FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys' defense knows turning their fortunes around this week and beyond must start with the fundamentals.
There's no bigger priority Sunday against Todd Gurley and the L.A. Rams' offense, who have reinvigorated their running game in recent weeks.
With a larger diet of carries, Gurley – the Rams' three-time Pro Bowl back – has scored a rushing touchdown in each of L.A.'s last three victories. They've won three of four to improve to 8-5 and remain in the playoff race.
"They're a very balanced attack. And when they run the ball, everything they get off of the run is really good," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "So it'll be a great challenge for our team this week."
When Cowboys' defense has played below their standards this season, including last Thursday's 31-24 road loss to the Chicago Bears, they've pointed to missed tackles as a factor.
"We must be better tacklers out there," Cowboys passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Kris Richard said. "Especially dealing with this team (Sunday)."
Garrett has said the defense, in their effort to change momentum in their favor, might be pressing at times to make a big play. That's where down-to-down discipline can drift, and where missed tackles can become a byproduct.
"Tackling goes so far beyond just the physical art of tackling the individual," Garrett said. "It's how you get lined up, your alignment, understanding your assignment, the technique you use, understanding where your keys are to get yourself in the right position, the angles you take to the ball.
"At times this year we've done a very good job of it. Other times not good enough, we've been inconsistent. And certainly that's a point of emphasis for us going forward."
Said linebacker/defensive captain Jaylon Smith this week: "We know the type of defense that we've been and that we want to continue to be. But you have to go out and execute."
The Rams establish their run game in a variety of ways and with a variety of players. Wide receivers Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds had five combined runs for 58 yards in last Sunday's win over Seattle.
But it starts with Gurley, who accounted for 115 rushing yards and a touchdown in last January's playoff victory over Dallas.
"Tackling is at a premium," Richard said. "And we've got to get our bodies on him, all 11 to the ball, wrap up, rip, strip, do whatever we can to try to take the football away. And then get lined up and get ready to do it again.
"We're all watching the tape. We all understand. We all want to be better. We all see where we need to be better. So now it's about going out there and doing the fundamental things correctly."