Apr 27, 2012; Valley Ranch, TX, USA; From left Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and first round draft pick Morris Claiborne and owner Jerry Jones pose with a jersey at a press conference at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
At this point, it’s more than obvious that the Dallas Cowboys have the worst defense the franchise has ever seen. Never before has America’s Team given up so much gravy to opposing offenses in a single season—and it’s not even over yet.
You know about the 400 yard passers allowed. You undoubtedly remember the NFL record 40 first downs given up just a few weeks ago. You’re certainly aware of the 200 yard rushing efforts that have been posted.
If all of those stats don’t ring very loud, just look at some of the final scores in Dallas losses this season.
Should we have expected anything different?
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones and his pet head coach Jason Garrett continue to offer up the word “just” on a near weekly basis, as if to say, “we just need to look both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting hit anymore.”
But we all know that it’s much more complicated than that. The Cowboys are getting pasted by oncoming traffic not because they keep forgetting to look both ways. On the contrary, the damage is being done simply because Dallas isn’t fast enough to make it across the road.
One has to wonder how this is possible, right? I mean, how hard is it to cross the street anyway?
Well, crossing the street, in this case, means drafting difference-makers for the trenches of your football team. This is where virtually every play in football, at all levels, is won or lost.
During the Monday night blowout-loss to the Chicago Bears, ESPN color-commentator and former head coach John Gruden offered a glaring perspective for both Dallas fans and the national viewing audience. The technical crew offered a graphic of four defensive linemen from the last golden-era for the Cowboys—but it should have included several more.
Pass-rushers like defensive ends Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert and Jim Jeffcoat were staples for back-to-back Super Bowl champions from 1992-93.
Defensive tackles Russell Maryland, a first overall selection in the 1991 NFL draft, Leon Lett, Tony Casillas, Chad Hennings and Jimmie Jones made up perhaps the best rotation of interior linemen the NFL has ever seen.
That 1990’s front seven—or front 12—made any opposing quarterback look, at times, like they had never played the position before. It was sometimes hard to differentiate a veteran Pro Bowl passer from a wet-behind-the-ears rookie.
Obviously, the Cowboys are at the opposite end of that distinction now. These days, guys who have hardly played quarterback in the NFL have a realistic shot at beating the Cowboys—they might even throw for over 300 yards.
Yes, but the Cowboys “just” need to adjust, evaluate, focus and maintain discipline in order to correct things.
Consider the following quote from Jones to the Dallas Morning News following his team’s most recent embarrassment on national television:
"We’ll have to make some adjustments with what we’re doing defensively. What that usually means is taking more risks on defense. If you’re going to have the type of nights we had like tonight and certainly down in New Orleans, then you got to take some risks. We’ve just got to double up and I’m sure that will be a part of the plan on defense is more risks. We’ve got to play the balls. We got to go after the ball more."
Okay, play the ball more—easy enough.
The following comes from Garrett, courtesy of ESPN, following the Bears victory at Soldier Field:
"We just gotta go back and work and fix it. We’ve responded well on a couple different occasions and we simply have to do that. We’ll look at what we’re playing and we’ll look at who’s involved, but we have to look at the tape before we make those assessments."
Whoops! I forgot that assessments were needed as well.
Isn’t the painful truth the simple fact that the Cowboys simply don’t have enough talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball?
Of course it is, and here’s why this is true:
The Cowboys spent their first three selections of the 2013 NFL draft on offensive players, two of which amount to third-string players in tight end Gavin Escobar and wide receiver Terrance Williams. A defensive player for the front seven of first-year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 alignment wasn’t taken until the sixth round—DeVonte Holloman is a linebacker who doesn’t start.
The current lack of playmakers in the trenches can be attributed to the 2012 NFL draft as well. Jones opted to trade away his second round pick in order to trade up to the sixth-overall selection for cornerback Morris Claiborne, this after he had just spent a king’s ransom on free-agent cornerback Brandon Carr weeks before.
No, different cornerbacks were not the difference between the Cowboys being average or becoming a contender. This much is abundantly clear.
Now, concerning just that one draft not two years ago, Dallas ended up striking out twice in terms of generating more pressure and disruption upfront on defense. The best time for this to happen is in the early rounds of the player selection meeting and this failure is proving to be a killer at this time.
If we’re going to use the word “just”, it should go something this: The Cowboys “just” have to draft defensive linemen and pass rushers, period. If Jones can “just” do that, he might be able to avoid a slogan of his muttered following last season which now threatens to become a trilogy. If 2013 represented an “uncomfortable offseason” for the Dallas franchise, then 2014 is looking a whole lot like “Uncomfortable Offseason II”. To avoid the third installment in 2015, the Cowboys have to start drafting warriors for the line of scrimmage.
There’s absolutely no use in blaming players like quarterback Tony Romo or assistant coaches like Kiffin or Rod Marinelli. Dallas’ defensive struggles can be pinned squarely on the head of Jones and Garrett, the top-two franchise figures that have “just” been around too long not to know better.