When the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys take the field for the first Monday Night Football matchup of the 2012 season, they'll both be trying to move past disappointing 2011 campaigns. Of course, with the Cowboys, any season that doesn't end in a Super Bowl win for owner Jerry Jones is a disappointment -- which means that Jones has been disappointed since the end of the 1995 campaign. There have been close calls, and teams stocked with a lot of talent in the last few seasons, but Dallas' relative lack of postseason success -- one playoff win since 1996 -- grates on a franchise that has won just 14 games in the last two seasons.
For Cowboys nonpareil pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, the success is based on discipline, and doing more than saying. Ware has always had that modus operandi, but as he recently told ESPN Dallas, the entire Cowboys defense seems to be on the same page more than last season.
"You have Rob Ryan coming in with a new defense, and then having a lockout where the guys really didn't know where they fit in the defense, and then going into the season playing fairly well," Ware said of his defensive coordinator, who ran a unit that finished 16th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, and 20th against the pass. "We are not saying we were the best defense in the league, but we tried our best to do that. Now we have tape to correct ourselves on, and now we have those OTAs and minicamp and training camp. Guys are flying around. They know what's going on. They are not making any mistakes. There are always technical things you can work on, but that's what you want. You don't want mental busts and mental mistakes."
As for the formerly loquacious Ryan, the Cowboys' second-year defensive coordinator has zipped it up to the media, and he's focusing more on fundamentals. Why is this so?
"You know what? It's act before you speak," Ware said. "Just getting out there and doing what we need to do and just let your actions speak for themselves. That's what we've been doing. We've been quiet. He's been quiet. The defense has been quiet. Right now, we are in our little tunnel now in the dark, and eventually we are going to turn our light on."
The Raiders have been trying to turn the lights on for a decade; they haven't had a winning season since 2002. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, acquired in a trade from the New England Patriots in 2009, is trying to roll with a talented but inconsistent front seven that has produced middling results of late. In the first full year of the post-Al Davis era, there are new points of focus in a regime led by general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen -- the seventh different Raiders head coach in as many years.
"I think they have a clear direction in terms of where we want to go as a team," Seymour told San Francisco station KNBR about the new guys in charge. "I really enjoy defensive guys, so first speaking of McKenzie, he's a defensive guy, he knows football, he came from a great organization in the Packers. And understanding there's a way to do anything, so I like where we're headed with him. And then in terms of Coach Allen, he's a no-nonsense, straightforward, smart football guy that you can expect to put you in the right places and make plays. He wants a smart, tough, physical football team, and that's what we're trying to go out and do at this point right now.
"We have our work cut out for us. There isn't a pill that we can take to get through camp or anything like that. But these guys are pushing us and they're letting us know there's no shortcuts to it. So I understand that, the new regime understands that and we definitely are on the right track, headed to where we want to go."
Oakland's run defense was particularly problematic in 2011; only the Carolina Panthers were worse per FO's metrics. "I just think it's attention to detail," Seymour said.I" think we have the talent. I think everyone knows that. It isn't where we don't have talent to get it done, we definitely have that. I just think it's everybody committing to our common goal and being where you're supposed to be. The only thing I can go out and do is do my job, but everyone has to have that same mentality and I think at this point that's what we're building now. So I'm not gonna predict anything at this point, but I definitely will say our run defense will be a lot better than it was last year."
We'll see what happens for the new-look Cowboys and Raiders when they get it going tonight in Oakland.
(H/T: Sports Radio Interviews)
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