(SportsNetwork.com) - The Dallas Cowboys haven't received much credit for their defense this season and now it's time.
The Cowboys hope to maintain a defensive edge when they face another difficult test Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
For the time being, the Cowboys conquered their demons on defense with an important 17-3 win over the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles last weekend and kept one of the most potent offenses out of the end zone. Dallas, which has sole possession of first place in the division, had a 10-0 lead before pulling away for its second straight win after back-to-back losses.
Dallas created turnovers (3 INTs) and limited the high-powered Eagles to 278 total yards. The Eagles entered last Sunday third in the NFL with 449.8 total yards per game and were also first in rushing yards (178.5). That didn't seem to phase the Cowboys, as they gave up 84 yards on the ground, including 55 on 18 carries by LeSean McCoy. McCoy still leads the NFL with 685 rushing yards.
Give credit to a Dallas defense playing without All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware because of a thigh injury. Dallas used a patched-up front line around Jason Hatcher and registered three sacks while knocking Eagles quarterback Nick Foles out of the game with a concussion. Eagles rookie QB Matt Barkley relieved Foles and was picked off three times in his NFL debut.
Hatcher talked about bonding with some unfamiliar faces such George Selvie and Jarius Wynn before the game.
"I took them out on Thursday, a lot of guys have just got here, and I just talked to them, getting to know each other as men, off the field," Hatcher said Sunday. "It carried on to this game, man. We just played our hearts out for each other, and I'm proud of each and every one of them tonight."
The Cowboys have been able to get pressure up front the last two games and have also played well in this stretch against high-octane offenses in San Diego, Denver, Washington and Philadelphia. In order to keep legs fresh and stay competitive, the Cowboys brought in defensive tackle Marvin Austin. Whether he plays Sunday against the Lions is unknown.
But what's more important is the health status of Ware, who missed the first game of his career against Philadelphia. Ware tweaked a thigh muscle in the win over the Washington Redskins and saw his streak of 134 consecutive games played come to an end. He was back at practice Wednesday.
"It's all about being healthy," Ware said. "When you have guys coming and still being effective, that's what you want."
Dallas will err on the side of caution with its star defender and doesn't want to rush the sack master back too soon. But Ware will be chomping at the bit to get back on the field because he said "it was different" standing on the sidelines wearing his "coach's hat" so to speak.
The Cowboys' secondary was 30th in both passing yards allowed (308.2) and total yards (413.2) before beating the Eagles to improve to 4-3, but held Philadelphia's pass attack to 194 yards. Eagles dangerous wide receiver DeSean Jackson was taken out of his game to the tune of 21 yards on three receptions. Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, safety Barry Church and cornerback Brandon Carr each had an interception to stall Philly drives.
In order to stop Detroit and it's dangerous offense, the Cowboys will have to take the one more commonly known as "Megatron" off his game. Lions all-world receiver Calvin Johnson was targeted a season-high 15 times in Sunday's difficult 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and hauled in a season-best 155 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. Johnson is a nightmare for any defense, but wins are what matters.