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Cowboys @ Eagles: The Defense Rises To The Occasion

With prolific offenses on both sides, coupled with defenses that were struggling, all signs pointed to another high scoring shootout in Philly; however, Sunday's contest turned into a defensive showdown.

Jeffrey G. Pittenger-USA TODAY S

Sean Lee said it best, the Dallas defense is evolving under Monte Kiffin. The players are beginning to grasp the concepts and responsibilities involved and now they are starting to execute what the coaching staff has in mind.

"...we really had been trying to dig ourselves out of that hole and become a better defense. Think we took a step forward today. But we got to bring it next week." - Sean Lee

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One of the biggest keys that I noticed on Sunday was the tackling. Often the bane of NFL defenses in recent seasons, the Dallas Cowboys put on something of a tackling clinic at Lincoln Financial Field. A better understanding of how the Kiffinelli defense is supposed to work, combined with solid execution of defensive football skills resulted in the stifling performance that we saw on the field against the Philadelphia Eagles. Again, Lee tells us why they were able to rise to the challenge.

"We didn’t give up big plays. We rallied and tackled. We did a lot of things we’d been trying to do. We just hadn’t been executing perfectly."

Coming in to the game, the Eagles featured two of the NFL's biggest play-makers, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. The Cowboys would need to slow down both for Dallas to have a chance to assert themselves as the dominant team in the NFC East. McCoy entered the contest as the top rushing threat in football, while Jackson came in as one of the leagues top big play receivers. Outstanding performers on an individual basis, together they are more than enough to give any defensive coordinator an ulcer. Instead of consulting the team doctors, Monte Kiffin and his staff devised a scheme to limit the Chip Kelly offense, and the players executed it to near perfection on the field.

As always, it all began up front. Despite suffering from an injury depleted group of rushmen, Rod Marinelli's charges were able to keep first Nick Foles and then Matt Barkley under pressure. Led once again by Jason Hatcher, the rushmen never allowed the quarterback to get comfortable in the pocket.

"We’re just a bunch of guys with no names," tackle Jason Hatcher said. "We want to go out there and play great for each other. It’s a special feeling when you can bring guys together and play as one."

Maybe the Cowboys wanted to play as one, but when Eagles quarterback Nick Foles dropped back to pass, it must have seemed to him as if there were 14 or 15 Cowboys on the field.

All told, the Cowboys sacked Foles three times in three quarters on Sunday; finally forcing him to leave the field with a concussion on the final play of the third stanza. The pressure also prevented Foles, the more accurate of the Eagles quarterbacks, from establishing a throwing rhythm. He completed only 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before his injury. Rookie Matt Barkley was forced into the first action of his NFL career and fared no better. He was pressured into three interceptions during the game's closing period. For a closer look at the performance of the "Replacement Rushmen" make sure you check out Tom Ryle's look at their afternoon.

Not all the credit goes to the rushmen for curtailing the Eagles passing attack. Jerome Henderson's charges in the defensive secondary turned in their best effort of the season as well. The leader of the pack was Brandon Carr. He never allowed Jackson to get started, holding the big play man to three grabs for just 21 yards. Entering the game DJax had an average of over 17 yards per catch. It wasn't just Carr who stepped up, the entire defensive secondary came to play. When the Eagles tried to move Jackson into the slot to break him free, Orlando Scandrick stepped up to keep the dynamic receiver in check. JJ Wilcox was also rose to the occasion; however, a controversial decision by the officials, on a replay review, cost him an interception. Thanks to much improved play in the secondary, especially against Jackson, the Cowboys were able to bring the second safety, Barry Church up into the box to help counter the other Eagle weapon.

Together Sean Lee and Church made it their personal mission to make life tough for the Philadelphia running back. Thanks to their efforts, the man who had light up the Dallas defense for 185 yards a couple seasons ago was held to only 55 yards on 18 carries. He did not have a run of over ten yards all afternoon long. Together the defensive tandem combined for 16 stops during the game; half of those were tackles on LeSean McCoy. Like DeSean Jackson, he was never allowed to get rolling during the game. In the end, the Kiffinelli defense held Shady to 50 yards under his season average.

When the two teams took the field, the Cowboys entered the game having give up 1456 yards over its last three outings. Against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, they had failed to even force a single punt during Manning's 400+ yard aerial onslaught; while against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins they allowed over 200 yards rushing. On the other hand Philly entered the contest with only the second offense in NFL history to have both 1,500 yards through the air and 1,050 yards on the ground in just six games. They had also put up over 400 yards of total offense during each of those games. By the time the curtain fell on Lincoln Financial Field, the Dallas defense had yielded up a total of only 278 yards to the vaunted Chip Kelly offensive juggernaut.

The band of backups along the defensive line, the linebackers led by Sean Lee and the secondary came to play. No matter the situation, they had an answer. The pace and the style of play was not dictated by the Eagles and their head coach Chip Kelly, but by Kiffin and his defense. - Bryan Broaddus

As Monte Kiffin stated after the game, the plan was simple and they had coached the players to simply concentrate on their roles. Doing that allowed everything to finally fall into play for the Cowboys defense.

"When you become a good defense, you play fast and you know what you are doing. Like I say, you see a little, you see a lot. You see a lot, you see nothing. Well, we were seeing a lot earlier in the year. We were seeing a lot, but we weren’t seeing anything. Just see a little bit, read your keys, and you have a chance to see better." - Monte Kiffin

As each group and each player focused in on executing the responsibilities assigned, the full picture of what the Kiffin-led defense is supposed to look like began to come into focus. As Lee stated, they have to continue to step up and deliver, but for now it appears that a lesson has finally been learned for the Dallas Cowboys defenders. It wasn't perfect, but as Barry Church told the media after the game, it would suffice.

"We want to shut everyone out, but this is the NFL. It’s hard to shut anyone out. These offenses are pretty good. We did our best today and it turned out to be good enough." - Barry Church

I don't know about anyone else, but I for one will take that kind of "good enough" effort every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

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