What Has Happened to the Dallas Cowboys' Defense?

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Once again it is time to answer questions from our readers.  One of the most interesting things about going through all the emails from our readers and trying to choose the best questions is realizing that the Dallas Cowboys have fans not just all over the country, but all over the world.  We can now add a country from the Southern Hemisphere to Cowboy Country. Our question this week comes from Raymond in New Zeland.  We have also had questions from Mexico and Canada in the past.  It is nice to see that the Cowboys’ star, and The Landry Hat, are followed on other continents!

Raymond P. Fontesquieu, New Zealand: The defense started out playing so great this year – in September, some writers were even saying the offense was the “weak link”.  What happened to the defense?  Is there any hope it will change this season?

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Apparently it is not just the fans who are puzzled by this defense.

Todd Toombs: With one game left in this season, I would say the chances are very low that we suddenly see a dominating performance from this defense.  But, it isn’t one single component that is the problem – it’s a lot of things.  Rob Ryan has no doubt made our defense better than last season, but his is a difficult scheme and it did not help that we had no off-season.  Regardless, it does not seem like he tried to simplify his system at all to account for that and the confusion was rampant and obvious throughout the season.  It wasn’t until week 15 against Tampa Bay that he finally decided to simplify some of the calls using hand signals.  Add to that the fact that opposing offensive coordinators appeared to have figured out a lot of his situational tendencies and blitzes and you have a recipe for disaster

Next you have to consider the personnel.  Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff have performed pretty consistently despite lingering injuries (as expected with Sean Lee being a very pleasant surprise).  Beyond those three, you have a solid but very inconsistent group of players.  Outside of Lee, the inside linebackers are aging and a liability in coverage most of the time.  The front line outside of Ware, Ratliff, and an occasional but all too infrequent appearance from Anthony Spencer seem to never have their names called.  And, Ware gets almost no help from anyone else on the pass rush despite getting chipped or double teamed a lot of the time – 18 sacks for Ware with the next closest being Jason Hatcher at 4 sacks.  Then, there’s the secondary.  They have been awful.  A good part of that is due to age (Newman), missed assignments (Ryan’s system), inability to stay healthy and on the field (Jenkins), and overall poor play.  However, some of the blame has to go to the lack of a pass rush.  In the NFL, even the best cover guys can only be expected to stay on their man for a certain amount of time.  Too often, the Vicks, Mannings, Grossmans, etc. have had too much time to find the open man despite Ryan’s reputation for pressure and exotic blitzes.  Knowing that the key was applying pressure on the opposing QB as it often was, Ryan and his defense simply could not find a way to deliver it and by and large made the opposing offensive line look like heroes.

Lastly, there is the intangible aspect of stepping up and finding a way to make a play when it really counts.  With the game on the line, good defenses find a way to get a stop or force a turnover to put the game away.  This defense is completely bankrupt in that department.  Cowboys fans this year have watched in horror as seemingly safe leads have slipped away “grasping defeat from the jaws of victory”.   Jets: gave up 17 4th quarter points.  Lions: fell apart to allow 31 2nd half points, 17 in the 4th quarter (not all the defense’s fault with 2 pick 6 interceptions, but still had several chances to stop the Lions and preserve the win).  Patriots: Watched Brady methodically drive 80-yards with 2:30 remaining for the game winning score with 22 seconds left.  Cardinals: Allowed the tying score in the 4th quarter and gave up a 52-yard touchdown in overtime.  Giants: Nursing a 12-point lead, surrendered 15 points in final 3:14 to lose by 3.  How different would the season be if we were sitting at 13 wins right now and fighting with the Saints and Packers over home field advantage in the playoffs?  That was very achievable if the defense had made a play or two when it really counted.

At this point, we hope Ryan can rally the troops to get a win in New York on Sunday night and salvage at least a playoff appearance from this frustrating season.  Regardless, there is a ton of re-tooling that needs to be done in the offseason.

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Tags: Anthony Spencer Cowboys Dallas Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware Detroit Lions Dez Bryant Eli Manning Jason Garrett Jason Hatcher Jay Ratliff Jerry Jones Michael Vick Mike Jenkins Philadelphia Eagles Rex Grossman Rob Ryan Sean Lee Terence Newman Tom Brady Troy Aikman Washington Redskins

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