In defining gantlet of games, Cowboys defense shows improvement vs. season-long weakness

ARLINGTON — Various illnesses have plagued the Cowboys’ defense this week, particularly on their defensive line, to the point that some players have been wearing face masks at meetings like those in 2020. Nose tackle Johnathan Hankins quarantined from club. Defensive end Takk McKinley was called up from the training squad on Wednesday should his services be needed.

The Cowboys had to survive a terrible medical spell.

When they did so on Thursday, they made progress on an issue that has plagued them all year.

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones ran circles around the Cowboys at the clubs’ first meeting two months ago. This was a more gap-disciplined group on Thursday as Dallas kept the duo on their lowest rushing performance of the season with a 28-20 win at AT&T Stadium.

The performance completed an important, perhaps crucial, gantlet for the Cowboys’ defense.

On Nov. 13, they opened a 12-day, three-game streak with an embarrassing road trip in Green Bay as struggles against the run helped the Packers recover from a 14-point deficit in an overtime loss. Dallas defeated the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, but running back Dalvin Cook averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Cook’s efficiency didn’t seem to irk the Cowboys defenders; It’s hard to get too worked up about a 40-3 win in a short week before a Thanksgiving game.

However, the loss to the Packers stuck.

“What happened in Green Bay is just part of our journey,” safety Jayron Kearse said Thursday. “If that doesn’t happen, who knows if we’re here? We just keep fighting and learning from our mistakes.”

Linebacker Micah Parsons said the Packers “showed errors in our game.”

“If we won that and got away from that, we might not have caught them,” Parsons said. “But the fact that they came back and won and exposed them, I think everyone had a lot more urgency to fix them and get better.”

Barkley and Jones averaged 139 rushing yards per game in the Giants’ first 10 games. They totaled 160 yards in Week 3 against the Cowboys and surpassed 100 yards each in Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Her previous rushing low in a game was 72 combined yards.

On Thursday, Dallas held Barkley and Jones on 14 carries for 53 yards. Barkley had 11 attempts for 39 yards and a touchdown. Jones rushed for 14 yards in three carries.

it was a game

But it mattered, and the Cowboys provided an encouraging sign of progress.

“These guys just have to trust the process, and they definitely do,” said quarterback Dak Prescott. “Boys will do plays. You don’t have to try too hard to make games. Trust what coach Dan Quinn calls; trust that the other 10 will do their job and stay in their gaps. And when they do, there’s not much you can do about it.

“I train against these guys every day. You know why teams want to run the ball against them. You can’t get into a third-and-long. You can’t get into obvious relays against them because they will hunt. That’s their mentality. It is impressive. It’s an energy that we can feed off on offense. I’m just blessed to have such a defense, men who care so much about their work and contribute.

Illness has affected the Cowboys’ defense.

At least for one game, her fever broke.

Twitter: @GehlkenNFL

Cowboys bounce back from a slow start against Giants and regain control of NFC East destiny

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