Category Archives: Dallas Cowboys Gear

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ARLINGTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – It appears the Dallas Cowboys have found their kicker as they continue their playoff push.

Newly signed Kai Forbath made is debut for the Cowboys on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams after the team let go of struggling kicker Brett Maher.

And it was a perfect debut.

Forbath was 3-3 on field goals — two from 42 and one from 50 yards. He also made all five extra points as the Cowboys blew out the Rams at AT&T Stadium, 44-21.

His one blunder of the game came on his first kickoff when he kicked the ball out of bounds, giving the Rams great field position.

It was a welcome sight for fans as they saw the previous kicker, Maher, become inconsistent throughout an already topsy-turvy season. In his last two games, Maher was 1-4 on his field goal attempts.

The Cowboys will look to keep a consistent kicking game as they head to Philadelphia with playoff hopes on the line.

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The Buffalo Bills on April 25 selected former Cougars defensive tackle Ed Oliver with the No. 9 selection, marking the end of two years of no first-round picks for UH.

Houston may not have to wait much longer to produce another premier NFL talent.

Senior left tackle Josh Jones’ collegiate career is over. Now, it’s time for him to spend months preparing for 2020’s iteration of the NFL Draft, held in Las Vegas. His chances of making it in the first are good.

Jones measures in as a fringe first-round pick and likely second-rounder, according to NFL Draft experts NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein and CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso. Both see him elevating his stock if he has a good Senior Bowl performance in late January.

“He has the size, length, starting experience, production and athleticism of most prospects at his position who ultimately go in one of those first two rounds,” Trapasso said in a Twitter message.

At 6 feet 7 inches and 310 pounds, he has foundational NFL size at an important position.

“He needs to add more strength to his frame, but he’s got long arms, he’s a good athlete and he has really shown a great deal of improvement with his technique in pass protection as the season has progressed,” Zierlein said in a Twitter message. “He’s better in pass protection than he is a run blocker right now, but that’s okay because that’s what gets you drafted earliest – taking care of the quarterback.”

Both Zierlein and Trapasso agree that Jones is a stout pass protector. That correlates with their comparisons, as Zierlein sees him similar to Chicago Bears starter Bobby Massie while Trapasso has him as a fusion between All-Pro Tyron Smith and Pro Bowler Mitchell Schwartz.

The draft season has yet to ramp up. While the Cougars won’t be playing football until 2020, the NFL is, and so are bowling teams. However, Jones is getting attention, as he’s earned his fair share of spots as a first-rounder in mock drafts.

The hype for Jones is there. While not a definite first-round pick in all eyes, he plays an increasingly valuable position and is strongest in its most prominent trait – pass protecting. If he has good performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine and UH pro-day, Cougar nation may be looking at back-to-back first-round picks for the first time since 1972.

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The Cowboys signed cornerback Deante Burton off Indianapolis’ practice squad, Jason Garrett said Wednesday.

Burton takes the roster spot left vacant when the Cowboys placed cornerback Anthony Brown on injured reserve.

Burton, 25, played one game for Atlanta and two for Houston last season in his only career action. He made five tackles and forced a fumble.

He began his career as a receiver, signing with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State in 2017. The Falcons moved him to corner.

Burton briefly spent time on the Packers’ roster last season.

The Cowboys added offensive lineman Marcus Henry to the practice squad. He worked out for the team Tuesday.

Henry spent time with the Texans this season.

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Preseason expectations have evolved into regular season resentment in regard to Dallas Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

Entering his third season, there was a lot of belief that this was the year that Awuzie would ascend into a lockdown corner. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

From purely a production standpoint, Awuzie has struggled mightily this season, giving up 41 catches on 73 total targets for 634 yards (fourth-most among all DBs), 15.4 per reception, and three touchdowns in 13 games while accumulating seven pass break-ups and an interception, per SIS Data Hub.

For comparison’s sake, in 2018, Awuzie gave up 49 catches on 83 targets for 653 yards, 13.3 yards per reception, and four touchdowns in 15 games while registering 10 pass break-ups and an interception.

This means he’s allowing a slightly lower completion percentage this year, but seeing increases in total yards and yards per reception allowed while allowing a similar number of touchdowns and accumulating a similar amount of pass break-ups – not exactly what the Cowboys wanted from a DB with No. 1 CB expectations.

