The Dallas Cowboys defense should be thanking Dez Bryant for his sideline frustration. Why? Because Dez has taken most of the blame, criticism and spotlight away from one of the NFL’s worst defenses and their most recent fourth quarter collapse against the Detroit Lions. The Dallas Cowboys are now the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL and the 23rd ranked scoring defense. Teams are moving and scoring on Dallas at will.
There are so many stats that I can show you to demonstrate just how bad their defense has been this season. The team has already given up the most 400 yard passers (4) in one season. The defense has given up three double digit leads in the fourth quarter that has lead to three losses. But the chart below might best describe the unit. This chart shows how the defense has performed in their four losses this year.
Not only can Dallas not stop the pass, giving up an average of 372 yards per game, but they also can not stop the run. They just can not get off the field and teams are dominating them in time of possession. The Cowboys have one of the league’s best scoring offenses, and yet, teams are out-passing AND out-running them. None of these games, outside of the Kansas City game, should have even been close if it hadn’t been for the Dallas offense keeping them in the game.
Most NFL teams can normally stop one of these three phases of football; the run game, the pass game, or points. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens dominated teams in the run game in the 2000s. The New England Patriots almost always finished with the best red-zone defense in the league, giving up very few points. But the Dallas Cowboys can’t stop anything right now. Teams are generally able to do whatever they want to do against Dallas.
This past week’s Detroit Lions loss was one of the worst defensive game plans I have seen from the Cowboys in a long time. Everyone knows how dangerous Calvin Johnson is, except for the Cowboys defense. The team continually left him in one on one coverage and Johnson said so after the game: “We had a lot of one-on-one coverage today, and we were able to take advantage,“ Johnson said.
But we really shouldn’t have been surprised that it turned out this way. Jerry Jones was asked by KRLD-FM who he was more afraid of, Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush, Jones said Bush. And the Cowboys schemed their defense that way. Reggie Bush was the player that was bracketed out of the backfield, drawing extra attention while Calvin Johnson repeatedly beat Brandon Carr in single coverage.
But why let the best wide receiver in the NFL be the one to beat you? Why not make Matthew Stafford check the ball down to Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettigrew all day instead of flinging it to Megatron? Because the coaching staff feels that if the defense is forced to use two players to guard one, that the offense has the advantage. You can see this same philosophy applied to the Dallas’ offense. The Cowboys are content to allow defenses to continue to take Dez Bryant out of games and to force Tony Romo to beat them elsewhere.
The Cowboys are now the worst scoring defense in the league and while the turnovers help ease some of the defensive woes, the team can’t get off the field. You are asking the offense to put up 33 or more points to win the game. That number is far too high.
The discouraging thing about the defense is that they have looked really good at times, albeit against struggling offenses (Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams) but their defense just can not seem to hold up against good offenses. The Cowboys are on pace to break the franchise record for most yards ever surrendered in a season, surpassing the woeful 2012 team. While I expect them to play better against the Minnesota Vikings, they need to prove that they can do it against Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the upcoming weeks. But unfortunately, as of right now, you are watching one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Now if you want to be an optimist about the defense here are some things going for you; the team hasn’t had DeMarcus Ware the past few weeks and if he can return to 100%, they should do a better job of getting to the quarterback. Sean Lee is on absolute tear right now. If he can continue to play this way, he will be a lock for the defensive player of the year, even on a bad defense. And the last optimistic view you could have is that Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath are all young players who just lack experience. But as of right now, the Dallas Cowboys still can’t seem to stop anyone.