August 18, 2013

Cowboys’ defense under Kiffin stopping opponents in red zone

Preseason foes Miami, Oakland and Arizona have combined for only one red-zone touchdown against Dallas.

If the Dallas Cowboys are getting nothing else done in the preseason, at least the Monte Kiffin defense is performing in one area.

Getting red-zone stops.

The Dolphins, Raiders and Cardinals have managed one red-zone touchdown on the Cowboys in 10 chances in three preseason games. It came in the first game when the Dolphins scored on a 5-yard pass on fourth down in the fourth quarter of the Hall of Fame Game.

The Cowboys have stopped two other red-zone fourth-down tries. Five times, they have forced field goals, and twice they have made interceptions, by rookies J.J. Wilcox and DeVonte Holloman.

It is why the Cowboys gave up only 12 points Saturday night against Arizona despite six turnovers, including four in the Cowboys’ half of the field.

“To have six turnovers in a ballgame and give up 12 points, that’s pretty darn good,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Our red-zone defense was particularly good, forcing them to kick all of those field goals.”

After three games, the sample size is enough to give the Cowboys confidence in the new scheme brought in by new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. His “Tampa 2,” with three zones of deep coverage, may allow yards. But for 10 consecutive years in Tampa Bay, Kiffin’s defenses were top 10 in the league in points allowed.

“We were put in difficult situations today, but those situations come with the game,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “It was just good practice for us with our backs to the wall, red-zone, those types of situations. We were able to overcome that and still keep them out of the end zone and just allowed them to kick a field goal and get three points.

“Like I said, it’s going to happen in the season, we already know that. We’ll just use whatever situation we’re thrown into, it’s going to be practice for us.”

The red-zone numbers may look nice. But they are ultimately empty for the Cowboys if they don’t include turnovers of their own, linebacker Sean Lee said.

“Let’s get the ball. Let’s get the ball back,” he said. “Let’s find a way to knock the ball out, get a turnover, not allow any points to be put on the board. Three points is good. That’s a win in some sense. But we’ve got to pride ourselves on getting the ball out, and I think we could have done a better job, especially with the first unit.”

The Cowboys have two more preseason games to see if they continue their red-zone trend.

But whether it holds or not, it won’t mean anything Sept. 8 when the regular season begins. Unless the patterns built in the preseason have taken root.

“It’s a new system. It’s kind of a learning curve,” Carr said. “But at the same time, it’s all about the effort we put into it with the guys in the classroom, asking questions on the field all the time. It’s an ongoing process. This is still another step in the right direction as far as creating an identity and still learning what we need to do to be successful in this defense. But so far so good.”

That’s what owner Jerry Jones was thinking.

“If we had those numbers of turnovers and still have a chance to win the ballgame at the end of the game, we’re still going into the half the way we did, that part could be encouraging,” he said. “That is not really looking at it with rose-colored glasses. That’s pretty impressive how our defense held that score down so that we can get in there and play.”

Lee agrees the defense is coming along. But he circled back to the one thing he wants more of.

“If we want to be great in this defense, we have to perfect every technique and we have to find a way to get turnovers,” he said. “Today, they had a lot more turnovers than we didThat can never happen if we want to be that great defense.That’s where we need to be.”

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