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Cowboys news: Dallas may have the most feared defense in the entire NFL

Your Wednesday edition of news on America’s Team.

Dallas Cowboys v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

NFL’s scariest units: Does anyone want to face the Cowboys’ defense in the playoffs? - Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News

The Dallas defense is playing as well as any unit in the NFL.

Rookie Micah Parsons is 1.5 sacks shy of Javon Kearse’s rookie record set in 1999. And Parsons wasn’t even supposed to be rushing the passer when the season began. Second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs tied Everson Walls’ club record with his 11th interception last Sunday. Three defensive linemen have scored touchdowns this season.

But I don’t think the story of the Dallas’ defense is entirely tied up in numbers. At this point, it’s just the ability to get to third down and long (or even third and medium yardage) and line up with Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence and Parsons somewhere along the front. I understand that Kansas City and Buffalo have been playing consistently good defense longer than Dallas this season. The Chiefs have won eight straight games and only surrendered 20 points once during that stretch. Five of those opponents scored 10 or fewer (including Dallas). The Chiefs and Bills have quality pass rushers as do the Bucs who lead the NFC playoff teams in sacks. But I don’t believe anyone has a wrecking crew quite like the Cowboys’ deep front, especially since Lawrence has played just five games this season and — based on that 40-yard interception return for touchdown — looks incredibly fresh.

The remarkable thing here is that, of course, it was the Dallas offense that was supposed to lead the Cowboys into the playoffs and present itself as the more frightening unit. For one game Sunday night, this was true. But it’s going to take a lot more from that group to suggest anyone is afraid of having to face the Cowboys’ offense.

Jaguars request permission to speak to Cowboys Kellen Moore, Dan Quinn - Dave Halprin, Blogging The Boys

While they might not be the front-runners, Jacksonville is looking at both of the Cowboys coordinators as their potential new head coach.

With everything, there is inevitably a downside. With the Cowboys success this season, teams are starting to look at the coaches that have played a part in that success and are tempted to hire them. Most Cowboys fans have known the day would come when another team would want to talk to either offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, or defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, about their head coaching position. That day is here. And the same team wants to talk to both.

The Jacksonville Jaguars fired head coach Urban Meyer a few weeks ago and are looking for a new leader for their franchise. Moore and Quinn are possible targets.

Vintage Dak Prescott returned vs. WFT, and the Cowboys’ playoff hopes hinge on him sticking around - Jean-Jacques Taylor, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys’ signal-caller returned to his early-season form on Sunday.

It certainly seems like he was in a slump whether he chooses to admit it or not, just like it seems like he emerged from the slump against Washington, which would be great news for the Cowboys. They’re not making a deep playoff run without Prescott playing at the elite level he’s paid $40 million a year to achieve. There’s a chance we’ll look back at the Washington game as the week he turned it around.

He played with confidence. He made quick decisions in the pocket and seemingly flawless decisions at the line of scrimmage. The result: Prescott completed 20 of his first 21 passes against Washington and the Cowboys rolled to a 42-7 first half lead. After the Cowboys punted on their first series, he directed scoring drives of 71, 74, 75, 80 and 89 yards.

The red zone offense, a disaster much of the season, scored touchdowns on each of its six possessions. Prescott threw four red-zone touchdown passes as the Cowboys established a league-high in points this season. The first-half point total tied the franchise record that was established in 1969 in a 49-14 win over Philadelphia. So to most folks, it sure looked like Prescott had a slump-busting performance at a time when the Cowboys need QB1 to play his best football.

While he disputed being in a slump in his postgame news conference, Prescott acknowledged he hasn’t been playing his best football. While the passing game was sensational, watching Prescott use his legs to make plays was the biggest sign that he’s ready to play his best football when it matters most.

Always-Ready Terence Steele Continues To Impress - Jonny Auping, DallasCowboys.com

The second-year tackle has been a pleasant surprise this season.

The play seemed to be a culmination of what Steele has offered the Cowboys all year; a well-deserved moment of recognition for a player who has stepped into numerous roles and improved on the job since September. It goes without saying that the team missed Smith, but Steele has routinely done as much as could be expected to mitigate just how much the absence of whoever he is replacing is felt.

"He earned it, every bit of it," right tackle La'el Collins said of Steele having his moment in the spotlight. "He's been working his ass off since he got here. He's gotten better. He's proven." Collins was playing alongside Steele on Sunday night, but Steele filled in at right tackle for Collins for five games when the starter faced a suspension earlier in the season. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but the announcement of Collins' suspension was considered the first big obstacle of the Cowboys' season, and it was one that many wondered whether the team would fully recover from.

But Steele stepped in and by all accounts did a tremendous job as a young starter protecting Dak Prescott in the pocket. Since Collins returned, Smith has been in and out of the lineup with neck and foot issues, and Steele had earned the opportunity to fill in on the other side of the line. Initially, the transition proved difficult---not to mention it is essentially impossible to replace Smith---but much like he has in his young career, the 24-year-old improved on the job.

‘They were really tired:’ Cowboys’ ‘fastball’ offense brought the heat - Todd Brock, Cowboys Wire

Dallas’ up-tempo offense really helped them get into a groove on Sunday.

At times, it seemed like quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense were playing a different sport. So perhaps it’s fitting that for their Week 16 gameplan, America’s Team borrowed terminology from America’s Pastime. The Cowboys call it “fastball.”

“It’s just an up-tempo offense,” wideout Amari Cooper explained to reporters after the 56-14 stomping. “You’re not huddling up after every play. The receivers [line up] wherever they are after their previous route. In fastball, I play the Z and if [Prescott] calls double routes, I’m supposed to be on the right side. But if I just ran an over-route, I have to go and play the X. So everybody has to know different positions. We practice it so much that we all know the different positions, so after one play we can line up and get on the ball real fast. You have to be in a lot of shape for that; defenses aren’t always ready for it.”

In the Cowboys coaches’ current parlance, fastball is essentially the code word for “no-huddle.” “You can go as fast as you want, you can go as slow as you want,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore explained in a conference call Monday. “I think that’s our biggest point: we dictate the tempo within that…. It’s different from a two-minute huddle. In two-minute, you’re trying to go as fast as possible, save as much time as you can. This thing is about executing football plays. If we can go fast, we go fast. After a few plays, if we need to slow it down a little bit, we’ll slow it down.”

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