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Defense With 'Something To Prove' After Opener


FRISCO, Texas – An 18-point victory at home, with a record-breaking performance by your quarterback, is an emphatic way to start a season.

But the Cowboys' defense has a high standard, and they know where they want to be at the end of the year.

They expect much more from themselves this Sunday at Washington.

"We want to be an elite defense, and we feel like we are that," linebacker and defensive captain Jaylon Smith said. "But we have to go out and prove it every day. There were instances in the game where we didn't display that. Our job is to correct that."

The defense allowed 17 points last Sunday against the Giants, only 10 until the final three minutes. They allowed only 2 of 11 conversions on third down. They forced three fumbles, recovering two.

But there were also imperfections, particularly in the run game against the Giants' second-year star Saquon Barkley. He ripped off a 59-yard run on New York's opening touchdown drive, a gap breach that started with a pre-snap miscommunication.

Barkley had only 11 rushing attempts in the game, due in part to lopsided score in the second half. (Prescott and the offense scored touchdowns on five straight drives between the second and third quarters.) But Barkley still managed 120 total rushing yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on his other 10 runs.

That's uncharacteristic for a Cowboys defense that prides itself on controlling the ground game. They ranked fifth in run defense last season, though their two least effective performances came in the final month against the Colts and the divisional playoff loss to the Rams.

Cowboys passing game coordinator/ defensive backs coach Kris Richard doesn't see a correlation between last Sunday and the Rams game "because last year has nothing to do with this year, just like Week 1 has nothing to do with Week 2."

"Obviously last week was not up to our standard, and it just comes down to discipline and effort," Richard said. "The big part about it is that we maintain our gap control."

This Sunday's matchup: Adrian Peterson, who's likely to start for an injured Derrius Guice after being inactive in Week 1.

Peterson, a seven-time Pro Bowler, rushed for 99 yards in the Redskins' 20-17 home win over the Cowboys last October.

"They call him A.D., "All Day" for a reason. He's always going to come with tenacity," Smith said. "We have to be able to match it and exceed their expectations."

The Cowboys could have multiple starters increase their workload this week. Defensive linemen DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford played only 32 and 30 snaps, respectively, out of 69 total defensive snaps against the Giants. Cornerback Byron Jones played only 28 snaps. All three spent the majority of training camp rehabbing from injury.

Lawrence, the Pro Bowl pass rusher and defensive captain, says he's still sharpening his skills after so much time off. But he was disruptive against the Giants with two tackles and strip-sack fumble recovery that stopped a drive inside the Cowboys' 10-yard line.

He expects more.

"More pressure on the quarterback, more strip sacks," he said. "We pride ourselves on being one of the best units in the league and we don't feel like we showed that last week. So we've got something to prove."