No Hatcher, no Lee, no good: Cowboys defense swamped in first half

Posted Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Undermanned, the Cowboys defense got overrun in just 30 minutes of football Sunday.

Missing Sean Lee because of a hamstring injury early in the second quarter and losing DeMarcus Ware for a critical third down one drive later, the Cowboys gave up three consecutive touchdown drives to close the first half.

The scoring blitz from Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints produced a 28-10 halftime lead. It was built on Brees’ pinpoint passing — 26 of 30 for 252 yards and three touchdowns — but also on Cowboys injuries and mistakes, and it re-emphasized how the defense, despite a remake to the 4-3 under Monte Kiffin, is on pace to allow one of the highest yardage totals in NFL history.

By the time it was over, the Cowboys had allowed more than 600 yards and the most first downs in team history. The Saints tied the NFL record for first downs, 39, halfway through the fourth quarter. It had been done three other times, twice in overtime.

Lee left the game on the first play of the Saints’ first drive of the second quarter with the Cowboys leading 10-7. The Cowboys said he suffered a hamstring injury. His loss and Jason Hatcher’s absence contributed to a short-handed defense also missing safety J.J. Wilcox and cornerback Morris Claiborne.

On the same drive, the Saints overcame a first and 17, and running back Pierre Thomas scored on a catch and run from 1 yard out as the Cowboys played without their leading tackler.

On the Saints’ next drive, with the Cowboys now down 14-10, Ware picked up a sack that created a third-and-12. But he left the game with what appeared to be an aggravation of his quadriceps injury and missed two plays. Without him, and also down Hatcher (inactive because of a stinger), the Cowboys gave up a 14-yard pass for a first down.

In the same drive, the Cowboys gave up a first down by penalty when Orlando Scandrick was called for a face-mask penalty after Thomas’ 6-yard run on second-and-12. And three plays later, with a chance to force a field goal, Darren Sproles bullied past rookie corner B.W. Webb for a 3-yard touchdown.

When the Cowboys were unable to move on offense, the defense was asked to make one more stop before the half ended.

And couldn’t.

The Saints drove 75 yards for a touchdown with 5 seconds left before halftime, putting the final stinging flourish on a first half in which they put up 320 yards and converted six of seven third downs.

It became clear the Cowboys were no match in the secondary as undrafted rookie Jeff Heath got overpowered by receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham. Both broke tackles against him or dragged him for yards.

The Cowboys used Justin Durant at middle linebacker in Lee’s place. They benched Webb and used another undrafted player, Micah Pellerin, at cornerback. They had Cameron Lawrence in at middle linebacker on goal-line defense.

Late in the second quarter, the Cowboys were using a defensive line of Drake Nevis, Everette Brown, Kyle Wilber and Ware and had only five of their projected starters from training camp on the field — Ware, Bruce Carter, Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Scandrick.

The only time the Cowboys’ defense was competitive in the first half was the opening drive, when it stopped the Saints after seven plays, holding on a third-and-10.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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