In defining gantlet of games, Cowboys defense shows improvement vs. season-long weakness

ARLINGTON — The Cowboys’ defense has had a variety of ailments this week, especially on their defensive line, with some players wearing masks in meetings like 2020. Jonathan Hankins was sent to quarantine from the club. Defensive end Tuck McKinley was promoted from the practice squad on Wednesday if his services were needed.

The Cowboys had to overcome a poor medical spell.

In doing so Thursday, they made progress on an issue that has dogged them all year.

New York Giants tight end Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones bypassed the Cowboys in the clubs’ first meeting two months ago. It was a disorganized group on Thursday as Dallas held the duo to a season-low in a 28-20 victory at AT&T Stadium.

The play completed an important, perhaps defining gauntlet for the Cowboys’ defense.

On Nov. 13, they opened a three-game, 12-day series with an awkward road trip to Green Bay, as a run against the Packers helped the Packers rally from a 14-point deficit in overtime. Dallas beat the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, but Dalvin Cook averaged 6.6 yards per carry.

Cook’s efficiency didn’t seem to anger the Cowboys defenders; It’s hard to be too upset about a 40-3 victory a short week before the Thanksgiving game.

Yet the Packers’ losing streak has stalled.

“What happened in Green Bay is just part of our journey,” safety Jayron Kearse said Thursday. “If not, who knows we’re here?” We just keep fighting and learn from our mistakes.”

Linebacker Micah Parsons said the Packers “showed flaws in our game.”

“If we could have gotten away with it and gotten away with it, we probably wouldn’t have been able to catch them,” Parsons said. “But because they came back and won and exposed them, I think it was much more important for everyone to fix them and get better.”

Barkley and Jones combined for an average of 139 rushing yards per game in the Giants’ first 10 games. They combined for 160 yards in Week 3 against the Cowboys, and each had 100 yards in Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Their lowest rush in the previous game was 72 combined yards.

On Thursday, Dallas held Barkley and Jones to 14 carries for 53 yards. Barkley completed 11 attempts for 39 yards and a touchdown. Jones managed 14 yards on three runs.

It was one game.

But it was important, and the Cowboys delivered an encouraging sign moving forward.

“Those guys have to trust the process and they definitely do,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “The boys will put on a play. They don’t need much effort to put on a performance. Trust the coach Dan Quinn calls; believe that the other 10 are doing their jobs and staying idle. And when they do, there’s not much you can do about them.

“I practice day and night against these guys. You know why teams want to run the ball against them. You can’t enter third and long. You can’t get in clear shots against them because they go hunting. That’s their mentality. It’s impressive. This is the energy we feed off of when we attack. I’m lucky to have such protection, he cares a lot about his work and the people who do his duty.”

Illness has taken its toll on the Cowboys defense.

For at least one game, they were fired up.

Twitter: @GehlkenNFL

The Cowboys bounced back from a slow start against the Giants to take control of the NFC East.

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