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Demarcus Lawrence talks about identity and believes the Cowboys performance in recent weeks has been uncharacteristic of this defense.
He knows it’s been uncharacteristic of him.
“I’m testifying,” Lawrence said. “I’ll take ownership of those last couple of games.
“I haven’t been playing like myself. I haven’t been taking the leadership role I should be taking.
“It’s time for me to step up.”
Lawrence has come under criticism as the defense unravels along with the Cowboys season. It’s understandable. When you are the highest-paid player in franchise history, your performance is going to be judged against that standard.
What follows isn’t a screed about what Lawrence has failed to accomplish. Detractors will point to his modest total of five sacks as proof the defensive end isn’t doing his job.
That’s unfair. Lawrence is providing consistent pressure. He’s strong in the run game. His effort is high. He doesn’t take plays off.
Lawrence continues to play at a high level. A Pro Bowl level? No. But his performance hasn’t eroded to the level his sack total indicates.
That being said, it’s fair to point out that Lawrence isn’t having the impact he did the last two seasons when he totaled 25 sacks. He’s gone five games without a sack being credited solely to him.
There have been seven games this season where Lawrence has been shut out getting to the quarterback. He’s gone 19 consecutive regular-season games, a stretch that extends to Nov. 18, 2018, without collecting more than one sack in a game.
The Cowboys need their top players on both sides of the ball to make plays in the final three weeks of the regular season. Lawrence is their top defender. He’s not making enough plays.
That’s the essence of his declaration Monday after spending time with other teammates at Children’s Medical Center.
“Right now it’s really all about getting back to our identity and maintaining our focus on what’s really important to this game,” Lawrence said. “That’s playing fundamentally sound, team offense and defense. We really have to come together as a unit, come together as a group of men and really showcase our talents on the field.”
The Dallas defense has given up a total of 57 points and 738 yards in the last two games, allowing seven touchdowns and 46 first downs. Buffalo and Chicago combined to convert half of their third-down opportunities. The Cowboys held Philadelphia and the New York Giants to total of 28 points in back-to-back victories to end October and start November.
Four of five opponents since then have burned the defense for 26 or more points.
Head coach Jason Garrett believes the group is pressing too much to make big plays.
“I can see a lot of issues pertaining to what we’ve got to fix,” Lawrence said. “But it’s all insight, it’s all about us, it’s all about self-inflicted wounds.
“It’s small things like being out of your gap or being somewhere you’re not supposed to be. It’s all about honing in on the details and getting back to the speed of our defense.”
Uncharacteristic? Jaylon Smith uses another word to describe the defensive performance in recent weeks.
“It’s unacceptable,” the linebacker said. “It’s unacceptable.
“We know the type of defense we’ve been and we want to continue to be. But you have to go out and execute, you have to go out and get your job done by any means necessary.
“It comes down to execution. Men being men and making a decision to come together as one and succeed. That’s what we have to vow ourselves.”
Lawrence and Smith are the defensive captains. Yet it was newcomer Michael Bennett who spoke up in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving Day loss to Buffalo.
Neither Lawrence nor Smith spoke to the media in the days leading up to the game against Chicago. Smith was asked Monday how he views his role as captain. Is it one in which he needs to say more or do more?
“It’s a combination,” Smith replied. “Being able to balance the talk vs. play, lead by example vs. the vocal leadership. It comes over time. It’s growth.
“For us, we’re understanding and accepting our reality, but it’s about making a change.”
How do defensive players and coaches change course at this stage of the season?
“I think it’s in the preparation,” Smith said. “I think it’s in the honesty.
“I have faith.”
So does Lawrence. He clings to the belief that one win can change everything.
“Absolutely,” Lawrence said. “We still have high hopes for our team. We still believe we can make it all the way. That’s all you need in this world is a little bit of belief.
“So stay tuned.”
Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with The Musers at 9:35 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and with The Hardline at 4:15 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday during the season.