FRISCO, Texas – It's about as difficult a three-game stretch as anyone could imagine, particularly in the second half: In the last two quarters of losses to the Falcons, Eagles and Chargers, the Cowboys have been outscored 72-6.
As the team looks for answers this week, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli maintains faith in his system. And "strong belief" in his players.
"We had opportunities on the ball. Coaches and players, we didn't get that done," Marinelli said Monday. "They're there, so we keep working. We've got some good young players. We're just going to be upbeat with them and just keep coaching them on how to get it done and believe in them."
Run defense has been an issue in most games without starting linebacker Sean Lee, who re-injured his hamstring in the first quarter against the Falcons on Nov. 12. The defense allowed 347 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry in losses to the Falcons and Eagles.
Deep pass plays are what doomed Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Chargers only rushed for 81 yards, but quarterback Philip Rivers threw 8 completions of 20 or more yards, including 2 for touchdowns.
"It's just, and it sounds as simple as this, we had some breakdowns fundamentally and some communication breakdowns," Marinelli said. "That's what it kind of comes down to at the end of the day. The consistency, the mental toughness just to keep grinding all the way through the game."
In the last three losses, the Cowboys have led 7-3, trailed 7-6 and trailed 3-0 at halftime. Marinelli believes attention to detail must improve in order to solve the defense's second-half issues, and it starts with the coaching staff instructing the players during the week.
"We know it works and we know how to do it," he said. "We know how to teach it, got great conviction, and now we've got to help them play faster. The things that hurt us last week, all correctable. We self-destructed as coaches and players. There was some self-destruction.
"So you look at that. You watch the tape, as we go through it we can see if we did this, so you're teaching them how to do it."
Lee has not practiced the last two days and seems likely to sit out against the Redskins. In the first matchup between the division rivals, a 33-19 Cowboys win, the defense held Washington to 49 rushing yards and 4-of-13 third-down conversions.
"The main thing is we've just got to play better, sound team defense. Play all as one," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "We come out (after halftime) thinking we have the game under control and now we're offbeat and we're not playing to our leverage and we're not getting after the quarterback like we're supposed. It's on all of us, and we've just got to do a better job of it."