Dallas Cowboys

Thursday’s takeaway? Cowboys’ defense starting to look elite

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had his first-career interception on Thursday. The Cowboys had a season-high three inrerceptions in the 31-23 win.
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had his first-career interception on Thursday. The Cowboys had a season-high three inrerceptions in the 31-23 win. AP Photo

DeMarcus Lawrence said it on Wednesday afternoon.

No matter how good the Dallas Cowboys’ defense had played in 2018, the unit needed more turnovers to take it up another notch. After a slow start, the turnovers have started coming and Thursday’s three interceptions in a 31-23 win over the Washington Redskins shows the defense is peaking at just the right time.

Dallas has forced five turnovers during a three-game win streak after forcing only eight in the first eight games.

“That’s just a testimony to what coach [Rod Marinelli] has been preaching all year long,” said defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who collected his first-career interception and returned it 13 yards to set up Amari Cooper’s 90-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. “In order to be an elite defense, we have to get takeaways and we ended up doing it today.”

The Cowboys (6-5) are holding teams to 19.4 points a game, fourth-lowest in the league. They rank eighth overall in yards allowed per game but will face their toughest task of the year when the New Orleans Saints (10-1) come to AT&T Stadium on Thursday night. Quarterback Drew Brees and his high-powered offense lead the league with 409 points and average a fourth-best 416.6 yards a game.

“We’re playing fast, we’re playing together, everyone is doing their job,” rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “We’re having an absolute blast with each other, loving it.”

Vander Esch had interceptions in the previous two games. He said playing with more confidence has helped spark the takeaways.

“Just being confident in ourselves and playing fast. We have a young team and we’re flying around and attacking the ball. We’re getting after the quarterback, stopping the run and making them one dimensional, making them pass the ball,” he said. “Obviously, when the ball is in the air it’s just as much ours as it is theirs.”

Anthony Brown picked off a pass in the first quarter and Xavier Woods had one in the fourth. Dallas had a fourth interception slip through Chidobe Awuzie’s hands.

“That’s what it’s about. We understand limiting opponents points-wise but to take that next step, we got to get turnovers,” Awuzie said. “I think I dropped two picks today, that’s not my character. I know I’m definitely not going to hear the end of that from my DBs coach.”

Defensive backs coach Kris Richard will probably let it slide as long as the turnovers keep coming.

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