The Dallas Cowboys' offense, which averaged better than 40 points per game in December, sputtered through the first half of Sunday's Wild Card playoff game against Detroit and the Lions' stellar defense. While that was happening, the Lions built a quick 14-0 first-quarter lead, including a long, sustained drive that killed the Dallas defense.
After that point, the defense buckled down and looked completely different, and that is thanks in large part to first-year defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the former Lions head coach who led them to a 0-16 record in 2008.
Over the final three quarters, the Cowboys allowed just two field goals. They held Calvin Johnson to 85 receiving yards after he torched the Cowboys for 329 receiving yards last season. They sacked Matthew Stafford three times, and pressured him several other times, and they collected three turnovers even though they gave one right back.
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In that first quarter, the Lions' dominated the game, from the offensive line back to Reggie Bush, Golden Tate and even Stafford on the ground, after he juked Tyler Patmon on a third-and-long run for a first down on their second scoring drive.
But after that first quarter, the defense started the Cowboys' comeback. After halftime, especially, the Cowboys defense was downright dominant against an albeit pedestrian Lions offense. That's all about adjustments and coaching, because we all know the Cowboys don't have superstars on defense, especially after they lost Rolando McClain to injury.
Marinelli took over a defense this year that was historically bad in 2013, and that defense lost arguably its three best players in DeMarcus Ware, James Hatcher and the season-ending injury in OTAs to Sean Lee. There was no reason to believe the defense would be better in 2014, and definitely not good enough to win a ballgame.
But that's exactly what happened on Sunday in a playoff game. The Cowboys' defense won that game, and Marinelli deserves NFL assistant coach of the year for that performance, alone.