Dallas Cowboys Defense: Rob Ryan's Coming Up Big When Needed the Most

Peter MatarazzoContributor IDecember 20, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 21:  Rob Ryan of the Dallas Cowboys during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The injury Gods haven't been too kind to the Dallas Cowboys this year. Lost for the season, or at least a significant chunk of it, have been starters and key players such as Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Jay Ratliff. 

Add to that list of the players who have been and are currently playing injured and it's mystifying that the Cowboys aren't 6-8 rather than 8-6. But despite certain sequences and stretches of games that remind you of all of the injury problems and how bad the defense can be at times, Rob Ryan's unit has done an amazing job with what is available.

The Cowboys have been doing their best with a patchwork and duct tape defense, sprinkled in with incumbents in the lineup like DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Gerald Sensabaugh, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. 

Players like Brady Poppinga, Michael Coe, Sterling Moore, Robert Callaway and Brian Schaefering are all on the active roster and have been pressed into duty. Some players have literally been signed off the street the week of a game, participated and Ryan has not hesitated to use them. But what choice does he have?

Whether by sheer will or by the nuances of his scheme, Ryan has helped turn around a team that a little over a month ago was sitting with a 3-5 record and teetering on the brink of postseason extinction. Now, despite a multitude of Cowboys on injured reserve, they are 8-6 and in a tie for first place in the NFC East.

The Cowboys are a banged up and emotionally scarred team who have had to scramble for depth. But maybe it took the culmination of a set of circumstances to bring this team together and allow them to look at each other to decide to play for one another. For the defense, this means playing the hand you are dealt, and that is exactly what Ryan has done.

The victory over the Steelers, as well as the game against the Bengals, is probably the most shining example of what Ryan has been able to accomplish. In both games, Brandon Carr came up with his biggest interceptions to date, and most importantly, they were game-changing plays. The Cowboys were also able to get key stops on the Bengals offense and a key sack late on Andy Dalton, which lead to the Cowboys' comeback.

Against Pittsburgh, it was nice to see Sean Lissemore record his first sack of the season, and it came at a most opportune time. Both Ware and Spencer gave their usual solid performances, but this team also relied on the contributions of former SMU defensive back Moore, who limited Heath Miller to one catch in the second half and reserve linebacker Alex Albright, who replaced Ernie Sims early in the game and was flying around the ball.

The beauty of what Ryan has been able to accomplish is most evidenced by the defense's ability to allow the offense to hang around in games while being able to finish out opponents. Pittsburgh's last three possessions ended in two punts and Carr's interception. Not bad for a defense that has six new starters and a bunch of moving parts.

From an emotional standpoint, and a surprising one, the Dallas defense is somehow carrying this team. Tony Romo, Demarco Murray and Dez Bryant seem to have the offense clicking on all cylinders, but the defense has also risen to the occasion and that must be commended by the job that Ryan has done under difficult constraints.

Maybe this will bode well for him when coaching vacancies arise or maybe it won't, but for now, I think everyone needs to let Rob Ryan be Rob Ryan. It might be the Cowboys only ticket to the postseason.