Taylor Williams

Defensive Overhaul Needed In Dallas

Created on Dec. 11, 2013 6:30 AM EST

It’s time for the Dallas Cowboys to make some major changes on defense.

For starters, the ‘Boys 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night is the ultimate confirmation that the Monte Kiffin experiment has failed. Secondly, it’s indisputable proof of who should — and who should not — be running the defense from the general manager’s seat. Lastly, well, the drafting could be improved, but the first two should keep the Cowboys plenty busy for now. 

The ‘Boys defense had plenty of things going for it against Chicago: frigid weather making the football hard and the wind unpredictable; a competent, but designated backup quarterback on the other side; the return of Sean Lee from a hamstring injury. But even with those factors and the offense contributing 198 rushing yards toward the possession battle, the Dallas D still had its worst showing of the season.

Following the game, which saw Chicago wreck the Cowboys for 500 yards and eight straight scoring drives while going 8-of-11 on third down, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones backed Monte Kiffin as the “right man” to fix the problems. It was a ringing endorsement, not unlike the one given to Jason Garrett following the 49-17 dismantling by New Orleans in Week 10.

How fitting is it that Jones would weigh in decisively on a move that he, not Garrett, proposed and actualized? But seriously, how can he condone keeping him on board?

The man may be a lot of things, but he’s not un-savvy. And he knows the team’s fans — the customers behind his heralded business prowess — are dissatisfied with his personnel decisions of late.

But as long as they keep pumping money into the NFL’s most valuable franchise, Jones can’t be dethroned. He won’t recuse himself as GM, and he can’t eat a bunch of existing contracts to overhaul the depth chart — not with the team starting next season $31 million over the cap.

In truth, the blame for the defensive woes falls, disproportionately, to coach, general manager and players alike . But Kiffin is the fall guy; he’s the only party whose immediate future in Dallas is questionable (despite reports). His performance deserves the most attention. 

Kiffin’s a brilliant defensive mind: a shoo-in Hall-of-Fame coach. His contributions to philosophy and execution alike are enormous. But his current scheme lacks innovation; there are no outwardly confusing pre-snap looks or no dynamic blitz packages. And at 73, how much fire and vitriol can his locker-room presence really inspire in players?

And what about the players? There’s an ocean of proven talent among key starters under long-term contracts: Brandon Carr, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. Young starters like Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne and Barry Church have a wealth of raw ability waiting to be molded. Injuries aside, this is a defense blessed with athleticism from the defensive line to the defensive backs. The Xs and Os of Kiffin’s scheme, particularly the soft coverage of the Cover 2 shell and the anemic pass rush of four undersized linemen, haven’t played to their skill development. That falls on the coaching staff, and nobody’s going to criticize defensive line coach Rod Marinelli after the run of injuries to befall his unit this year.

But then there’s the undeniable logic that at 426 yards allowed per game, the execution is flailing. Hence the players deserve blame. That argument, in turn, is countered by the premise that poor (or in 2013, nonexistent) drafting of defensive players prevented quality depth from emerging. Hence Jones is again to blame.

All points are valid; all indicate a wasted pool of defensive talent and a botched job from the front office to the press box to the field. This year in Cowboys history, no matter the final result, is irrevocably associated with truly awful defensive play.

Last year, Jones called for change before firing Rob Ryan. As crazy as it sounds, for the good of the team, he should follow suit this year.

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