IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys failed to play up to their standards against the NFL’s two leading rushers the last couple of games.
The Dallas run defense doesn’t exactly catch a break this week against Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who ranks behind only Houston’s Arian Foster and Tennessee’s Chris Johnson with 485 rushing yards despite the Vikings’ early bye.
“He’s one of the hardest runners in the NFL. It doesn’t get any easier,” outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “You’ve got to be ready for a guy like Adrian who can catch the ball out of the backfield, run the ball really hard. We’ve got to be physical and we’ve got to be physical up front, especially the front seven. That’s how we’ve always been.’’
The Cowboys haven’t been nearly as stingy against the run recently as they usually are. Their run of 19 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher -- which was the longest streak in the NFL -- was snapped when Foster gained 106 yards on 17 carries. Johnson followed that up by racking up 131 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against the Cowboys.
Now the Cowboys have to figure out a way to contain Peterson, whose blend of speed and power makes him one of the most physically gifted backs to ever play the game.
“He’s the total package,” inside linebacker Keith Brooking said. “He can do it all.”
The Cowboys remain confident in their run defense. They actually believe that, for the most part, they played sound up front the last couple of games.
They’ve been hurt by big plays. Foster had runs of 26 and 21 yards. Johnson had runs of 42 and 29 yards, with the secondary guilty of poor run support on both plays.
Coach Wade Phillips pointed out that Johnson averaged less than 3 yards on the rest of his carries. We’ll call that fuzzy math instead of fibbing. He actually averaged 3.5 yards on the rest of his carries. If you also take Johnson’s two 1-yard touchdowns out of the mix, it was 3.9 yards per pop, which still supports Phillips’ point that the Cowboys’ run defense played reasonably well against the defending NFL rushing champion with two major exceptions.
“I know we’re a very good run defense,” Brooking said. “When you turn on the film and watch the game, you see that. We have to eliminate the two or three explosive plays per game. That’s something that can be eliminated quickly.”
The flip side is that Peterson can cover 60 yards quickly if the Cowboys’ front seven isn’t sound.