It gets worse when tackling and yards after catch (YAC) are added into the equation. Thus far this season, 12 of Awuzie’s attempted tackles have missed or been broken by opposing ball carriers, which means, given that he has been credited with 63 tackles so far, his tackles are missed or broken by the ball carrier 16% of the time – a huge increase from the 10.5% of last season, per SIS Data Hub. Moreover, Awuzie has allowed 205 total YAC this season – 20th most among all CBs, per Pro Football Focus, which is 55 more YAC than he allowed all of last season (150).

The evidence gets even more damning when advanced statistics are brought into the fold. Football Outsiders has developed a metric (which is used in the SIS Data Hub) called Points Saved, which uses Expected Points Added (EPA) to distribute the value gained or lost on a play to the different players involved based on their impact on the play using the wealth of SIS charting data available. In 2018, Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey led all defensive backs in total points saved among DBs (51) while Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White leads all DBs this year (40) in the same metric.

Awuzie has been credited with 0 total points saved this season, which is not only the epitome of average and the definition of a replacement-level player, it’s also less than multiple other Cowboys DBs, including Byron Jones (10), Xavier Woods (7), Jeff Heath (6) and Jourdan Lewis (6).

Bottom line from a production standpoint, Awuze is playing like a replacement-level cornerback rather than the potential No. 1 CB the Cowboys were hoping for.

Awuzie’s struggles statistically are confirmed on film; however, before getting into his individual struggles, it’s important to acknowledge that Dallas’ scheme and defensive play-calling play a part in it, too.

Take this reception on 2nd-and-1 versus the Giants in Week 9 as an example:

On this play, the Cowboys are playing their typical Cover 3 defense where Awuzie plays off coverage and is responsible for the deep third zone on his side of the field. While the casual fan may be upset about Awuzie allowing an easy first down reception in a short-yardage situation, the reality is that the coaching staff deserves far more blame than anyone for this easy first down (which is a theme of Dallas’ season so far).

In Cover 3, the box defenders (linebackers plus strong safety) are responsible for all the short-to-intermediate zones while the cornerbacks and free safety are responsible for the deep zones. Moreover, the box defenders have dual run-pass responsibilities, meaning they have to play forward and fit their gap against the run but also retreat to their zone versus the pass.

The positives are that it gets eight defenders in the box to defend the probable run in a short-yardage situation; however, it also makes them susceptible to quick play-action passes from shotgun, which is exactly what happens here.

The box defenders’ dual run-pass responsibilities, especially in a short-yardage situation, cause them to immediately react forward versus any run action in an attempt to clog the gaps and stuff the potential run. This creates huge voids in the short-to-intermediate zones, which are exacerbated by the fact the Dallas blitzed the strong safety (Jeff Heath) off the edge, thus taking away one short-to-intermediate zone defender.

Therefore, no one is in the flats to defend the speed out, creating an easy pitch-and-catch for the first down. While it is true that Awuzie should have triggered forward quicker, the scheme prevented him from having any chance to contest this quick throw more so than his execution.

These types of poor situational defensive play calls are littered through Dallas’ tape this season, especially in short-yardage situations. Nevertheless, Awuzie has done himself no favors outside of that, as intermittent technical lapses have led to most of Awuzie’s struggles this year.

“Lapses” being the key term there because Awuzie provides good coverage a majority of the time, which is why he maintains a relatively low completion percentage when targeted (56.2%) despite his struggles this season. However, much like with offensive linemen, a few lapses or bad snaps per game is enough to override the dozens of other snaps where he executed his job effectively, which signifies the little room for error that NFL CBs have on a game-by-game basis.

Those lapses are especially frustrating because there’s not one thing to hang your hat on in regard to Awuzie’s overall struggles. It’s a bunch of different little things that pop up intermittently. They aren’t always due to the same reasons, but they all have a similar effect in deteriorating Awuzie’s coverage ability on a given snap.

Here’s an example:

On this Week 4 play in New Orleans, Awuzie is aligned in press-man, or bump-and-run, coverage against Saints receiver Michael Thomas. When lining up against one of the top receivers in the NFL, which Thomas certainly is, even the smallest mistakes can create a big enough opening for the receiver to take advantage, which is exactly what happens here.

