ARLINGTON, Texas – Rod Marinelli was about as gruff as would be expected when asked how he'll keep his players motivated in the coming days.
"They get paid every week and I get paid to coach football," said the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. "That shouldn't even come into the equation."
Maybe motivation shouldn't come into the equation, considering that these are handsomely paid professionals. But after the month this Dallas defense has had – particularly in the second halves of games – it's fair to question the mindset.
The Cowboys were outscored, 25-6, following halftime on Thursday evening. They surrendered drives of 77 yards, 92 yards and 75 yards – all of which resulted in touchdowns. In fact, the only Los Angeles possession after halftime that did not end in points was the final one, in which the Chargers knelt out the clock on the Cowboys' 5-yard line, having driven 51 yards to get there.
"It was 3-0 at the half," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "They had done a good job controlling a lot of the first half, and we weren't able to sustain enough offensively. They were consistently able to convert some third downs and able to keep their drives alive, particularly their passing game."
That's probably a slight understatement, as Philip Rivers put together the best effort by an opposing quarterback against this group since Aaron Rodgers in Week 5. Rivers hit the Cowboys with a quarterback rating of 149.1, after he completed 27-of-33 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns.
"He did a really good job of sustaining drives, really throughout," Garrett said. "It limited opportunities for us offensively, because of how they controlled the ball, but also because how we couldn't keep our own drives alive."
It leaves the Cowboys in a frustrating situation, to say the very least. It wasn't the run that killed their defense this week, as they limited the Chargers to just 2.5 yards per carry. But Rivers calmly guided his offense to a 9-of-14 performance on third down.
And when Rivers did make an uncharacteristic mistake – such as an errant throw right toward Jourdan Lewis – the defense couldn't capitalize for a second-straight game.
It's the type of trend that's hard to explain, except to say the Cowboys need to fix it – and quickly, if they can.
"How we're playing is who we are," said David Irving. "We are what we repeatedly do. And if we don't fix it – and fast – then yeah, this is who we are this year."
It'd be easy to pin the problems on the loss of Sean Lee, who exited the Nov. 12 loss against Atlanta and has yet to return. Marinelli didn't want to hear that, and he was resolute that there's only one way to fix it.
Get back to work.
"That's way too easy to say. We coach the same guys that have been in training camp, and there's no excuses," he said. "Every guy gets coached and we coach them hard. We're accountable, as coaches and players. We're all in it together."