it's trying to do, you'll get the same answer: stop the run and eliminate big plays. And the next thing is don't shoot yourself in the foot with stupid penalties and things like that. This week is a perfect week for us to start to turn things around."
It's more than a perfect week. It's the only week. Mathematically, the Cowboys could still lose in Washington Sunday and finish 11-5 and be fine. Does anyone think that scenario is plausible?
(Actually, I would say that depends on how it happens. It would be possible to lose this game and still be alright if you played well. But, I don't recommend it.)
All-star linebacker DeMarcus Ware offers aggressiveness as the key to playing good run defense.
"You've got to get on the other side of the line of scrimmage before the play develops," Ware said. "You can do that a lot of ways. Blitzing, being sound in your gaps, linebackers getting off blocks. Gap control is very important for us this week. We have to hold the point of attack until the linebacker gets there." And how much of playing run defense is a mindset of toughness? "All of it is," Ware believes. "If you say, 'They're not going to run on us today,' you'll get on the other side of the line of scrimmage."
Mindset may be a lot about what happens in this game. Tight end Jason Witten believes, and is preaching to his teammates, that now is the time for focus and total concentration.
"I think it's going to set the tempo for what we want this stretch to be," Witten said. I'm glad we've had this time to prepare. Washington's playing really well. Playing up there in front of that crowd will force us to focus. Playing urgent, concentrating, focus on the little things, that's what this team is trying to do." In the second meeting of division rivals, says linebacker Kevin Burnett, "the thing that changes is the heightened intensity. The plays don't change. We've played them before. They do the same things. They want to run the football, then hit you deep and throw some screen passes if you stop their run."
What does Burnett feel the Cowboys need to most improve from the first meeting?
"Stop the run. As a unit, we have to stop the run, and then we can build on that."
And the key, generically, to stopping the run?
"Playing fast and physical. Get there, and when you get there, get there with a bad attitude. You'll know the play before they run it. We know their plays, they know our plays. It's all who's going to stop what."
Sometimes scheme may come into play, and maybe teams can outthink themselves. Former Cowboys Pro Bowl safety Darren Woodson, now a network television analyst, was a practice visitor Wednesday and urged Dallas not to let the other team dictate what personnel package it plays.
"Sometimes," Woodson offered, "teams want to get Zach (Thomas) or Bradie (James) off the field, so they'll go spread, the Cowboys sub, and then they run the ball. You don't have to let the other team dictate to you. Sometimes you can dictate to them."
And sometimes it might come down to what's in your head and what's in your heart.
"We don't want to be just a team with a lot of names," says Ware. "We better be scared to go home early. We haven't played up to our standards. It's time to get ready and go."