Claiborne’s Career Resurgence Continues As Cowboys Steamroll Bengals 28-14
Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to act like Cowboy fans. At least, not when it comes to the diplomatic front.
Oh, let’s just admit it. We were all so smug with our goodbyes, and, oh, so eager with our good-riddances. Just like a group of ill-tempered adolescents, we verbally swatted ol’ Mo down the stairwell of free-agency this past spring with all the respect of a stubborn piñata.
This past off-season Morris Claiborne, whose name was often confused around these parts with Goodrich and never with Deion, finally ran out of track on the rookie contract he had signed in 2012, setting off a wild and uncouth celebration in the streets of Dallas, never guessing that he would later sign a one-year pact to return to the Cowboys for a fifth season.
That was then. The here and now qualifies as one of the biggest surprises of this young season. Claiborne, for so long a whipping-boy, is currently riding a wave of good play that his him labeled as one of the early-season defensive heroes for the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys.
Credit is due defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for this unlikely turnaround. Caliborne has always had the physical tools to become an effective NFL cornerback, but it was Marinelli who made the key off-season adjustment to jump-start the process. Being the cagey coaching veteran that he is, Marinelli figured that maybe Claiborne’s struggles went far deeper than just getting off on the wrong foot as a rookie. Maybe he was on the wrong side altogether.
It all went wrong for Claiborne over his first four years in the league on the defensive right side. So Marinelli switched him to the left, moving Brandon Carr over to Mo’s former spot. The move has worked wonders for Claiborne, while giving the Cowboys a newfound sense of stability at the cornerback position.
A week ago it was Claiborne coming up with a critical fourth-quarter interception against San Francisco, and then making the decisive tackle in the waning moments that put away the 49ers for good. On Sunday versus Cincinnati, the 27-year old cornerback added to his list of strong outings, helping Dallas to a 28-14 home victory over the Bengals.
You heard the talk all week leading up to the game. There was no way the Cowboys could stop Cincinnati’s league-leading wide receiver, A.J. Green, not after the 173-yard tattoo he put on the Dolphins secondary ten days before. Slow down Giovanni Bernard? Possibly. But not Green. If the betting line was any indicator, Green was likely to be the catalyst that kept the Bengals offense humming in what was anticipated to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses in Arlington.
Though a bona-fide game-wrecker from his wideout spot, Green is no Randy Moss in the sense that he stays on one side of the field for the entire game. So Claiborne didn’t have to tussle with Cincinnati’s big-play target for all of four quarters. But he would have to be ready for those times when Green did line-up across from him. Every play counts when the A.J. Greens of the NFL are on the field.
The Cowboys fulfilled their part of the bargain by starting the game with an authoritative touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. But with Claiborne and Carr locked in, Green was held without a catch on Cincy’s first possession. And then the second. Before the Bengals offense could take the field for their third try, the scoreboard read Cowboys 21, Green 1 catch for 8 yards.
Not until the Bengals came out of the dressing room after halftime did they make a concerted effort to get Green the ball. That’s when Claiborne made his first mistake of the game. His holding call early in the third-quarter directly preceded a 22-yard pass play from Andy Dalton to Green, who found a soft hole in Dallas’ zone defense.
Dalton tried to find Green again on the next two plays, but was turned away twice by Brandon Carr along the left sideline. Frustrated by Carr’s tight man-to-man coverage, Green walked over to the other side to try his luck against Claiborne. On third-and-10, Dalton looked Green’s way again, but was wide of the mark. But a yellow hankie graced the field again, signaling another infraction on the backsliding figure of Claiborne. His pass-interference penalty awarded the Bengals 15 free yards, which moved them into position to cut into the Cowboys’ three-touchdown advantage.
There to keep momentum in the Cowboys’ corner was old Mo himself. Running with Green down the sideline on another third-and-10 play, Claiborne knocked away Dalton’s pass in the end-zone to force the fourth Cincy punt of the afternoon. Claiborne added to another solid day in the Dallas secondary later in the fourth quarter by knocking down another end-zone probe from Dalton. A demonstrative celebration ensued for the newfound playmaker in front of the home crowd. Given time, he could get used to this role.
Claiborne’s deflection essentially put the game on ice for the Cowboys. It was on the next play that rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott broke through the Bengals defense and raced untouched 60 yards for a touchdown to put Dallas ahead 28-0. Game over.
The superlatives will continue to flow in the direction of Morris Claiborne this week. His career resurgence is, without a doubt, one of the can’t-miss storylines on one of the can’t-miss teams in the NFL, leaving the patrons in Dallas wearing a can’t-miss smile.