Despite having one of the NFL's top-five defenses, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his defensive players spoke with a tone one would associate with a unit that ranked in the bottom five of the NFL. Losing, 26-17, to the rival Philadelphia Eagles on "Sunday Night Football," a game in which they gave up more than 20 points and allowed multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time -- the last team to do so this season -- has them "pissed."
"It's been a little bit of a weird day [Monday] because of the talk of, 'Oh well, it was a good second half,' but quite honestly we're all pissed that we needed to have a good second half," Quinn said Monday. "We have really high standards for how we want to play, and when we don't meet them, we're pissed about it. We want that ass-kicking performance start to finish: first quarter through the fourth for however long we need to go. That's what I would like to make sure we're focusing on. … When we don't meet them, it makes you mad. We're ready to get going for the next one, but that's how we felt coming out."
The Cowboys' anger is justified considering how dominant they've been across the board in 2022. They lead the NFL in sacks with 24, the most by a Dallas team in its first six games since 1987. Dallas also is tops in the leagues in pressures (103) while ranking third in both scoring defense (16.3 points per game allowed) and yards per play allowed (4.6).
Cowboys defense this season
The undefeated Eagles presented a tough challenge with quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football. However, the Cowboys chalked up their eight missed tackles -- tied for their second-most in a game this season -- and a critical neutral zone infraction penalty on defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. on fourth-and-four with the Eagles on the Dallas' 10 in the first quarter, as self-inflicted wounds. Sanders scored Philadelphia's first touchdown of the game, a five-yard rushing touchdown, on first-and-goal from the five on the very next play.
"I just told them, 'We're too good to beat ourselves, we're too good to try to make a play because the plays will come to us,'" Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said after the game Sunday. "With the scheme, we're too good; we just have to win our one-on-one's. Sometimes in games like this, we try to do more to make that splash play. We just all have to take accountability, watch this film, and just get better from it."
The Cowboys had their season-high in defensive penalties with six against the Eagles after not having more than four in a game through the season's first five weeks. Quinn is confident his defense won't be as undisciplined going forward.
"When they lead to first downs, to free 15 yards, those are hard to overcome in a drive," Quinn said. "We'll get those shored up for sure. It can't happen. There will be ones you get from playing and battling, that's a normal reaction, but a neutral zone infraction or an unsportsmanlike from a comment, we can do better.
"We call [Fowler's neutral zone infraction] a no-brainer, and we bring those up to say 'Hey, this is something we can work on.' In their defense, [the Eagles] do go for it a lot on fourth. ... No matter what, we can use our discipline in that spot there. That's a big one to get. That's creating a turnover in the red zone to flip it back the other way because as you know after that one, a touchdown occurred. Those are those little moments that we talk about needing poise if we're going to play to the standard. We can't have those little episodes where something could knock us off course. There's enough plays in the game where a missed tackle happens or someone makes an exceptional play. The ones we can control, whether it's a pre-snap or post-snap, those ones we can eliminate and we know we will."
Parsons, an early season Defensive Player of the Year candidate, had a lower than usual impact on the game by his standards with no sacks and only one tackle for loss. However, both he and Quinn attribute that to the unique problems the Eagles' ground game can create with Hurts' rushing ability. It's not any trend they expect to linger going forward.
Micah Parsons this season
"I just have to hone in on my craft and get better this week," Parsons said Thursday. "I personally made some self adjustments and analyzed with coaches, sitting down with them to see about things I can do better and fix my game. This week I'm looking to hush everything up. … [The Eagles] didn't try and come after me … they run an RPO offense, everything is read-option. You got to worry about Hurts, he's a problem. When you have problems, you have to focus on them, so in my eyes, I did my job. You can't control trying to do everything on the field; that only leads to frustration and miscommunication. Just have to do your job out there. It was a big game last week and sometimes, you can get caught up trying to make the big play, which can get you jammed up. We just have to get it cleaned up and back to the details."
"It wasn't a dropback passing game, so we couldn't get into some of the rushes and pressures like we normally would based on their style," Quinn added. "I wouldn't say it was specific to Micah as it was specific to how they play. I don't think there's anything specific that was directed toward him. I think we easily could have played him at defensive end and the same plays would have happened. We played him more at linebacker in this game. I did feel like they were going to run the ball more, but I don't think it was specific to him as it was to the entire defense."
