FRISCO, Texas—The Cowboys kept their party line intact for four days.
Yes, players said from Monday through Thursday, they knew Eagles coach Doug Pederson told a Philadelphia radio station his team would beat Dallas to take over first place in the NFC East.
No, they added, they didn’t much care. Pederson is entitled to his opinion. The Cowboys didn’t need outside motivation. Why shouldn’t a coach express confidence in his players?
“I wouldn’t want him to be coaching me if he wouldn’t say that,” quarterback Dak Prescott even added.
Dak Prescott on Doug Pederson comments: “I hope he would say that. I wouldn’t want him to be coaching me if he wouldn’t say that.”
Added later: “I like our chances this Sunday.” pic.twitter.com/YEMhA868eo
Then defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence met with the media at his locker on Friday. Reporters gathered around Lawrence as he slipped pink Nikes atop green socks lined with footballs from his seat in the corner. The always-authentic Cowboys captain was asked about Pederson’s win assurance.
“Tell him to come on,” Lawrence said. “We’re ready. Can he play the game?”
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence gestures after being called for a penalty in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints. (Photo: Chuck Cook, USA TODAY Sports)
Not anymore, a reporter answered.
“So he might want to shut his ass up and stay on the sideline,” Lawrence continued. “He can’t play the game for them. The Eagles got to come play ’em and he’s supposed to sit on the sideline and do whatever he wants to do. But he can’t play the game for them. So we’ll see.”
This divisional matchup of .500 teams doesn’t mark the first time Lawrence has preceded a game with fodder. Lawrence mentioned choking out the Saints ahead of a 2018 matchup. Then his defense limited Drew Brees’ attack to power a 13-10 Cowboys win.
The Cowboys defense has been less consistent this season. They’ve created pressure at some points and are among league leaders in limiting third-down conversions. But opponents—even the previously winless Jets—have torched them on big plays. The run defense allowed Aaron Jones to score four times for the Packers by ground. Lawrence himself has started more slowly from a sack standpoint (2.5 in six games) than the last two seasons, when he combined for 25 sacks and consecutive Pro Bowl berths. He doesn’t doubt his team’s ability to rebound from its three-game skid.
“We went through this before,” said Lawrence, a member of the Cowboys’ three consecutive 3-3 squads. “We’ve done seen hell and done dug out the pits of it. We was 3-5 last year. You guys asking the same questions. What is it to fear? We all men, we already know what we got to do.”
Lawrence has seen double teams and chips regularly this year, though he doesn’t let protections or injury (he surgically repaired a shoulder his shoulder this offseason) merit reason for excuse. Sure, he says, missing offseason and training camp work with teammates has meant they’re figuring out run fits and tackling assignments later in the season than they’d like. Opponents have overcome an attack with Lawrence coming from left and Robert Quinn (five sacks in four games) from the right. The Cowboys’ 14 sacks rank 15th in the league even as their 45 quarterback pressures rank fifth.
“Fatigue makes a coward out of anybody,” Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence said. “So it’s all about really keeping the pressure on their throats at all times.”
“It can get a little frustrating, but you can’t let it overwhelm you,” Lawrence said of the still-evolving pass rush. “It’s the NFL. Everyone’s good. [Jaylon Smith] said great, but I don’t know about great. Everybody’s good.
“Sky’s still the limit and we ain’t reach it yet so we still got work to do.”
Against the Eagles, Lawrence and the Cowboys will focus that work toward defending their NFC East lead and proving Pederson’s prediction wrong. Don’t worry, Lawrence said, about his recent role in the rotation or the defense’s other struggles.
“Doug Pederson already called us out,” Lawrence said “So y’all know what it is. Thank y’all.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein
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