Cowboys are confident in their defense

The Cowboys are talking with confidence about their defense and they have that right the way they've been playing. They've been on an impressive roll lately.

The one thing that separates the Cowboys from the rest of the teams in the NFC playoffs is their defense.

All have potent offenses, but the Cowboys have been playing shutdown defense of late.

The Cowboys led the NFC and ranked second in the NFL in scoring defense during the regular season, giving up just 15.6 points per game. Only the New York Jets (14.8) allowed fewer.

The Cowboys have been at their best the last month of the season. They held San Diego and New Orleans to their lowest outputs of the season, posted an NFL season-best nine consecutive scoreless quarters and pitched shutouts against the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles during that stretch.

The Cowboys have won four straight games and have outscored their opponents 75-14 in the last three.

"I just think as we went along you could tell we were getting better and better, and it was harder and harder to score on us," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "That was the factor, really. Good offensive teams couldn't score many points or couldn't move the ball that well, or we were making plays when we needed to make plays."

The Cowboys are getting after the quarterback with constant pressure and are not giving up big plays.

"We're just putting everything together," cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "We've played a lot of scrambling quarterbacks, too, so it's kind of hard just keeping those guys in the box, keeping them contained. (The front seven has) been doing a great job at just holding them down."

The Cowboys will be challenged by the Vikings' offense this weekend. But they are confident because no defense in the league is playing better.

"When you're playing as well as anybody in the league I think that's the key thing," Phillips said. "I think we're playing as good as anybody on defense."


  • CB Mike Jenkins is playing great, but he got chewed out a bit by the Cowboys for lateraling an interception that resulted in a fumble against the Eagles.

  • LB Anthony Spencer is playing as well as any defender on the Cowboys and probably in the league. He has seven sacks in the last seven games, including the playoffs to key the defense.

  • RB Felix Jones may be the team's best option at running back because of his big-play ability. He is getting more and more carries because he is proving to the Cowboys that he can stay healthy. Heading into December he never had more than 10 carries in a game in his career. Over the last five weeks he hasn't had fewer than 10 carries, culminating with the 16-carry, 148-yard performance in the wild-card playoff win against the Eagles.

  • TE Jason Witten needs to clean up his penalties. He had three of the team's 14 penalties against the Eagles in the wild card game. He also led the team with seven false starts this season.

  • QB Tony Romo is in new territory, winning a playoff game and now heading to Minnesota to meet his boyhood idol Brett Favre in a winner-take-all battle to reach the NFC title game.

    Romo said there is no time to exhale now because there is still much left to do.

    "I'm not to that point yet," Romo said. "Maybe when you're John Elway in your last year or two, maybe. But there's so much ahead for this football team.

    "It just didn't feel like this was the most impossible thing ever that people made it out to be. And the other part is, and I told you guys this a million times, if you're good enough, you'll win. And if I wasn't good enough to win a playoff game as a quarterback, I never would have."

  • WR Miles Austin will have to brush up on his Cowboys history before heading to Minnesota. The Cowboys-Vikings matchup is steeped in history between the two teams that goes all the way back to the Hail Mary game in 1975 when Drew Pearson caught a last-second pass from Roger Staubach to beat the Vikings in the wild card playoffs and spark a Super Bowl run. Austin, the go-to receiver of today who has had two game-winning touchdown receptions in the final moments this season against the Chiefs and Eagles, said he has never heard of the Hail Mary.

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