On to Detroit
The 1-4 Detroit Lions, fresh off their bye week, present the Cowboys with an opportunity for a "get-right game" coming off a 29-0 loss at the New England Patriots in Week 5. While they ranked as the NFL's top scoring and total offense through the first four weeks of the season, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to be shut out in their fifth game of the season after scoring more than 35 points per game through their first four games.
Lions offense this season
|Weeks 1-4||Week 5 at NE|
Red Zone TD Pct
The Lions also have the NFL's longest road winless streak: 0-11-1 in their past 12 road games. Their last road win came against the Chicago Bears in Week 13 of the 2020 season with Matthew Stafford as their starting quarterback and a 35-year-old Adrian Peterson as their leading rusher. Quarterback Jared Goff, the player Detroit acquired along with three draft picks (two in the first round) in exchange for Stafford, has been their starter for eight of those 12 road games (0-7-1) without a win. It's a complete 180 from Goff's last four seasons (2017-2020) with the Los Angeles Rams under head coach Sean McVay, when he won 21 of his 32 road starts.
Jared Goff on the road since 2017
|With Rams (2017-2020)||With Lions (2021-2022)|
*Sean McVay became the Rams head coach in 2017
"I don't view it as a trap game," Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday when asked about facing the Lions after a hard-fought loss against the Eagles. "This is where you go back and review some things self scout-wise coming out of the loss Sunday night. Frankly, we haven't played these guys in a number of years, I think it was '19. They only have six of the same players on their roster since then. This is a prime example of what an uncommon opponent looks like, and then you put up the numbers: this is an offensive that has had an extremely productive season so far. … This is a challenging offense for us. We don't fall into the trap of looking at their record."
Help seems to be on the way for Detroit, as running back D'Andre Swift, a limited practice participant so far this week, said he is "pushing towards" playing after missing Detroit's past two games with ankle and shoulder issues. His 8.6 yards per carry is the second-highest in the NFL among players with more than 25 carries this season. His backup, Jamaal Williams, has been opportunistic, scoring six rushing touchdowns this season, tied for the second-most in the NFL behind only Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb's seven. Their production has given the Lions a top-10 rushing attack, averaging 151.4 yards per game, the seventh-most in the NFL. Dallas' run defense is an area it is looking to improve, ranking 19th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (120.7).
"You want to make sure the drills you put in apply during the game, which space tackling and which ones to hit on," Quinn said. "They have excellent runners, and Swift has the speed to make people miss. The tackling will be right at the forefront of our talking points, but also of our drill work. We have some excellent tacklers on our team. ... The guys who missed some will come back with a vengeance when we play."
Even though McCarthy is hammering home the point to the Cowboys about not taking an "uncommon opponent" lightly, he is very familiar with Williams, a running back he selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft as the Green Bay Packers head coach.
"It's a great combination of thunder and lightning, whatever you want to call it," McCarthy said about the Lions running backs. "I know our defensive coaches are looking at it that way. Swift has had some dynamic runs so far this year, he can finish the runs. Jamaal, personally, was one of my favorite guys to coach. He'll go down as one of the best teammates I've seen in this league in the long, long time. He's a complete back, he does everything very well. Super instinctive player, great pass-protector, good receiver. I think these two guys compliment each other very well."
Parsons said their defense will be bringing plenty of attitude into what appears to be an extremely physical matchup.
"It's shark week, that's what we emphasize this week," Parsons said Thursday. "Shit, no matter where you are, no matter what's out there. We are going to beat 'em up. That's what we emphasize this week. We just gotta go do it."
While allowing only a touchdown per game through the first five weeks seems unsustainable, the Dallas defense has its eyes set on getting back to producing those types of results again going forward.
"We want those high standards the whole time, and I think we can reach them," Quinn said. "That's why there's a sour taste based on that. In some ways, that's a good thing. We're not looking for a pat on the back for something that's halfway done. My glass isn't always half-full; 99.9% of the time it is, but I get pissed just like everyone else. I know what we're capable of. When we don't quite nail it, that goes for me, too. I could've had that call differently and wish I could've put them in a better spot. I have a lot of faith in who we are as a defense, so that's why I was pissed because I really believe. If they knew how much I believe in them, they would be shocked because of how strong I think they can become. When we don't hit it quite right, it bothers me."