By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Because of the magnitude of yards and high volume of points surrendered by our defense this season, we will not be talking about our unit or the other unit. We will be taking all questions immediately following Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings and second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, which gives us a good chance to restore our illusory reputation by again doing a respectable job against a sorely inferior opponent.
The Dumbsday Defense
P.S. Getcha calculators ready.
Unlike Terrell Owens, the Dallas Cowboys' defense is not posting letters in their lockers at Valley Ranch. But we wouldn't blame them. It's humiliating to talk the talk and then get your ass run out of your own stadium trying to walk the walk.
"We thought we were an elite team," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said in the locker room following last Sunday's demoralizing 48-27 loss to the New England Patriots. "But obviously we're not."
In the most anticipated regular season game at Texas Stadium this millennium—attended by starlets Eva Longoria (overrated) and Kate Hudson (yowsa) and former Mexico President Vicente Fox (indifferent)—the Cowboys were administered a 21-point wedgie by the older, better Patriots. Dallas remains a feel-great story and a favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLII next February.
The defensive performance, however, is a startling failure.
Phillips, remember, arrived in Dallas promising to hone the team's 3-4 system. In training camp, he ca-cawed about being a defensive expert. He jokingly—sorta—referred to himself as "Mr. Fix-It," a back-patting salute to his ability to immediately squeeze improved results from a defense. His defensive coordinator, Brian Stewart, even promised back in San Antonio that his unit would be "the best in the league."
As of last Sunday they can't stop Greg Brady, much less Tom.
Examine the results and, obviously, disregard the four games against pathetic quarterbacks. The Chicago Bears (Rex Grossman has since been benched), St. Louis Rams (Marc Bulger played with broken ribs), Buffalo Bills (rookie Trent Edwards was making his second start) and Miami Dolphins (Trent Green generally sucks) will all finish the season with pass offenses ranked in the NFL's bottom 10.
The Cowboys have faced two legit quarterbacks, both at Texas Stadium, with alarming outcomes. Combined, the New York Giants' Eli Manning and Patriots' Brady have completed 68 percent of their passes (59 of 87) for 700 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception. Against its only two opponents with winning records, Dallas' defense has surrendered an average of 41.5 points. Thanks to quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys are 1-1 against notarized foes. But unless the defense drastically improves, this season will be entertaining, yet hardly super.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Stewart grumbles. "We've just got to play better defense."
We properly canonize Roger Staubach and Michael Irvin and even Nick Folk, but football in Dallas has long been founded upon defense.
Bob Lilly herding and finally sacking Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese in a 24-3 win in Super Bowl VII. Harvey Martin and Randy White leading The Doomsday Defense and forcing eight turnovers in a 27-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII. In back-to-back championships, coach Jimmy Johnson's defense stifling the prolific Bills' Run-and-Shoot to a combined 30 points. And in the last Super Bowl victory in 1996, cornerback Larry Brown winning MVP on a team that limited the Pittsburgh Steelers to 17.
In its five Super Bowl wins, the Cowboys have allowed 60 points. In Sunday's reality-check loss to the Patriots: Forty. Eight. Thankfully Brady, who amassed 388 yards and five scores—imagine the carnage if the Patriots were still spying—overthrew a wide open Randy Moss on the game's first play and had two more scores negated by penalty and replay or else New England would've smashed the Philadelphia Eagles' record (49 in 2004) for points scored by a visitor at Texas Stadium.
"Brady is a good quarterback, but don't discredit us," says safety Roy Williams, who lost track of tight end Kyle Brady for one of the touchdowns.
Duck, discredit forthcoming.
Dallas' sloth-slow secondary futilely chasing Patriots 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver Wes Welker looked like nursing home residents trying to catch a greased pig. Whether it's schematic, psychological or speed-related, the Cowboys have a fatally flawed secondary. Terence Newman is nagged by an injured heel. Williams remains a liability in coverage. Free-agent safety Ken Hamlin is better against the run. Hobbled Anthony Henry was in street clothes last Sunday. And backups Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones and Patrick Watkins looked like SMU talent in over their heads against Ohio State.
Against the Patriots the Cowboys played some conservative Cover 2. They tried zone blitzes, max blitzes and even a customized package that had Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware rushing from the same position. That play resulted in an Ellis sack, a fumble and a scoop-and-score by Jason Hatcher. But more often than not Dallas' defense was the punching bag, not the glove.
"We tried everything we had," Phillips said during his moribund autopsy. "But nothing worked."
In all, the Patriot Act resulted in New England violating Dallas' personal space to the tune of 448 yards with points on their last five possessions that punctuated a 27-3 game-ending surge.
This all had owner Jerry Jones, who turned 65 last Saturday, repeatedly punching his fist into an open palm. Because as recently as 2003 the Cowboys defense was ranked No. 1. Because as long as we can remember—using their top selection on a defensive player eight of the last 10 years—they've been spending free-agent budgets and investing draft picks on defense.
It's only October, but the Cowboys' defense smells like Christmas. Last Christmas. It was in December that Dallas was torched by the likes of Drew Brees, Jeff Garcia and even Jon Kitna. In their last six home games, the Cowboys are allowing 32.3 points. Not a good omen when, after temporarily healing against Minnesota, they face Kitna, Eli Manning, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb twice. Yikes.
I'd like to tell you help is on the way. Getting Henry back won't hurt. Picking on an offense its own size should be therapeutic. Jackson was only 9 of 23 against Chicago for a measly 136 yards. Granted, rookie running back Adrian Peterson ran over the Bears for 224 yards and three touchdowns, but, if anything, the Cowboys have shown they can stop the run.
Or, more likely, is it just that teams no longer need to run because it's so damn easy to pass?