The casual fan may critique Awuzie for not turning his head around to look for the ball when Thomas did, but that ignores the differences in how a CB is supposed to play when in/out of phase with a receiver.

When a CB is in-phase, meaning he can reach out and touch the receiver, then yes, he is supposed to lean into the receiver and turn his head to find the ball.

However, when a CB is out of phase, meaning he can’t touch the receiver, as Awuzie is above, he is taught to not turn his head and look for the ball because if he guesses wrong then it inevitably creates more separation for the receiver while eliminating the CB’s ability to limit YAC once the catch is made. Instead, he is taught to stay locked in on the receiver while playing through the receiver’s hands at the catch point.

Awuzie’s patience and footwork are good but watch his hands as he tries to press Thomas (above clip).

Awuzie’s hands are much too wide and lack assertiveness. This enables Thomas to control the inside position, which prevents Awuzie from landing with his hands and allows Thomas to create initial separation off his release and put Awuzie out-of-phase.

With Awuzie out of phase and playing catch-up, he has no ability to dictate the pace of the route, which prevents him from ‘feeling’ the break point and causes him to overrun Thomas’ stop run. The result is a first-down reception for Thomas.

Had Awuzie been tighter with his hands at the line of scrimmage, he would have been in-phase with Thomas after the release, which would have put him in position to feel the break and blanket Thomas’ stop route.

Even more frustrating is when Awuzie’s tight coverage gets ruined by poor technique contesting the catch point:

On this Week 12 play at New England, Awuzie does a nice job maintaining tight coverage against Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers on a 10-yard out route, which was thwarted by Awuzie swiping at the ball instead of sticking his hand through Meyer’s at the catch point.

The problem with swiping at the ball is that it is a low percentage and inefficient technique, as the defender has only one chance to deflect the ball. If he mistimes his swipe even by the slimmest of margins, the pass is completed, as was the case in the above clip.

Instead, it’s better for a defender to aim to stick his hand(s) through the receiver’s at the catch point, since that where the ball is going to end up if the pass is completed. Attacking the receiver’s hands is much more effective and efficient than attacking the ball in this kind of situation.

Another example of Awuzie’s intermittent technical lapses has to do with his eye discipline from off coverage:

When in off coverage, cornerbacks are taught to read the QB’s initial drop first before keying on the receiver, as the QB’s drop can help the CB ascertain the type of route he’s going to see.

For example, if a QB takes a three-step drop from under center or a one-step drop from shotgun, then the cornerback knows he doesn’t need to worry about deep throws and instead needs to be ready to drive short-breaking routes.

Nonetheless, Awuzie does the opposite in the above clip, as he begins with his eyes on the receiver but then turns his eyes toward the No. 2 receiver, which makes him late to react and drive on the out route, resulting in a nine-yard completion that put Green Bay on the goal line (they scored on the next play).

Given that Dallas was in its typical Cover 3 zone defense, Awuzie was likely getting his eyes on the No. 2 receiver to make sure he wasn’t running a corner route into his deep zone; however, if he had read the QB’s quick drop, he would have known the ball was going to get out quick, giving him a better opportunity to drive and contest the catch point.

Bad eyes made Awuzie late to trigger forward to defend the out route, which cost Dallas valuable yards in the red zone.

Awuzie’s struggles this year are important to understand, as his inability to meet his preseason expectations to become a No. 1-caliber corner this season has a domino effect on the roster construction as a whole.

Entering training camp, the Cowboys had six players with legitimate cases for contract extensions: Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Jaylon Smith and La’el Collins.

Jones’ case, in particular, received little attention and seemingly little priority from the Cowboys’ front office, which was partly due to Awuzie’s preseason expectations. Why pay big money to your No. 1 CB if you expect your No. 2 to develop into a legitimate No. 1 within the next season, especially when the team doesn’t have as much depth at the positions of the other players deserving extensions?

This paved the way for Dallas to extend Elliott, Collins and Smith prior to their season opener, leaving Jones at the bottom of the priority list among the three remaining players (along with Prescott and Cooper) worthy of contract extensions.

