IRVING -- Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has put the target squarely on his back.
He said he is to blame for the late-game meltdowns on defense the past two weeks, not the players or coach Jason Garrett.
Ryan went on to compare himself to former president Teddy Roosevelt and former boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson in saying he is big enough to handle the criticism because he is the best defensive coach in the NFL.
"The bottom line is there are no excuses. The thing has to get fixed," Ryan said. "It's on me. It's my watch. But the simple fact is -- and I know no one believes it -- but I know I'm the best coach or the best defensive coach. Teddy Roosevelt had a big line on critics: I know you know it, but I don't. The bottom line is I tell my players I'm Sugar Ray Robinson. I'm the champ, and I always know I'm the best. Now maybe nobody else in the media believes it, but I know the guys in the locker room do and I do. So whatever it is, hey, I'm the man who is in charge. I'm the man who will fix our problem."
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The problem that needs fixing the most is the unit's play in late-game situations, especially the final two minutes. The Cowboys have blown five fourth-quarter leads this season, including each of the past two weeks against Arizona and the New York Giants.
The Arizona loss was most devastating because the Cowboys gave up two touchdowns in the final 3:14 to blow a 34-22 lead in a 37-34 loss. It was the third time this season the Cowboys have lost a lead of at least 12 points in the fourth quarter.
"If you want to fault me for anything, you can definitely fault me for my 2-minute performance," Ryan said. "I have been absolutely atrocious. I never gave our players a chance. Two-minute situations have been our Achilles' heel all year."
Cowboys players say the problems are the result of communication breakdowns because of injuries, personnel substitutions and not having a full grasp of Ryan's defense due to the lockout and the lack of an off-season.
Linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman, nose tackle Jay Ratliff and safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray were in and out of the Giants game due to injuries.
"We are doing too much back there," cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "Last week, we weren't all the way there, anyway, because of injuries. I went out and Frank Walker had to go in. He was starting at one point, and [Alan] Ball was starting at one point. Abe would give me a signal that Frank or Alan may not know or see."
Asked if the Cowboys are still trying to get Ryan's defense down pat, Jenkins said that was part of it.
"Don't want to make an excuse, and we're at the end of the season, but I would say so," Jenkins said. "If you look at the film, the communication is not all the way up."
Penalties and poor play are also contributing to breakdowns.
Ryan said he has spent long hours at the office since the breakdowns against the Giants and has found some solutions to the problems, including using hand signals from the sidelines to help get the information to the defense. Ryan is also scaling back his complicated defense to cut down the confusion.
"You've got to realize if we make mistakes, you got to back off," Ryan said. "We've addressed it."
Ryan however said there is no lacking of confidence in himself or the defense.
"I'm Sugar Ray Robinson," Ryan said. "I've only been a champion twice, world champion twice, and I think he was six times, so I'm going to keep working and I'll get there. Confidence is something I have and it comes from having better knowledge than anybody else."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.