Justin Jefferson is a threat. But the Cowboys expect more trouble than the Vikings

FRISCO, Texas – Perhaps the most embarrassing run was an Aaron Jones touchdown.

The Packers faced second and fifth, and the game was tied at 7 with 1:48 to play in the second quarter. Dallas’ left defensive end and inside lineman traded gaps, but the wires crossed on the right side. Suddenly, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and defensive tackle Quinton Bohana were attacking into the same hole.

And the inside lane was wide open for the Packers superstar to run back to take advantage.

Jones bounced through the gap, clipping left and rolling a left sideline home run. He spun as he jumped into the end zone, grabbing his crotch in the air for full effect.

The failure of the Cowboys’ internal defense resulted in their first deficit.

Repeated failures of perimeter defense would seal its end, a 31-28 Packers decision in overtime.

“Disgusting,” linebacker Micah Parsons said after the game at Lambeau Stadium. “Until we put that fire out, we’re going to keep seeing it. If people want to keep doing their own thing, we’ll be dealing with this all year long and we’ll never be the team we want to be.”

Dallas’ loss to Green Bay wasn’t the first time a team had taken advantage of a flagrant weakness against them. But after two opponents in a row beat the Cowboys to more than 200 yards each, emotions ran wild. Three days later, they still are.

“You are should Get angry,” Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Wednesday from his locker. “You should get frustrated If you aren’t, then I think we have the wrong people on this defense.

“If you don’t have a sense of urgency to move forward with how the past week has gone, how [the game] Before you go, you need to check yourself and look at yourself in the mirror.

Micah Parsons was candid about his team’s defensive shortcomings after Sunday’s overtime loss to the Packers. Days later, the Cowboys are still not holding back their sharp criticism of their defense. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The secret is out

The opponents seem to have uncovered a game plan to exploit the Cowboys’ weakness. Strategy goes deeper than just running the ball, although the size of the rushing offense has been heavily factored into the game plans. The Chicago Bears and Packers, the Cowboys’ former rivals, have scored nearly twice as many times (1.8 and 1.95 times, respectively) as they have thrown. Low pass attempts reduce the Cowboys’ chances of a rush pass, thus neutralizing the defense’s highest strength. And the challenge does not stem from teams simply running into third place.

As opponents see the Cowboys struggle to stay disciplined on gap run assignments and a tendency to allow leaky yards, they run first and second down runs to circumvent clear third down passes. The Packers attacked 14 times in third and fourth against the Cowboys. Those 11 plays needed 4 yards or less to advance, leading defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to describe the bleeding as “death with a thousand paper cuts.” And though Green Bay’s longest third down attempt—a 7-yard run, early in the fourth quarter—failed, the Packers went for it on fourth-and-7. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers found rookie receiver Christian Watson on his second of three touchdowns.

“We realize our strength in terms of rushing, but rushing passing is a privilege right now,” said head coach Mike McCarthy. “Until we care about this running challenge, that’s what it’s going to be.”

Players and coaches insist that the whiffs, while frustrating, don’t reflect a lack of effort so much as defenders miscalling coverage or overcompensating to make a game-changing play. “Sometimes,” defensive tackle Neville Gallimore parrots coaches’ lessons, “you can make a play through Not making the play.”

This is confirmed by the Cowboys’ defense in preparation for the talented 8-1 Vikings game in Minnesota. Keep steady edges, attack the right gaps, force fast lanes and “really, drag your butt to a different level,” Quinn and his team implore.

If not, the Cowboys risk the wrath of the guns, including Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook.

Danger is waiting

Jefferson, after hitting fourth and 18 in the final quarter of last Sunday’s overtime win against the Cowboys’ minor league Buffalo Bills, should worry. After all, Green Bay rookie Watson burned Dallas for 107 yards and three touchdowns carrying far less talent and experience.

But the Cowboys can’t overlook Cook’s threat, whose 80.8 yards per game ranks seventh in the league and his 2.5 yards per carry ranks eighth. The Cowboys are 22nd with 3.4 yards after contact allowed per carry. A missed tackle or poor corner can be costly, as the Bills saw last weekend when Cook couldn’t find wrinkles in lanes being blocked by teammates, unleashing and breaking up tackles to reach 81 yards, the longest of the carry. NFL this season.

“He’s a guy who can move quickly when he gets the ball,” Keers said. “He’s very elusive. Very effective at cutting his jumps, getting in and out of breaks and stuff when he’s just going his ways or when he’s on edge. So against a guy like him you have to roll his leg because he keeps it moving on contact.

“His vision is good, his communication is good. A lot comes with a guy like that.”

The Cowboys respect how the Vikings target mismatches, weak ties, and specific game plan attacks, so they expect a heavy dose of running. And with seven of Minnesota’s eight wins coming by a score or less, the margin for error is small — and the urgency is big.

“There’s a lot of blush, a lot of disappointment, a lot of anger,” McCarthy said Monday. “This indicates commitment, the desire to win, and connection.”

Now, the cowboys must translate that fuel into a fire.

“We played disappointing football for ourselves, the fans, and everyone behind the Cowboys,” Keers said. “We come back next week and have the ability to right that ship.”

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