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LVE on Improved Cowboys Run-D: 'Stay Locked In'

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FRISCO, Texas — There can be no doubt about the resiliency the Dallas Cowboys are putting on full display in 2022, apropos to the fact that was established as their motto for the season before they entered it, but there is another word they're finally beginning to get a handle on that could potentially help them build toward ending their Super Bowl drought: consistency.

It's something they've been severely lacking as it relates to their [in]ability to stop the opponent's run, but they've now passed two grueling tests at halfback — i.e., Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley — in a span of only four days, and that provides plenty of hope for what the defense in Dallas might truly be.

And, to put it simply, lessons learned from the gut-wrenching loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 10 loom large, considering Aaron Rodgers overcame a 14-point deficit with the help of Aaron Jones and a rushing attack that racked up more than 200 yards on the ground.

"We've gotta stay locked in regardless of what the score is," said Vander Esch as the Cowboys prepare to face another potent halfback in Jonathan Taylor when the Indianapolis Colts visit in Week 13. "It could be close, it could be an absolute blowout, but everybody's gotta do their job every single play. You've heard me preach that over and over and over but, no matter how cliche that is, that is literally what football is.

"You have to focus on every single play and do your job, regardless of what the score and situation is, you've gotta be able to go out there and stop the run — however many times they wanna run the ball."

And it's no secret teams are using the run to avoid the Cowboys pass rush, one that is literally the best in the entire NFL.

"Absolutely," said Vander Esch. "That's something that we're getting better at, being able to alert that … to be able to communicate that to everybody … we know teams are going to do that in certain situations against us and we just have to continue to do what we've done the last two weeks."

As mentioned, after successfully bottling up Cook and Barkley, the next big test is Taylor — a player who's rushed for 2,980 yards over the previous two seasons to go along with 29 rushing touchdowns.

Tack on another 659 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns over that same span and you'll quickly get the idea of how lethal Taylor can be out of the backfield. He enters the matchup against the Cowboys run defense having rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and Vander Esch understands full well the task at-hand.

"I think you have to [prove it again against Taylor], and the reason is the speed," said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. "He's a bigger back and you wouldn't think he has this kind of speed — an inside run and if you miss your fit or your angle, you'll really be vulnerable. … If he gets out to the edge and he can split you, he's got the speed to go the distance. … He is a tough back.

"This will be our third guy in a row that can really make big plays."

As the Cowboys try to shut down a top NFL running back for the third time in 14 days, they'll do so with a chance at a record of 9-3 to remain in striking distance of the Philadelphia Eagles atop both the NFC East and the NFC.

It would also go a very long way to proving the run defense is actually healed.

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