It seems to be a recurring trend this season. The defense fails to stop an opponent with the game on the line. It happened against the New York Jets. It happened against the Detroit Lions. It happened in New England versus the Patriots. Last week, it happened against the Cardinals. And now, with the ability to all but wrap up the division title, the defense fails in epic fashion…again. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable.
I don’t think Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is blameless for these collapses, obviously if something isn’t working you don’t just keep pounding your head against the wall until it does, but neither do I think he is responsible for them. The onus here is strictly on the players. Last season, Wade Phillips was the scape-goat. Everyone could point to him as the reason the defense played so poorly. This year, there is no Wade Phillips to hide behind. The former Cowboys head coach is doing a masterful job on defense over there in Houston, proving once again that he’s an outstanding defensive coordinator…if not so much a great head coach.
For everyone who said Wade Phillips lost his touch, and that the game had passed him by, he’s proving you all wrong. It has also become glaringly obvious the fact that many of these defensive players on the are simply very average, if not below average. There’s only a few players this season on defense who can hold their head high. Who can say they are giving maximum effort on every play, game in and game out, and are making a difference. And no, Demarcus Ware is not among those few.
Sean Lee, Jay Ratliff, and Mike Jenkins can each look their teammates square in the face and tell them they are giving all they have to give. Unfortunately, the Cowboy’s future Hall of Famer, Demarcus Ware, has fizzled down the stretch instead of stepping up like the defensive leader and team captain he should be. Some may disagree with me for calling out one of the Cowboy’s best defensive players in franchise history, but I call it like I see it. If it looks to me like a player isn’t playing the way he is capable of, then I’m going to call that person out. Especially when that players standards are as high as Ware’s.
Too many times when watching game film I see Ware being blocked out of a play, or struggling just to beat even one-on-one match ups. Against the Giants, Eli Manning was hardly touched at all, despite a make-shift offensive line that has been wracked with injuries. The only time you heard Ware’s name mentioned was when he made a mistake, including the critical penalty late in the game when the Giants had the ball at the Dallas 37, driving for the go-ahead score. Manning couldn’t handle the snap and the ball was fumbled, then recovered by New York after a big loss that would have brought it back to the 48 yard line. What would have resulted in second and long, increased the distance from the Cowboy’s endzone, and possibly given the defense the momentum they needed, instead gave the Giants 1st and 5 because Ware was called for being offside. It is those sorts of plays that the Cowboys cannot afford to make. Perhaps Ware knows the defense is struggling mightily and is trying too hard to make things happen. That’s certainly a possibility. But he has got to play smarter. For a player of his caliber, he needs to step up and be the game-changer this team needs him to be.
Perhaps the worst part of the defense is the secondary. Aside from Mike Jenkins, who can’t seem to stay healthy, no one has played well. Terence Newman went from having potentially one of his best seasons early in the year, to having by far his worst season as a pro. It seems as though the man is aging, and losing his ability to play cornerback in the NFL before our very eyes. Orlando Scandrick, Gerald Sensabaugh, and Abram Elam are all struggling to make plays. Far too many times they are out of position and playing catch up. Some of that could be attributed to Ryan’s scheme, which we’ve all heard is as complex as it gets. The players look confused, like they are over-thinking things. That may be the case, but that would then beg the question…why? In week 13 of the NFL, you should know the scheme you’re in frontward and backward. There shouldn’t be this level of miscommunication.
Offensively, Tony Romo was as clutch as it gets. His numbers: 21 of 31, 321 yards, 4 TD’s, 0 INT’s. A QB rating in the 140’s. You can’t ask for much more than that, even if he did miss on the late pass to Miles Austin…which I happen to think had more to do with Austin coming off his injured hamstring than a Romo misfire.
Despite the extremely unfortunate loss of DeMarco Murray for the season, the running game did very well behind the return of Tony Fiammetta. Felix Jones ran hard and made plays, excluding his lone fumble. Laurent Robinson continued to impress, even with the return of Miles Austin. The offense did enough that it should have won the game, putting up 34 points.
At this point in the season, the defense is what it is. I don’t see it improving drastically between now and when the Cowboys travel to play the Giants on New Year’s day. However, the playoffs are not out of reach. Even if the Cowboys should happen to continue their losing ways of late and let one slip away at Tampa, all they have to do is beat Philadelphia at home, and beat the Giants in New York. They do that, and they’re division champions regardless of whatever else happens.
But with the defense playing the way it is, do you have any confidence that this team could make it out of the wild card round, much less beat the likes of New Orleans or Green Bay?