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Spagnola: Defensive warriors must eat in Buffalo


FRISCO, Texas – This past Monday after the Cowboys smoked the Philadelphia Eagles, 33-13, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sent this group text to his troops:

"It was only seven words, but it was really all I needed to say. I said to them, 'That was a warrior effort and one that was called from the heart.'

"And I thought that was just a really cool example of that, of people battling through injury and illness. You guys saw just different combinations of people there late in the second half, and I said that shows a true warrior in you to get back up.

"And no coincidence it started with Mike [McCarthy] early in the week, so he had to fight back and everybody else did as well. So I thought the whole group was tough as hell. And when those moments come, I specifically have very high appreciation for that."

Remember those three other words: "Tough as hell."

Tough as in limiting the Eagles to but six offensive points, two field goals and the fewest total points in their last 14 games.

No offensive touchdowns for the first time in a regular-season game since 2017 in a 6-0 loss to the Cowboys.

No Jalen Hurts touchdowns, running or passing for the first time in 28 games.

Hurts less than 200 yards passing (197).

Hurts just 30 yards rushing.

A.J. Brown less than 100 yards receiving for the second time this season against the Cowboys.

No play longer than 30 yards.

If not for a successful fake punt, then just one field goal.

Three takeaways, all forced and recovered fumbles, the second-most Eagles giveaways this season.

You go, defense.

But hey, time to rinse and repeat.

Them Buffalo Bills up next at 3:25 p.m. Sunday on the banks of Lake Erie, where the weather can be incalcitrant from quarter to quarter, and the home folks still bristle over those back-to-back Super Bowl losses to the Cowboys, making it four straight for them in the NFL's ultimate game from 1991-93 for a franchise yet to win a Lombardi.

Yep, these Cowboys troops marching into enemy territory. And when it is the December time of year – with the 7-6 Bills teetering on the playoff edge (record-wise in a six-way tie for the final wild-card spot in the AFC) and these 10-3 Cowboys capable of securing a playoff spot with a win – will need warrior-like efforts from the defense from here on out.

Quinn's warrior words resonated with his defenders.

"Me, personally, as a leader, makes me proud to go out there and get that warrior aspect," veteran defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "Felt like those words to us, that's the standard."

And now, going forward, not only playing through injury, as McCarthy did last week coaching after his appendectomy and Micah Parsons did playing through the flu bug, losing Johnathan Hankins in the game (and this week) and for a short period of time Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse, too, in the Eagles game.

"I think it's more important now just because we showed the world we could do it, and now we got to show we can do it again," Lawrence said.

And how about you, Damone Clark, the inside linebacker who has taken over the team tackle lead with 86 after moving into the role vacated by Leighton Vander Esch's neck problems, 10 more tackles than Markquese Bell (76), the safety who moved in at linebacker next to Clark?

"I feel like that just speaks to the standard of our team. That just speaks to the guys we have on our team," Clark said. "We just go out there and do what we're supposed to do. We know the journey we want to go on, we know the obstacles that will come. If anything's that easy, nobody in the locker room wants it.

"We know it's going to be hard, it's the NFL. We just got to go out there and do what we're supposed to do."

Now a defense just has got to go out there and eat again. On the road, where there is a 59 percent chance of rain Sunday night in Buffalo, where the wind is known to swirl coming off the lake, contributing to offensive problems. That, along with a Buffalo defense ranked sixth in the NFL with just 244 points allowed, 18.7 a game, but now having to face a Cowboys team ranked No. 1 in points per game averaging more than that (19.8) in just first halves.

Something must burst.

And here the Cowboys go, facing another NFL top quarterback in Josh Allen and another NFL top wide receiver in Stephon Diggs, the well-known brother of Cowboys recovering from ACL repair corner Trevon Diggs.

First Allen. While many focus on the 14 times Allen has been picked off this season, the Buffalo QB still has a 93.4 QB rating, thanks to his 25 touchdown passes, tied for second most with Niners Brock Purdy, three behind NFL leader Dak Prescott (28).

But what should scare the Cowboys defenders most is this: Allen has run for 10 touchdowns. Ten now. That's the Bills TD leader. Heck that is just two less rushing touchdown than the Cowboys "team" total of 12 and more touchdowns than even any of the Cowboys receivers (CeeDee Lamb tops with eight).

And these Allen runs for TDs aren't just desperation scrambles when forced out of the pocket. We're talking QB draws, designed runs, and Allen runs as if he's a running back. Sliding doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary.

"Josh, you know, you got to put in a different space because he was on the cover of Madden, you know," Micah Parsons began on a stand-up routine. "So he's up there with those greats.

"Josh don't believe in sliding. You know Josh reminds me of that crazy guy at the frat. Like I probably would have hated to be with Josh in college, making his friends you know get all the way drunk, and like, god, I'm not going out with this guy, he does anything. He's that wild dude on the field, like he wants to dip his shoulder, he's going to talk trash, he's going to get rowdy. You shoot beer pong (with him) and he eats the cup.

"You know I'd love to have a bar and grill out with Josh for sure. Just not this week."

You get the picture. And oh, by the way, Allen also has run for 374 yards, 5.2 a carry. Heck that's what Christian McCaffrey averages.

Then there is Diggs. We're talking 87 catches, 993 yards receiving, eight touchdowns. No one else on the Bills has more than 61 catches. He's the dude. And if recent history is meaningful, come on Stephon Gilmore, here is your next veteran receiver project.

Remember, early in the Seattle game, DK Metcalf was giving DaRon bland fits. Second half, Gilmore moved on over with him, cooling his jets. Then Sunday, Gilmore took on A.J. Brown. Held the Eagles leading receiver to manageable numbers, and for sure out of the end zone.

Chances are Gilmore, the Bills former first-round draft choice back in 2012, takes on Diggs Sunday. And the veteran Diggs guarantee you doesn't make the same mistake Brown made at AT&T calling Gilmore "old" during the game, igniting the 33-year-old's fire.

"He ain't old," teammate Lamb said. "Just experienced."

And as a word to the wise, Lamb warned, "Don't poke the bear."

So, Micah and gang must get pressure on Allen to help the Cowboys secondary control Diggs. But that's not easy. Allen, with his running ability, has only been sacked 18 times. By comparison, Dak, playing behind what's thought to be a very solid O-Line, has been sacked 29 times.

My oh my, and we thought the matchup with the Eagles this past Sunday was huge, and it was, beating the Eagles for that 10th win leaves the Cowboys needing that 11th one Sunday to clinch a playoff spot, making everyone and the Cowboys, too, in this NFL realize the more you win the bigger the next game becomes.

Well, the Cowboys have won five consecutive games and seven of the last eight, but knowing they need a sixth straight, then the seventh, then an …

Yep, they just must ride this momentum, no matter playing at home, away, the parking lot or on the moon, as Jason Garrett was wont to say. But playing at Buffalo might be akin to the parking lot. It's hard, having lost two of the last three times in eastern New York. Especially more so if it should rain as is being predicted. They don't got no roofs in Buffalo.

"Winning on the road would definitely be a good one," Micah says, well-aware the Cowboys are just 3-3 away from home. "And obviously going into a hostile environment. I've heard a lot about Buffalo, I'm pretty excited to get up there from what I've seen over the last couple of years. Buffalo is a pretty extreme place to play.

"So very excited."

Let them Warriors eat.

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