FRISCO, Texas – More than any area on the Cowboys' roster, the playoff bye week should benefit the defense.
Six of the seven Cowboys ruled out of last Sunday's regular-season finale against the Eagles were injured defenders: cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Tyrone Crawford, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive tackle Terrell McClain, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton and linebacker Justin Durant.
The Cowboys are hopeful the week off will help each player move closer to a return. The team will return to practice Thursday and Friday. Next week they'll begin preparations for their Jan. 15 divisional-round opponent that will be determined on wild-card weekend.
Of the above-mentioned group, Claiborne has missed the most time. Inactive for the last nine games with a groin injury, he said he's aiming to work into individual drills this week in what would be his first practice work since October. For weeks he has been diligent in his injury rehab work with the athletic training staff.
"Keep working throughout this week and to next week," he said, "and hopefully after the individuals and stuff this week hopefully we can step it up next week just so I can get back to the field."
The time off is helping starting defensive ends Lawrence and Crawford, too.
The Cowboys have been attempting to manage Lawrence's back injury. He played 13 snaps Dec. 11 against the New York Giants and was held out the final three regular-season games.
Crawford missed the last two games with shoulder and hamstring injuries.
"I'm feeling good – I'm feeling real good," he said. "It's about that time to start bouncing back and start getting my feet back underneath me, so I'm looking forward to that."
Despite their depleted depth, the defense continued to build momentum for January. They finished the regular season ranked fifth in scoring defense, allowing 19.1 points per game. Before last Sunday's regular-season finale, in which most defensive starters were held out or played limited snaps, the defense yielded an average of 16.5 points in four December games.
"I feel like everybody is buying in, playing the defense the way it's supposed to be played, and really just doing their job to the best of their ability," Lawrence said. "That's why as a unit it's working so well."