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Blowout In New Orleans Doesn't Sink The Cowboys' Season

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Former Cowboys' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan shut down the Dallas offense in Week 10, while Drew Brees and the Saints' running backs put on their own show. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Former Cowboys' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan shut down the Dallas offense in Week 10, while Drew Brees and the Saints' running backs put on their own show. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

The Dallas Cowboys traveled to New Orleans in Week 10 seeking their first win against a quality opponent in a game that, even with another close loss, would have made a positive statement about the team’s playoff odds. They left with a 49-17 pummeling, a backhanded slap from former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, a new injury to Sean Lee, and a collection of defensive woes and concerns that have now reached new heights.

With no Morris Claiborne or J.J. Wilcox, not to mention an obviously painful struggle for DeMarcus Ware, we knew Drew Brees would have a big game. So watching him complete 83 percent of his passes to nine receivers for 392 yards didn’t cause a huge stir, but the 282 rushing yards the Saints added certainly did. And to see the run defense so consistently outmuscled and out-hustled by an offense that ranks 20th in rushing attempts and 23rd in yards? Well, it was icing on the cake.

Which means, as Jean-Jacques Taylor of espndallas.com points out, the case of the Cowboys’ defensive dreadfulness now has ample evidence to indict Monte Kiffin and to declare his scheme and hiring a failure. Which, of course, redirects the heat to Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones, setting the stage for the same old circus act that will inevitably follow another disappointing eight-win season.

But this loss was expected. The Cowboys still lead the NFC East, and it’s too early to assume with finality that 2013 is a failed campaign. There’s a bye week to regroup and get healthier, followed by two very winnable games against the Giants and Raiders. With an additional 11 days between their Thanksgiving bout with Oakland and a Monday Night showdown in Chicago, the Cowboys can still enter the season’s final quarter two games above .500 with a healthy Lee.

Still, it’s hard to defend Kiffin. Injuries have been a factor, but that’s the case every year, and when you look at what Rod Marinelli’s done with the D-line, that argument really doesn’t hold up.

The problem has always been his pass defense — the early reliance on soft, zone coverage, the lack of depth and experience at safety, and the inability of the linebackers to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Modern NFL offenses have too many playmakers who can produce underneath and with minimal space, and throughout 2013, the Cowboys have illustrated how ineffective prevent pass defense is in today’s game.

New Orleans punctuated everything. Week in and week out, the ugly numbers are attributable to a combination of poor tackling, huge gaps and outmatched cover skills, and this Holy Grail of ugly numbers drove that point home. The Saints’ receivers caught five balls on the fly in the 12-20 yard range and amassed 188 yards after the catch. Looking ahead, the difference, as the Saints demonstrated, is that without Lee and Justin Durant (also a hamstring), the run defense has no inside presence and is easily gutted between the tackles. That’s only going to make it easier for quarterbacks to spot mismatches in pre-snap reads and start stretching the field.

Things only seem to go from bad to worse for this defense. There’s little hope for the season unless the offense carries the team. Judging by that group’s equally poor performance in the Superdome — including just 10 completed passes, nine first downs and two targets to Dez Bryant — there’s as much work to be done there as there is on defense.

But, again, the bye week comes at a merciful time. The immediate opponents are manageable. This loss, replete with horrible showings in yards, time of possession and first downs against a powerful offense, was expected. The odds of the Cowboys’ 2013 season being remembered in a positive light have definitely decreased but they haven’t completely vanished yet.