Now, it is important to also state that there were other factors in Jones not receiving an extension, the biggest of which is the fact that he was coming off a serious hip injury that required surgery and forced him to miss training camp and the preseason. It’s understandable why the front office would be hesitant to give a player coming off major surgery a big-money extension.

But Awuzie’s struggles have left the Cowboys’ front office between a rock and a hard place.

If the Cowboys knew Awuzie was going to struggle, they may have been more diligent in trying to extend Jones’ contract before the season when the Cowboys had a ton of available money. Instead, the Cowboys will be forced to either re-sign Jones or find a replacement with significantly less money available thanks to the Elliott, Collins and Smith extensions along with the money earmarked for Prescott and Cooper’s huge extensions.

In other words, Awuzie’s failure to live up to his preseason expectations has not only hurt the Cowboys on the football field, but it’s also hurt their ability to retain their best defensive back (Jones) in the offseason.

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Les blessures font partie de la carrière d’un sportif. Il faut savoir les gérer pour aller loin dans sa carrière. A Dallas, Leigthon Vander Esch prend son mal en patience, le temps que son corps récupère pour retrouver pleinement les terrains.

Touché au cou face à Philadelphie, le linebacker a manqué le déplacement aux Giants. On pensait que la blessure était guérie avec une grosse performance à Minnesota mais la blessure est revenue et empêche le joueur d’être sur le terrain. Après avoir manqué les matchs contre New England et Buffalo, il le sera de nouveau face à Chicago.

Son entraineur, Jason Garrett, avait réagi à cette blessure il y a quelques semaines en conférence de presse.

Nous ne pensons pas que cette blessure menace sa carrière. Nous pensons qu’il va revenir cette saison et être prêt à jouer. Son cou a besoin de récupérer. Nous allons évaluer la situation de semaine en semaine.

Au micro de 1310 The Ticket, Leigthon Vander Esch a confirmé son forfait mais se projette sur le long terme

Je veux être capable de jouer pendant 10-12 ans, pas seulement 4.

Dallas va de nouveau compter sur Sean Lee et Jaylon Smith pour compenser l’absence de Vander Esch.

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Jaylon Smith had some moments worth celebrating on Thursday.

He broke up two passes in the end zone on consecutive plays during the second quarter. Later, he broke up a third pass, becoming just the second Cowboys linebacker in a decade to record three passes defensed in a single game. He recovered a fumble, too.

And celebrate, Smith did.

It wasn’t always a good look.

Smith was approached Thursday evening when exiting the locker room about what transpired following his second end-zone breakup during a 31-24 loss to the Bears. He looked in the general direction of wide receiver Javon Wims, the intended target on the play. Wims was down on the field grabbing his right knee in visible pain. Smith proceeded to salute the crowd and perform a rehearsed handshake with a teammate.

“I’m not that type of player,” Smith said. “I didn’t know my guy was hurt. I know how it feels, and I’m praying for him. Absolutely. … I ain’t that type of guy.”

Smith, who suffered a significant knee injury late in his college career, then posted a social-media message to that same effect.

“To clear the air, I was unaware my opponent was down with an injury following a play in tonight’s game!” Smith wrote on Twitter. “I understand how it feels to be down with an injury and would never wish that upon anyone. I celebrated after making a big play. Sending a speedy recovery his way.”

Wims has a slight knee sprain, according to NFL Media. He’s not expected to miss significant time.

Overall, it was a mixed evening for Smith. After Wims exited the game, Smith allowed a touchdown on the ensuing play to wide receiver Allen Robinson. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith had one of the Cowboys’ 10 missed tackles for the game.

“Jaylon was certainly active in the game,” coach Jason Garrett said Friday. “He was around the ball a lot. He did some good things, both as a run defender and as a pass defender. But he was part of the whole defensive effort, and I don’t know if you can look across the board and say anybody really stood out positively on defense when (the Bears moved) the ball as consistently as they did. There were some bright spots. There were some bright plays for different people and for Jaylon, but overall, the defensive effort wasn’t good enough.”

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FRISCO — The bug has gotten around.

