‘It’s a statement’: Cowboys run defense shuts down Saquon Barkley, preps for December stretch

Decimated by an illness going around the facility, the Cowboys defense faced a tall task in trying to shut down Giants running back Saquon Barkley on Thanksgiving Day. Barkley came in as the league’s second-leading rusher, with nearly 1,000 yards total and averaging over 95 yards on the ground per game.

Dallas didn’t allow him to get even halfway there, limiting him to just 39 yards on 11 carries in a 28-20 Cowboys win that ended up being not as close as the final score would indicate.

“I thought we did pretty good. He might have had one, maybe two explosive runs. But for the most part, [we] contained him and made sure everything was short,” linebacker Micah Parsons said afterward of the Giants star. “I think we did a pretty good job for the way he’s been playing this year.”

Barkley’s longest run on the day was 10 yards. Although he did rush for a second-quarter touchdown, he didn’t inflict further serious damage on a Cowboys run defense that had been gashed for over 200 yards just 11 days prior.

“That thing that happened in Green Bay, you know, it’s just a part of our journey,” offered safety Jayron Kearse. “If that doesn’t happen, then who knows if we’re here. We just continue to fight and just learn from our mistakes.”

After a sluggish first half from the entire team, the Cowboys defense buckled down noticeably after the break. They didn’t make many mistakes at all in the final thirty minutes; the Giants’ four second-half possessions ended in two turnovers on downs, a punt, and a too-little-too-late touchdown with under two minutes to play.

“Yeah, we had to come out and fight. Definitely not a pretty first round,” Parsons told reporters. “Definitely not the way you want to start but, for the most part, we came out in that second half and dominated.”

Parsons logged two second-half sacks on Daniel Jones to bring his season total to 12 and helped hold the normally mobile passer to just 14 rushing yards, well below his typical per-game average of 41.

Barkley and Jones combined Thursday for just 53 yards on the ground, their lowest output of the season. In all, the Giants as a team rushed for just 90 yards on the day.

That domination is even more impressive given the number of Dallas defensive players who have been dealing with a seasonal bug. No fewer than seven Cowboys- all on the defense- were listed on Wednesday’s practice report with illness.

Tarell Basham, Johnathan Hankins, and Kelvin Joseph were all among the inactives because of it. Neville Gallimore, Dante Fowler, Donovan Wilson, and DeMarcus Lawrence all battled through it to play Thursday. Quinton Bohanna is just getting over it after sitting out versus Minnesota on Sunday.

But the depleted ranks didn’t diminish the swarming spirit of the unit as a whole, especially with the national spotlight shining on a divisional clash that would determine second place in the NFC East.

“I’m pretty sure everyone stayed positive,” Parsons said at his locker. “I think it’s just the flu bug going around. Everyone is catching it. Even the Giants caught it; it’s obviously going around. But just staying positive, knowing that if someone goes down, we know that we’re so deep over here. Just knowing that the next guy can cover the play no matter what.”

Now two games removed from their colossal letdown at Lambeau, the Cowboys defense appears to be making good on their internally-imposed priority of everybody simply doing their job and not trying to do too much.

That will continue to be critical in the weeks ahead as the gauntlet of opposing rushers doesn’t let up. Indianapolis’s Jonathan Taylor, Houston’s Dameon Pierce, Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne, Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders, and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry- all in the league’s top 10 in rushing yards per game-  are up next over the next five outings.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” Kearse said. “When it comes to just being sound in our task and our fundamentals when it comes to our job. Just handling our responsibility. You definitely saw that tonight, holding a phenomenal back like Saquon to the yards that he had. It’s a statement for the things to come if we continue to do the right thing.”

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire