ARLINGTON, Texas – There's not really one specific place to start after a performance like this.
Instead, better to let DeMarcus Lawrence handle the description of the Cowboys' defensive performance in Sunday's 49-38 loss to Cleveland.
"We gotta hold ourselves to a higher standard. We gotta play together as one," Lawrence said after the game. "And I don't feel like we are holding ourselves accountable, including myself. So, I call the s* soft, and we will get better from it."
Lawrence always has a way of putting things bluntly, and that's what the situation calls for.
The Browns absolutely abused the Dallas defense on Sunday afternoon, piling up 508 yards to go with their 49 points.
Most disturbing is probably the rushing tally. Cleveland ran for 307 yards as a team – the worst single-game total ever allowed by a Dallas defense. If that wasn't bad enough, the Browns lost star running back Nick Chubb to a knee injury in the first half, so it was backups Kareem Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson doing most of the damage.
"If you don't stop the run you don't have a chance, and we understood that going into this game and we didn't get the job done," said Jaylon Smith.
There are always a multitude of reasons for a loss. The Cowboys' negative turnover differential didn't help, but this went beyond the pale of complementary football. The Browns had six possessions during a frantic first half of football, and they scored points on five of them.
They came out of halftime with the ball and drove again, marching 70 yards in seven plays to take a 38-14 lead – roughly a half hour after the Cowboys led the game, 14-7.
"It's always stop the run first, always," said Xavier Woods. "The run opens up everything else, so we just weren't able to stop the run. That was our number one thing today. Needed a stop, wasn't able to do it."
That's not to say the passing game struggled, necessarily – the Browns just didn't need it as much. Baker Mayfield made the necessary plays, throwing for 165 yards and two touchdowns – largely chain-moving throws. Jarvis Landry also opened the scoring with a wide receiver throw, as he found Odell Beckham Jr. for a 37-yard touchdown on Cleveland's first possession of the day.
But even in the midst of a furious Cowboys comeback bid, the run game circled back around.
Never were Dallas' defensive failings more evident than with 3:42 to play. The Cowboys had score to – impossibly – cut a 24-point deficit to just 41-38. Memories of the Week 2 miracle against Atlanta abounded as the Cowboys squib kicked to midfield.
Those thoughts vanished in the blink of an eye, as Mayfield tossed to Beckham in the backfield on a jet sweep. The speedy receiver dodged Aldon Smith deep in the backfield and raced upfield. He cut back on the sideline to avoid three over pursuing tacklers – and then he was gone.
In all honesty, the Browns only needed a first down or two to ice the game. Instead, Beckham went virtually untouched for 60 yards and another score, and the comeback bid was done.
"I turned the corner and everybody was blocking, and it was weird," Beckham said. "I was about to slide, and I just turned the jets on and got in the end zone."
It was a pretty fitting final moment in a forgettable day for this defense. It's always a quick turnaround to the next opponent, and the Cowboys will have plenty to work on. According to Lawrence, it's time to go "balls to the wall."
"Talent don't mean nothing in the NFL, so it is all about us coming together, figuring it out and getting better from it," he said.
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