Commentary

Blitzes, hard hits set the tone for Dallas

Updated: October 26, 2009, 1:04 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- One of the last players to come off the field Sunday at Cowboys Stadium was a defensive player: DeMarcus Ware.

The Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker was laughing and smiling with the man who signs his checks, owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

There were reasons to smile Sunday afternoon after the Cowboys upended the Atlanta Falcons 37-21.

It was a complete effort from the Cowboys, but the defense made it a little easier with four sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and numerous hits on Matt Ryan, which also led to several hurried throws by the Falcons quarterback.

"You're not going to get a lot of sacks on this team, but the main thing is to make him rattled," Ware said of Ryan, who was sacked only twice coming into Sunday's game. "You've got to get in the pocket and get in his face, and I think we rattled him and like I said, it's not about sacks."

Ryan completed 19 of 35 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His 66.1 quarterback rating was his lowest of the season.

Atlanta opened the game with a 16-play, 80-yard drive that took 8:34 off the Cowboys' lives. Atlanta led 7-0, and the Cowboys' defense looked as if it was in for a long day.

But coach Wade Phillips decided to blitz the Falcons more. He challenged his cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins, to put hard hits on the wide receivers. After Newman was beaten on a touchdown pass, Phillips said something to him as he got to the sidelines.

It was Phillips' way of sending a message: Make plays.

Gerald Sensabaugh, the strong safety acquired in free agency because former Cowboy Roy Williams couldn't cover consistently anymore, handled potential Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.

On the first two plays of the game, Gonzalez had two catches for 11 yards. But he finished with just four catches for 37 yards, with one of those coming in the fourth quarter as the Falcons attempted to mount a comeback.

There was inside pressure from nose guards Jay Ratliff and Junior Siavii. Stephen Bowen, the nickel defensive tackle, also got inside to knock Ryan around.

After that first scoring drive, the Falcons' next five possessions resulted in three punts, a fumble and an interception.

"The first drive, that was our first drive going out there to start the game, the whole season," inside linebacker Bradie James said. "The offense had always gone out there first. It took us a little while to figure out what they were doing, but we were able to make adjustments and make plays."

When the afternoon was nearly over, Ryan had thrown balls over wide receivers' heads and looked slightly tentative in the pocket. Ryan looked more like a rookie.

It was probably the Cowboys' best defensive effort of the season.

"When you get around a guy and hit him, you're also sack hungry," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "But when we get around guys and they feel the heat, it affects them. You might not see it early in the game, but late, you start to see those throws go over guy's heads, throwing into coverage. It's not to take anything away from a quarterback, but it's human nature."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at calvin.watkins@espn3.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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