on early downs. In passing situations, Ratliff’s small frame isn’t as much of a liability at nose tackle. Plus, Brent thrives against the run, playing it on 60.3 percent of his snaps.
Linebackers: ILB Sean Lee
If I were to choose two defensive MVPs for the Cowboys, they’d be Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware. If we’re categorizing both players as ‘linebackers,’ however, I’m going to pick Lee by just a hair. Lee has just been sensational in 2012, racking up a tackle on 19.6 percent of his snaps. That’s the highest rate in the NFL right now. Lee has also allowed only 5.0 yards-per-attempt while in coverage.
That’s not a shot at Ware by any means, of course. The guy is on pace for 20 sacks, and his run defense has been as good as ever.
Secondary: CB Brandon Carr
Carr experienced his first struggles of the season against Brandon Marshall on Monday night, but overall, the Cowboys have to be pleased with what they’ve gotten from Carr so far. Carr has been targeted only 3.5 times per game, surrendering 125 yards. That 8.92 YPA is average, but allowing 31.3 yards per game is outstanding. Prior to the Bears game, Carr allowed three receptions and a 37.5 percent completion rate. Carr’s flexibility to adapt to various schemes and even play different positions has allowed the Cowboys to be creative in how they attack offenses.