FRISCO, Texas – The challenge Sunday is obvious.
Russell Wilson is a very-early favorite for NFL MVP after two games. Seattle's star quarterback leads the league in completion percentage (82.5), passing touchdowns (9) and quarterback rating (140.0) for the undefeated Seahawks (2-0).
The Cowboys' defense is devising ways to hopefully slow Wilson. They're also scouting themselves this week, figuring out what needs improvement from the first two games after no offseason, no preseason and a shortened training camp limited their time to install and fine-tune a new scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
"We understand this is going to be a process," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "But we have the guys, we have the talent, we have the mentality and the work ethic, and we're putting all the work in. Sometimes great things just take time. We're trying to speed it up as much as possible, and it's an every-day effort."
Through two games, the Cowboys rank 24th in total defense with an average of 401.0 yards allowed against the Rams and Falcons. They rank 25th in opposing scoring average (29.5 points), though 20 of Atlanta's 39 points last Sunday were a direct result of three Cowboys turnovers and a turnover on downs in the first quarter. The defense did hold the Falcons to a field goal and punt on the final two drives to help Dallas complete a remarkable 40-39 comeback victory.
Injuries have been a factor. Projected starting defensive tackle Gerald McCoy tore his quad the first week of training camp and was released with an injury waiver. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (collarbone) and Sean Lee (sports hernia) and cornerback Anthony Brown (ribs) are currently on Reserve/Injured. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis (ankle) missed the opener, and now Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) is expected to miss multiple weeks.
The defense isn't making excuses, though. Players and coaches have acknowledged more pressure is needed on opposing quarterbacks. That's easier said than done against Wilson, one of the most elusive players in the league when the pocket breaks down.
"First and foremost, I feel like us as a group we have to get lined up correctly," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "We have to play our gaps correctly and we have to not beat ourselves. We cannot beat ourselves. We have to get lined up correct, make the tackles, make the calls. We've got to get the ball back for offense."
Thursday, head coach Mike McCarthy said it's possible the defense will scale back the volume within the scheme to help reduce missed assignments. After all, it's only been five weeks of actual on-field work since camp began.
Smith agreed that approach could help.
"It's about us growing each and every week," he said. "The coaches are on the same page, and the players are on the same page, and we're just trying to do whatever it takes to get that much better each and every week.
"Having two games up under our belt to really evaluate, 'What were those mistakes? What were those mental errors and missed assignments that took place within each play?' And then figuring out ways on how we can help eradicate that. I think that's exactly what we're doing."