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Spagnola: Beware This Defense On The Prowl


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – These are not my words.

But the words of approximately 30,000 Cowboys fans infiltrating SoFi Stadium here Sunday afternoon filled with 74-some-thousand fans overall.x

"Defense! Defense! Defense!"

Time and time again. Especially when that defense, nearly impenetrable on four straight Los Angeles Rams possessions in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys clinging to a precarious nine-point lead, rose to the occasion.

And sure hate to be Mr. Obvious Man, and if you watched this entire 2 hour, 56 minute slugfest, even you must have realized why the Cowboys won their third of four straight games this young 2022 season without scoring any more than 23 points. And for sure this one:

Cowboys 22, defending Super Bowl champion Rams but 10.

Exactly why the Cowboys are 4-1, remaining tied with the New York Football Giants for second place in the NFC East, both on the heels of the 5-0 Philadelphia Eagles, the only undefeated team left after five weeks and next up for the Cowboys this coming Sunday night in Philly with the Eagles attempting to solve the perplexing riddle of the Q-Men.

Why, no team has scored more than 19 points against the Cowboys so far this season and Sunday became the first time they have held back-to-back opponents to 10 points since 2009. Not Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Not Daniel Jones and the equally 4-1 Giants. And now not Matthew Stafford and the Rams. And if you are paying attention, that means the Cowboys have defeated both teams playing in this past season's Super Bowl.

This is starting to become contagious.

"Defensively, I thought we were outstanding and consistent in all five games," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. "They are definitely the straw that's stirring this drink. They are playing lights out."

Got that right, Mike, and it's a stiff drink. And is why McCarthy had the nerve on Thursday to say, "We're nobody's underdog" when told the Rams were 5½-point favorites, and as it turned out, it was the Rams needing those 5½ imaginary points and even at that wouldn't have been enough to win a bet.

Not the way this defense is playing.

"It's incredible to watch," said Cooper Rush, now having quarterbacked the Cowboys to four consecutive wins with Dak Prescott on the mend, and a good chance he'll still be mending when the Cowboys fly to Philadelphia this coming Saturday.

And while his performance has been equally incredible to watch, now becoming the first Cowboys quarterback to win his first five starts with the franchise since Steve Beuerlein did so in 1991, winning the final four regular season games and then tagging on the fifth in the first round of the playoffs, Rush has no ego problem deferring his historic success to the defense.

Look, how many times do you think any NFL team wins a game compiling no more than a humbling 10 first downs? Well, the Cowboys did so on Sunday, and for the first time since totaling eight in 1970.

How many times do you think any team wins a game with the quarterback completing just 10 of 16 passes for 102 yards, sacked three times and finishing with an 80.7 QB rating? Well, the Cowboys did before your very eyes.

How many times do you think a team wins a game, especially an NFL team, gaining just 239 total yards, and on the road at that? Well, the Cowboys just did.

How many times do you think a team wins with the offense scoring just one touchdown? Well, the Cowboys did, and what a touchdown it was, Tony Pollard, weaving, swerving and outrunning the Rams defense for an electrifying 57-yard touchdown run, a yard short of his career high.

Well, here is why they overcome these odds, and man, it's not like we're solving some Rubik's Cube brainteaser.

Start with holding an opponent to just 10 points, making this five for five holding an opponent to no more than 19 points in the first five games of a season since 1972. That's 50 years ago, mind you.

Then this, too, the Cowboys defense holding each of these first five opponents to just one touchdown. One, that's it.

How about sacking Stafford five times, hitting him throwing another 11 times and registering double-digit pressures again, "Lionbacker" Micah Parsons bagging two of those sacks, the final one late in the fourth quarter, a sack/fumble that the Cowboys' Sam Williams recovered to quash any Rams comeback effort for good.

"This is how we do," said Parsons, who played through an aggravated groin. "Nobody do it like we do."

How about on the third play from scrimmage defensive end Dorance Armstrong recording a sack/fumble of Stafford on a third-and-1 from his own 34, DeMarcus Lawrence picking up the loose ball and romping 19 yards for a touchdown?

How about more Armstrong, finishing off the Rams next possession by laying out to block a punt, then recovering the ball and advancing 14 yards, enabling Brett Maher to hit the first of his three field goals, this one from 33 yards out?

That's basically creating nine points – a premature snap cost the Cowboys the extra point after that first touchdown – with the offense totaling all of five yards.

And to further frustrate a Rams offense only rushing for 38 yards, on a third-and-13 from the Cowboys' 25-yard line late in the fourth quarter, Stafford, under undo pressure, is intercepted by a diving Malik Hooker of an overthrown pass at the 1-yard line. For the record, that's three takeaways, no giveaways and the three Maher field goals – after a dicey pregame kicking session, now 13 for 14 on the year – to put the clamps on this victory, sending Los Angeles to a 2-3 start and those Rams fans vacating the premises, creating a stadium takeover by the Cowboys followers.

"It's unbelievable," McCarthy said of the energetic Cowboys fans. "The crowd was phenomenal."

And as for Parsons, now with six sacks in five games, on pace for a 20-sack season, "It was amazing, Cowboys Nation. You made this feel like a home game. … Kudos to Cowboys Nation, and way to take over."

Put all that together and add in the Cowboys running for 163 yards – actually like 167 before some kneel-downs in victory formation – then no matter the team's offense basically generated just 13 points on its own. This defense continues to cover any glaring warts and is why the Cowboys are one of just four teams in the NFL with a 4-1 record.

Yet again a recipe for success, the Cowboys remaining afloat now at 4-1 without Dak accounting for any of those four wins and doing so by taking down three of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and a Daniel Jones who just took down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday.

"Proud of them, proud of our fans," a near out of breath owner Jerry Jones said, stopping oh-so briefly before rushing into the locker room after the game.

"Just real proud of our football team," McCarthy said, he too anxious to get back into the locker room and onto the charter flight back home after the fourth consecutive win.

Absolutely proud since nothing seems to faze this team. Not the loss of Dak. Not the loss of any lead. Not even where they play. Oh no, none of that. Not the way this defense is playing.

Because as Parsons said, "We're just letting you know, you know, we coming."

For sure.

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