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Mailbag: How Big Of A Step On Defense?

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I thought the Dallas defense looked miles better than they have. They hustled and played their guts out. But, do you think it was because 1) we played the Eagles; 2) they got the message from firing three starters last week; 3) they fired three starters that were holding back younger guys; or 4) a combination of all the above? — DAVID EWING / ARLINGTON, TEXAS

Rob: I won't argue that the Steelers' offense will be a much larger litmus test. But let's be honest here: it all depends on your perspective. I don't think you're comparing the Cowboys' defense to the top units in the league right now. At this point, you're just looking for progress. We definitely saw that, not just with four takeaways but better run defense in the second half (Boston Scott's six carries for seven yards). DeMarcus Lawrence talked last week about having more fight and belief, and he set the tone with a sack on the second play. Then Donovan Wilson's takeaway built some confidence and they went on from there. Those are the kinds of plays they need.

David: I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I tend to think it was more about the level of competition than anything. Philadelphia ranks 31st in the league with 17 giveaways this season – only Dallas is worse. There are other components to consider, but it starts there. I will give the Cowboys credit for hustle. The effort level was so much better on Sunday night, and some of the young guys did impress. But the Eagles are a mess in their own right, so I'm going to wait a moment before I get too excited.

All three quarterbacks this year have had fumble problems. What causes this? I don't know if it's weak hands, no ball handling practice, etc., but QB fumbles have been a huge problem all year. — JEFF KLUEGER / WALNUT CREEK, CA

Rob: I don't think you can give one sweeping reason for every fumble. All are different situations. Sometimes you simply have to be more protective of the ball, particularly if you're on the move. Can't have the ball hanging out. In DiNucci's case, he took two pretty big shots from two players who outweigh him considerably: 305-pound Javon Hargrave and 270-pound Brandon Graham. Easy to say "hang onto it," but I would imagine that's easier said than done.

David: That's a really astute observation, and I don't have a wonderful answer for you. During the draft process, we always make a big deal about quarterbacks' hand sizes – but all of the Cowboys' quarterbacks have hands that fit within the normal size range. I think the most logical answer is the obvious one. Quarterbacks often get hit in the pocket when they're in the act of throwing, and that's a very vulnerable spot to be. It's hard to properly secure the ball when it's cocked back over your shoulder. Obviously, you don't want to let the quarterback completely off the hook, but I think it's fair to say this compromised offensive line has put these guys in some tough situations.

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