FRISCO, Texas — The mission for the Dallas Cowboys is simple: stop the run. For while they owned the best pass rush in the league - heading into their Week 10 matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers - their run defense entered the battle as the fifth-worst in the league in more than one category.
On Sunday, it helped cost them a signature win at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers didn't take the field with the goal of airing it out 40+ times to a questionable corps of receivers, but to instead utilize Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to punish the weakest point in the Cowboys defense - the edges - to help open up the interior of the defensive line and, ultimately, the play-action pass; and the Packers rode this formula to a 31-28 comeback win in overtime.
"We've been talking about this since training camp - the way we were gonna be challenged from Day 1," said head coach Mike McCarthy on Monday. "We recognize our strengths as far as pass rush, but pass rush is a privilege right now. Until we take care of this run challenge, that's what it's gonna be."
He's 100% correct.
The blueprint is out on how to defeat the Cowboys, and has been since 2021. Though not every team has the personnel to execute it, those who do will routinely be a problem for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his defensive staff and players. McCarthy is not naive to this, nor is Quinn, but as they sit at 6-3 having lost ground in the NFC East to the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants on Sunday, there's still a lot of work to do.
And that is highlighted by the Packers rushing for 207 yards on the ground, numbers that allowed Rodgers to pick his spots for big plays in the air - Christian Watson rewarding him with a career-best 107-yard, three-touchdown day in the air.
Matt LaFleur called run plays on seven of their first nine of the Packers' initial offensive drive, a foreshadowing of the eventual events to come over the remainder of the game.
"Our primary focus was our run defense," McCarthy said. "That didn't go very well. So it wasn't like we're gonna be able to get into more coverage to help [against Watson]. They only threw 20 times. They were just effective doing it."
Very, and as the upset Cowboys reload with Dalvin Cook next on the schedule - along with Justin Jefferson as the complementary aerial threat - they'll need to make whatever changes are needed to avoid suffering their first two-game slide of the 2022 season, something that could potentially cost them that much more ground in their chase for either the division crown or a Wild Card seat.
So when it comes to players in the locker room holding each other accountable? It's happening in a major way following the loss to the Packers, and McCarthy doesn't view it as divisive.
To him, it's how you get back to winning games.
"I don't know what the hell you want us to be talking about," he said. "We definitely weren't in there patting each other on the back. There's a ton of 'red ass' and disappointment, and a ton of anger and that's I think that points to commitment - desire to win. I love that.
"Conflict is good. That's how you resolve."