Linebacker Justin March is dealing with a respiratory illness. Linebacker Joe Thomas, a reserve who could start this weekend, missed the entire practice week to the flu. Safety Donovan Wilson missed the final two days. And linebackers coach Ben Bloom also has the flu, multiple players said, hence why he hasn’t coached a practice this week.

The Cowboys knew preparing for the New England Patriots would involve containing the catch.

This isn’t what they had in mind.

The defense absorbed a blow Thursday when it learned that continued neck discomfort for linebacker Leighton Vander Esch required prolonged rest. He won’t play Sunday and likely will be sidelined into December with a disk issue, sources said. The team considers him week-to-week.

That setback, combined with an illness spell that prompted the Cowboys to give quarterback Dak Prescott preventative care this week, only complicates the effort to thwart a Patriots passing game that leans on its backfield.

New England averages an NFL-high 11.4 pass attempts per game to running backs. Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles were effective when defending 14 passes from quarterback Tom Brady to the position group.

The Patriots (9-1) managed only eight catches for 61 yards.

Without Vander Esch, a Dallas defense that missed 24 tackles the last two games looks to bounce back and achieve similar success.

“The screen game, it’s obviously [about] recognition,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “It’s the whole entire group hustling to the football, understanding your fits in the screen, being able to recognize them, being able to hustle. A lot of times it takes three or four guys. A lot of times it takes a guy from the back side hustling. It’s a group effort on screens. It’s communication. We know they’re great at that.”

Lee is a key piece to the Vander Esch contingency plan.

Like when the 2018 first-round pick was sidelined with neck stiffness on Nov. 4 against the New York Giants, Lee worked at weak-side, or “Will,” linebacker during Friday’s practice, switching from his usual strong-side (“Sam”) spot. Luke Gifford, an undrafted rookie who has yet to play a defensive snap in 2019, worked at Sam backer on Friday with Thomas recovering.

The expectation is that Thomas, despite not practicing at all this week and missing most meetings, will play Sam on Sunday in the base defense. Lee not only will replace Vander Esch at Will but also in the nickel defense beside linebacker Jaylon Smith.

“Sean has been Sean for his whole career,” cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said Friday. “He’s made a name for himself before anyone else on this defense has. For that reason, he’s well respected. He’s on it. He studies. He anticipates things, and he reacts really well. The expectation for Sean stepping in for Leighton is nothing less than what Leighton would do. Even more sometimes.

“We’re happy for him to be in his natural habitat. We’re praying for Leighton and hoping he gets better. We’re praying for Joe and hoping he gets better. But this defense, we’ve got a standard. And whoever is in, we’ve got to step up.”

The Patriots generally rotate four running backs.

Of them, James White is the most dynamic as a receiver, and his usage reflects that. In 84% of his 281 offensive snaps, the team has operated a pass play. Understanding what an offense likes to do with certain personnel in what groupings and which game situations is among the first steps to containment.

The Patriots have passed on 73.1% of Rex Burkhead’s snaps. By comparison, with Sony Michel on the field, 63.5% have been runs. For added context, New England has attempted to pass on about 60% of plays this season overall.

Identifying which back is on the field is just one part to defending how the Patriots involve their running backs in the pass game.

“You’ve got to be alert for pick situations,” Vander Esch said Wednesday, one day before an MRI determined he won’t play Sunday. “You’ve got to know down and distance; that tells a lot. You’ve got to know their alignment. If you can just stay ahead of the snap, that pretty much does your job for you.”

The Cowboys didn’t quite see this practice week coming. No one did.

Defending the catch started early.

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ARLINGTON — It’s inspiring to see a player in his golden years set aside his glass of Metamucil to sip from the fountain of youth.

When two aging veterans and friends who have been together for the better part of a decade do it in the same game, well, that’s a moment to cherish.

Jason Witten and Sean Lee did just that in the waning seconds of a Cowboys victory that was as unexpected as it was dominant. Early Sunday evening, as the finishing touches were being put on a 44-21 victory over the LA Rams, the two spoke about what had taken place.

Witten made a beautiful, one-handed catch and spin for a 19-yard touchdown to stake the Cowboys to an early lead. Lee’s interception and impressive return late in the half meant the Dallas offense only needed to gain 9 yards to score a touchdown on its fourth consecutive possession.

The Rams never got closer than 21 points the rest of the day.

