IRVING, Texas – You wouldn't know it from their loss to Philadelphia, but the Cowboys actually defend the run relatively well this season.
Through the course of 13 games, they're ranked directly in the middle of the pack against the run – No. 17 in the league. Dallas is allowing an average of 113 rushing yards per game. They've held seven of those 13 opponents to 104 or fewer rushing yards.
It all went out the window against the Eagles. Philadelphia gashed the Cowboys for 256 rushing yards on 45 carries at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving – an average of nearly six yards per carry.
"At the end of the day, they're a very physical run team," said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. "Their offensive line is extremely physical, well-coached, tough – and they've got a back who knows how to run it."
That would be in reference to LeSean McCoy, who enjoyed the best game of his season that day. The 2013 NFL rushing leader has struggled at times this season, but he carried the ball 25 times for 159 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.
"With McCoy, he's like a punt returner back there – if you have a gap open, you've just got to stay in yours," said Barry Church. "If you try to bounce and try to make the play, he's just going to cut up right where you had left. You've got to stay disciplined and make sure you have the edge on this guy."
It was an uncharacteristic performance against one of the league's upper-echelon backs. The Cowboys have done remarkably well in those matchups. They limited Marshawn Lynch to just 61 yards, and they held Frank Gore to just 66 yards.
Arian Foster pounded away for 158 yards in the Cowboys' overtime win against the Texans. But Dallas countered by holding Matt Forte to a mere 26 yards last week in Chicago.
Considering those facts, it's not surprising that Marinelli gave the credit to McCoy and Eagles' offensive line for dominating that matchup. Philadelphia has the seventh-best ground game in the league, and Marinelli agreed that was the focal point.
"We got beat, coaches and players, that last time. I take my hat off to them. They had a short week, too, and they came out and were fast and explosive," he said. "We've got to go out and just worry about what we do, and that's the execution of our defense and how we can tackle and hustle and all those different things."
This time around, Church said, the Cowboys simply need to stay focused, so they can defend the way they've proven capable of in the past. Given the magnitude of the game, focus doesn't seem like it should be a problem.
"We knew we had to keep it one game at a time, but always in the back of our head we were thinking that the key to the division is to beat Philly," Church said. "We've just got to make sure we're focused and stay disciplined going into this one."