Cowboys defense hasn’t lived up to preseason hype

One afternoon under the glorious sun in Oxnard-by-the-sea, I had a long conversation with Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. OK, no one calls Oxnard that because it only has 10-square feet of beachfront access, but I was attempting to paint a nice picture.  

But the point Lee wanted to make that day is that all the talk about he and Bruce Carter becoming one of the dynamic duos in the NFL was nothing but “hype.” He would soon have a lucrative contract extension that offered him all sorts of security. But his words that day were prophetic. He knew that he and Carter hadn’t accomplished anything of substance together. And five weeks into this 2013 campaign, that’s still the case.

Lee remains the centerpiece of this struggling defense, but Carter was recently benched in favor of a man who was known mostly for his personal collection of wild animals. Second-year cornerback Morris Claiborne recently tried to blame his struggles on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s famed Tampa-2 defense. Claiborne was actually one of the rare bright spots on defense in last Sunday’s 51-48 loss to the Broncos. But Kiffin said something Thursday that should bring back a lot of bad memories for Cowboys fans.

“The players really do want to win bad,” Kiffin told reporters at his weekly briefing. “They’re hustling their butt off. Sometimes you want to do so well and play so hard, but you have to play hard every week, and you try to do too much. If you try to do too much, you have to just do my job. Just take care of my responsibility. If you try to make someone else’s play, then you just can’t do that.”

If this sort of thing sounds familiar, it’s probably because players said the same thing while playing for former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. You can refer to it as a “hero complex” if you so desire. I just remember player after player telling me they were trying to do too much. They needed to focus on doing their jobs.

The only silver lining is that we’re not hearing about how injuries have undermined the Cowboys. This organization can’t use that as an excuse, in part because they brazenly declared during the draft how they had plenty of depth on the defensive line. The Cowboys have been able to survive with journeymen linemen such as George Selvie and Nick Hayden. But simply surviving is really all this defense is trying to do right now. Until further notice, this offense will have to do a better job of controlling the ball in order to lessen the exposure of Kiffin’s defense. You don’t want to tell an offense that just hung 48 points on a good Denver defense to slow down, but you don’t have any other choice right now. Owner Jerry Jones is attempting to blame his defensive issues on a league-wide trend. Of course, this is the same man who wanted to crow about a “moral victory” against the Broncos. I’ll remind you the Cowboys are ranked 28th in the league in total defense, 31st against the pass.

“The other thing that’s not the NFL today is strong defense,” Jones said on 105.3. “Now, some are playing it better than others.”

He went on to blame some of the gaudy statistics from opposing quarterbacks on the Cowboys having so many young players. He believes that youth will give this defense a chance to “evolve” over the season.
Give Jerry this. Things can’t get much worse. It was last Thanksgiving that RG3 strolled into Cowboys Stadium and put on a show. Jones said he was in “awe” of that performance.

Right now, though, the Cowboys will just be happy that Peyton Manning won’t be returning to Arlington.