“For us old guys to have a couple of plays that can help the team win, it’s special,’’ Witten said. “We know where we are in our careers. We’ve always prided ourselves in the film work and preparation.

“Games like this is why you do all that work, to have a few moments where you can turn back that clock.’’

There’s a lot of clock to turn back.

Let’s start with 70. That’s the combined age of Witten and Lee. The two have accumulated 26 years of NFL experience. In case you’re wondering, that’s two more years than Ezekiel Elliott has on his birth certificate.

Elliott ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 43 yards through the air as the Cowboys broke a three-game losing streak to set up next week’s showdown with Philadelphia for the NFC East title. But it was Witten who began the scoring parade for Dallas with a 19-yard reception, his longest scoring catch since December 2017 against the New York Giants.

“You know, it was awesome to see him make that play,’’ Lee said. “It fired me up.

“I couldn’t let him one up me.’’

He didn’t.

Lee’s interception in the final two minutes of the first half — fittingly, his first since December 2017 against the Giants — allowed the Cowboys to build an insurmountable lead. His 25-yard return down to the Rams’ 9-yard line featured a spin move he doesn’t even remember making.

Why didn’t he go ahead and score?

“I’m not that fast,’’ Lee replied.

The offensive starters ran onto the field to congratulate Lee before he could get back to the sidelines. They were as effusive and animated as he was with his teammates in their circle before the game kicked off.

“Not to get sentimental, but seeing the guys run on the field after I had that pick is something very special to me,’’ said Lee, who added a sack later in the game, the first credited solely to him since December 2015 against Washington. “That’s something I’ll remember for a long time.’’

Witten came out of retirement to return to the team and sport he loves this season.

Lee took a substantial pay cut and reduced role to be part of the Cowboys this season because, in his words, “I love this organization.’’ His high school coach, Jim Render, and 25 or so friends all the way back from elementary school, were at this game and celebrated with him afterward. He required a cortisone shot Friday afternoon for the injury to his quad and pelvis to play.

“I know how much he’s gone through to get back to this point,’’ Witten said.

That’s what the two men spoke about on the sidelines in the closing seconds.

“We’ve had a lot of good times together,’’ Witten said. “We’ve had unfortunately a lot of adversity together. As leaders and captains for a lot of those years, we feel like we carried that torch.

“When you come back, you always want to think about these good moments and these good plays. To be honest, it hasn’t always been that way this year.’’

It hasn’t. But the magnitude and thoroughness of Sunday’s win gives the Cowboys hope they can finish strong.

A couple of players in the sunset of their careers helped lead the way.

“Those guys represent everything you want in your organization, everything you want in terms of preparation and love for the game, their willingness to put the team first and then their performance,’’ head coach Jason Garrett said.

“I think that was reflective in our performance today.’’

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.

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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.

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FRISCO, Texas — It doesn’t take a Super Bowl champion to figure these things out, but it carries some extra weight coming from a guy who’s been there.

Asked about the attitude in the Cowboys’ locker room this week, Michael Bennett summed things up pretty nicely.

“I think the mood’s been good. I think everyone just wants to win,” he said. “When you want to win, there’s always going to be some chippiness.”

Chippiness has been the subject of the week after Ezekiel Elliott said the Cowboys got after it at a spirited Sunday practice. It’s an understandable byproduct of a two-game losing streak, but Bennett doesn’t think it has adversely affected the Cowboys heading into this week’s road trip to Chicago.

“I think everybody respects the amount of work each player puts in, the coaches put in,” he said. “But we want great output. And the output is winning. That’s the most important thing and we’re trying to figure out what’s the best way of doing that.”

Bennett has been in the news for his own role in that process. Following Thursday’s loss to Buffalo, he could be heard in the Cowboys’ locker room giving an impassioned speech to his teammates. He declined to comment on that, but he did say that this is the time for the Cowboys to take a hard look at themselves.

“Everybody enjoys winning, but losing makes you look into the mirror more and self-reflect on things you got to fix,” he said. “Sometimes, when you win you can overlook things but when you lose, the eye of the camera finds everything that’s wrong. So I think sometimes you’ve got to self-reflect and we’re at the moment where we’ve got to self-reflect and figure out how to put our best foot forward.”