Spagnola: No Need To Qualify These Defensive Performances Anymore

ARLINGTON, Texas – Now that is the real deal.

         No, not the Dallas Cowboys offense putting up 28 points, the sixth consecutive game the team has scored at least 28 points, but two short of stretching their mark of at least 30 to five.

         No, not Terrance Williams catching nine passes for 141 yards, the first 100-yard receiving performance by a Cowboys receiver this year and the first in the past 15 games.

         No, not Ezekiel Elliott coming off the suspension list on Friday to thrash his way to another 93 yards rushing and another touchdown, giving him seven rushing TDs and nine total in eight games.

         No, not Dak Prescott throwing down another highly efficient if not stellar performance, passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and fashioning a 106.8 QB rating, along with running for another 27 yards and one touchdown.

         Nope, we've known this offense is highly potent with more weapons than you can shake a stick at. We saw it last year, and for the most part, have seen it again this season.

         But now, after this, after Cowboys 28, Chiefs 17, it's time to say it without equivocation:

         This Cowboys defense is for real.

         Right?

         You with me?

         There, I said it.

         For the last couple of weeks, each time the Cowboys defense has played well, seemed to be showing signs of improving, we've been qualifying each performance, myself included.

         Beat the San Francisco 49s, 40-10, and we qualify that by saying, well, heck, the Niners aren't any good. They were starting a rookie quarterback for the first time and still haven't won a game this year.

         Beat the Redskins on the road the next week, 33-19, the fourth time they've held an opponent to less than 20 points, and it's, you know, the Redskins offensive line was beat up and was further depleted during the game.

         But gosh darn it, look at what this defense did here on Sunday at AT&T Stadium where there was far too much Chief red among the 93,273 thanking their lucky stars they were under a roof on this 90-degree day on the 5th of November.

         Held a Chiefs team ranked third in the NFL averaging 29.5 points a game to just 17 points, second lowest of the season. And if not for that nothing short of a miracle play at the end of the first half, going 56 yards in the final two seconds with the backed-off Cowboys defenders turning into the Keystone Cops, the Chiefs would have been held to a season-low 10.

         Held the NFL's third-ranked offense, the Chiefs averaging 377.9 yards per game, to just 323, their fourth lowest of the season.

         Held the NFL's leading rusher Kareem Hunt to just 37 yards, his second-lowest total of the season and the Chiefs to just 68 yards, second lowest of the season as well.

         Held the NFL's No. 1-ranked quarterback Alex Smith to just 263 yards, 56 of those coming on that bizarre half-ending, seemingly harmless dump pass over the middle, otherwise just 207 passing.

         Had held dynamic wide receiver Tyreek Hill to one catch for eight yards and four runs for nine yards, if not for the 56-yard touchdown weave from the Chiefs' 44 when the Cowboys lined up seven guys inside their own 10-yard line, yet still managed not to tackle him.

         Did not allow Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce a fifth 90-plus-yard receiving game, containing him for 73 yards on seven catches and one touchdown.

         Became the first team to intercept a Smith pass this year, breaking his streak of 298 consecutive passes without an interception stretching back to last season.

         Any questions? Anything anyone wants to qualify about this?

         "I think the defense has played well," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett would only say. "It was a really good challenge today."

         That right there is what made this defensive performance so impressive. These Chiefs (6-3) were good, awfully potent on offense. So no qualifying this performance, shutting down one of the best and most versatile offenses around.

         And what you are seeing before your very eyes, especially during this three-game winning streak that has moved the once Cowboys' record of 2-3 to 5-3 and still just two games behind NFC-leading Philadelphia in the loss column, is a defense that is growing and for the most part is healthy.

         No need to point out that in those consecutive games the Cowboys gave up 35 points to the Rams and Packers in back-to-back losses Sean Lee was out with a hamstring injury. Well, he's back, been back for the past three games, and was really back in this game, leading the team with 12 tackles, two of those for losses. His instincts are remarkable. His leadership on the field irreplaceable.

         Lee is back being paired with Anthony Hitchens, allowing the Cowboys to play Jaylon Smith more sparingly (17 plays Sunday). Since the two have paired up this season, no team has rushed for more than 103 yards against the Cowboys, and by no coincidence all three of those games victories.

         Since defensive tackle David Irving returned from his season-opening four-game suspension, the Cowboys have gone 3-1, and since he moved to the 3-technique tackle spot they have gone 3-0. Irving, with a sack of Smith, now has six in just four games, and also came up with three tackles, one for a loss, along with a QB hit and a passed defensed.

         The Cowboys have now gone 4-2 with Tyrone Crawford starting at right defensive end, a huge complement to DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side. In fact, this was the first game Lawrence did not have a sack in the eight the Cowboys have played.

         And let's not underestimate those young pups being integrated onto the back end of this defense improving with now eight games under their belts.

         Maybe all of this has something to do with the Cowboys giving up just five touchdowns in the past three games, including only 15.3 points a game.

         "I think we are on our way, but we still need to improve," said Lee, who would have to be a candidate this week for NFC Defensive Player of the Week, if only someone in the NFL watches the tape of this game and takes into consideration the opponent he was at his eraser best against.

         Sure, the Cowboys defense needs to keep marching forward. Atlanta is next, now the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL going into Monday night's game. Then comes fifth-ranked Philadelphia (8-1), which, in the infamous words of Barry Switzer, hung half-a-hundred Sunday on Denver (51-23, with seven touchdowns), the posers they were in beating the Cowboys, 42-17, in the second week of the season.

         Now look, last year's 14th-ranked defense currently is 14th, but having made a significant jump from the 21st spot they were before the three-game winning streak.

         "This was a big step this week against a good team," said Lee, who tended to agree when I pointed out this was, save the final play of the first half, maybe the best defensive performance this team has produced in quite some time, considering the opponent.

         "Just have to keep rolling," Crawford said. "Can't let up."

         Nope, sure can't, but alas we can say this defense is rolling in the right direction, without all that equivocating.

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