Heading into bye week, the Cowboys are searching for answers — especially on defense

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information From Ryan to worse The Cowboys fired coordinator Rob Ryan after last season after their defense gave up the most yards in team history. Without him this season, Dallas’ defense is on pace to be the second-worst in NFL history while Ryan has rejuvenated the Saints’ defense. A look at the 2013 numbers and rankings:
Yards/gm.439.8 (32)317.6 (7)
Pass. yards/gm.313.0 (32)199.9 (3)
Rush. yards/gm.126.8 (28)117.7 (24)
Sacks24 (18)29 (8)
Points/gm.25.8 (23)18.1 (5)

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Something has to change for the Cowboys. If the results don’t, then the coaches undoubtedly will.

That is just a cold, hard fact in the NFL.

The Cowboys lost 49-17 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night. It was their largest margin of defeat since a 45-7 loss to the Packers in 2010, the last game Wade Phillips coached for the Cowboys. Jason Garrett took over the following week against the Giants and has been 26-24 since.

No one at Valley Ranch is happy with where the Cowboys stand heading into their bye week.

Though they are tied for the NFC East lead with the Eagles, the Cowboys are only 5-5 after back-to-back 8-8 seasons. They are 109-109 since 2000 and 133-133 since 1997.

The Cowboys are evaluating everything, trying to fix what they can and duct tape everything else for a late-season run they hope gets them into the postseason.

“Any time you’re having the type of issues we’re having, everybody comes under fire,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM. “That’s to be expected. That’s part of what accountability is. You deal with that. You stick with the things you believe in.”

The Cowboys thought coaching changes in the off-season would help get them off the treadmill and over the hump. Garrett turned over the play-calling to offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, and he hired veteran Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator.

Yet the Cowboys are on pace to gain almost 750 fewer yards than last season. And after vowing to run it more and run it better than they did last season in setting a team record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season, the Cowboys are on pace for 33 fewer rushing yards this season.

And that’s not the worst of it.

The defense, which allowed the most yards in team history last season, is on pace to be the second-worst in NFL history. Earlier this year, Garrett credited Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning with great games rather than blaming his defense.

Now, though, there is no defense for the defense.

The Cowboys have allowed 4,398 yards, putting them on pace to allow 7,037 for the season. The NFL record is the 7,042 the Saints allowed in 2012.

Rob Ryan, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator last season, has the Saints on pace to allow 5,081 this season. New Orleans, which ranks seventh in total defense, held the Cowboys to 193 yards, the fewest for Dallas since Nov. 2, 2008, when it had only 183 against the Giants.

“We thought that it was best for us to go in the direction that we are, and that doesn’t look good right now,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in the postgame locker room. “Hopefully, we can make it look good. But I have all the feelings that you have anytime you want to look back at a decision, and I realize when some of them work, you have to have a few things go along with it, and, candidly, we’re having some of the same things that Rob had last year. He had a lot of people — frankly, to be fair to Rob, he lost a lot of guys on defense [because of injuries]. We’ve lost more this year. That’s the game, though. That’s the NFL.”

The Cowboys have played 16 defensive linemen this season, which doesn’t include Jay Ratliff, Tyrone Crawford or Ben Bass. They will need linebackers before going to New Jersey on Nov. 24 to play the Giants after losing starters Sean Lee and Justin Durant for the next three to four weeks with hamstring injuries. Bruce Carter, Ernie Sims, Kyle Bosworth and rookie Cameron Lawrence are the team’s only healthy linebackers.

The Cowboys entered Sunday’s game without three defensive starters as cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring), safety J.J. Wilcox (knee) and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (neck) were inactive.

Against the Saints, the Cowboys allowed the most yards in team history, topping the 623 they gave up to Detroit on Oct. 27. New Orleans’ 625 yards were the most in a regular-season, non-overtime game since San Diego gained 661 yards against Cincinnati on Dec. 20, 1982.

The Saints also set an NFL record for first downs in a game with 40.

“I’ve never felt like this before,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said afterward. “I can’t remember when I’ve been a part of a game like this before.”

The Cowboys hope that the worst was the last.

“There just comes a point where you just have to say enough is enough, man,” cornerback Brandon Carr said.

Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean

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