Cowboys' defense got exposed and how their stars respond will be telling

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

The Dallas Cowboys got their butts whupped in a 34-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and the first of the “Things I Noticed” while reviewing an interesting spate of Week 5 games was how the Packers consistently found success taking advantage of the Cowboys’ penchant for over-pursuing run plays.

It’s something the Cowboys struggled with last January, when they surrendered an obscene 273 rushing yards in a 30-22 divisional-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And while the Packers didn’t gash the Cowboys’ run defense to that degree Sunday, running back Aaron Jones still had a killer day, rushing for 107 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries.

In the video above — once again produced by my main man Ron Schiltz — I’ll walk you through some examples of where the Cowboys’ run defense failed them, and how they can clean it up.

I don’t expect this to be too big a problem this weekend against the hapless 0-5 New York Jets, but if the Cowboys want to be a legit NFC contender, it would behoove them to make some strides in this area despite ranking 13th in run defense.

Running back Christian McCaffrey is at absolute peak of his powers

Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey did not practice (back injury) Wednesday, although it was listed as a “vet day.” After what the star running back did to Jacksonville in the Panthers’ 34-27 win, he absolutely deserves the day off.

In one of the single-best offensive performances all year, McCaffrey was sensational, rushing 19 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 61 yards and a TD. What really struck me was the way he did it, juking so many defenders out of their shoes that even Barry Sanders would respect the effort.

Don’t believe me? Watch the highlight reel below, and count how many men he embarrasses:

The Bucs will catch a break if McCaffrey is limited as the transatlantic flight to London for this game doesn’t figure to help an injured back.

McCaffrey, who is in his third season, is primed for a massive payday sooner rather than later due to his ability to win as both a runner and receiver.

Nick Bosa is a revelation

The Monday night showdown between the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers was supposed to be about the two quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo and Baker Mayfield.

But it was a 6-foot-4, 266-pound rookie and the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, who took center stage. While the 49ers’ entire team opened some eyes in their 31-3 romp over the Browns, no one won the night more than Nick Bosa, who racked up four tackles, two sacks, an insane five (!) quarterback hits and one killer celebration in the victory:

Bosa has been good all year. He has played stout run defense and is tied for third in the league with four other players with nine QB hits. On Monday, it was a bonafide coming-out party for the 21-year-old, who could raise the ceiling of the 49ers’ defense significantly if he becomes a star.

Bosa’s power, technique and motor already stand out. We’ll learn a lot about him this week too, when he faces one of the league’s best pass-blocking tandems in the Los Angeles Rams’ Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein (who has struggled some this year but was really good last year).

Devlin Hodges was not a disaster

It’s asking a lot when a team drops an undrafted rookie from Samford into what has historically been one of the NFL’s most physical rivalries. That’s exactly what the Steelers did when they called on Hodges to replace the injured Mason Rudolph (concussion) on Sunday. While the Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens 26-23, Hodges had some moments of competency:

Hodges was productive at a small college — he even broke Steve McNair’s FCS record for passing yards — and I love, love, love the fact that he was a team captain for four years in college. His mobility will help him in the pros, and he’ll need it on the road this weekend against a Los Angeles Chargers pass rush that features one of the league’s best edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (whose status is up in the air due to a hamstring injury).

It’s hard to expect too much from Hodges but he’s a guy who gives off some Bubby Brister vibes (even if that comparison mainly comes to mind because both wore No. 6 and played for the Steelers).

A QB-WR battery I’d keep an eye on

Chicago Bears fans are annoyed following their favorite team’s surprising 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders in London, but one positive that should come out of that was the intriguing chemistry that backup quarterback Chase Daniel has seemed to develop with No. 1 wideout Allen Robinson:

Robinson finished with seven catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught all seven of his passes for 77 yards with Daniel at the helm in the Bears’ previous game, a 16-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Those two have a bond, so if Mitchell Trubisky (dislocated shoulder) is still out when the team returns from the bye next week, expect Robinson’s surging production to continue.

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