Perry Riley Jr. tries to keep DeMarco Murray out of the end zone on Sunday night. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

It was lost amid the rubble of a lack of opportunism on offense and the special teams meltdown that the Washington Redskins suffered during their loss Sunday night in Dallas. But the team’s defense played what Coach Mike Shanahan called its best game of the season, continuing a three-game improvement that has followed a pair of dreadful outings to open the season.

The Cowboys scored 31 points against the Redskins. But that included a touchdown on a punt return, another touchdown set up by a 90-yard kickoff return, and a third touchdown after a fumble recovery at the Redskins’ 3-yard line. The Redskins, for the most part, kept quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense in check.

“I want to take an opportunity to just give the secondary credit,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said Wednesday. “It was the best game that they’ve played in a long time, to me. They were outstanding against some really great weapons and a great quarterback. So I was happy for them. And then up front we were able to neutralize the running game. I think really if we can weather the storm early and really lock in, stop the run and then force teams to throw and let the pass rush turn loose … the phases in defense are working just like all the phases on the whole team need to work for us to get a win.”

The defensive improvement provides a glimmer of hope as the Redskins attempt to rebound from their 1-4 start. They host the Chicago Bears on Sunday at FedEx Field.

“We’ve definitely stopped the run a lot better the last few ballgames,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “And what that does is, it allows us to kind of dictate to an offense and put them in a one-dimensional type of game to where we can kind of call different calls, whether it’s pressures or coverages, whatever the case may be. If you’re in a ball game where you’re not stopping the run, not stopping the pass, it kind of handcuffs a coordinator, Coach [Jim] Haslett, as far as what he can call because now he’s playing a guessing game, so to speak, with the offense. If we can get them into second-and-long situations, third-and-long situations, it allows us to bring some of our pressure packages, play some coverage, things like that. But I think it first starts with stopping the run.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice Thursday at 1 p.m. Both coordinators are scheduled to speak with reporters.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Griffin, Garcon, Moss say simple miscommunications behind offensive struggles

Griffin: Running ‘What I had to do’ | Shanahan says Paul’s comments no surprise

Griffin: Redskins blocking out scrutinyCofield says this year’s team better than last year’s

D.C. Sports Bog: Collinsworth: Redskins ‘no longer works’ | More Bog

Reid: Shanahan’s contract status hovers over Snyder

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Post Sports Live’s bold predictions:

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for Sunday's Bears-Redskins game at FedEx Field. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)