When the Dallas Cowboys unceremoniously fired Rob Ryan after last season and brought in Monte Kiffin to replace him, the hope was to return the defense to its dominant ways of its Doomsday past.
Through five games, the defense has been more gloom and doom for the 2-3 Cowboys.
The numbers are ugly while contributing to a two-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s NFC East showdown with the Washington Redskins (1-3) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
• The Cowboys rank 28th in the league on defense, allowing 409.2 yards per game. They are on pace to allow 6,547 yards this season, which is much worse than the team-record 5,687 they allowed last season.
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• They rank 31st in passing, allowing 326.4 yards per game. They have allowed three 400-yard passers, a first for the franchise in a single season. They are on pace to allow 5,222 passing yards this season, which would obliterate the team record of 3,928 they allowed in 1983.
• They have allowed 500-plus yards in back-to-back games, with the San Diego Chargers gaining 506 and the Denver Broncos 517.
• They have allowed 20 pass plays of 20 yards or more this season, including six in the season opener against the New York Giants.
The 73-year old Kiffin and father of the famed Tampa 2 scheme takes full responsibility for the woeful play.
He rejects any part of the narrative that quarterback Tony Romo blew the game against the Broncos Sunday with his late interception that led to the game-winning field goal in the 51-48 loss.
“I want to say this: People will say ‘Tony Romo throws the interception, and he can’t win the big one,’” Kiffin said. “He went toe-to-toe with one of the best ever in the game of football and [Peyton Manning] will be in the Hall of Fame. But don’t put that on [Romo]. You put that one on me, but don’t put that one on Tony Romo. We’ve got to play better.”
The bigger question is whether the Cowboys can play better, considering they have no real answers to why they are in this position in the first place — especially after playing pretty solidly on defense in the first three games.
The wheels began to fall off in the second half of the Chargers game. The Cowboys have given up scores on 13 of their past 16 possessions on defense and as many points (68) as they did in the first 3 1/2 games combined.
“It’s not a good feeling,” cornerback Brandon Carr added. “You come out the gates clicking on all cylinders and then to hit a lull like we did. Right now, we’re just trying to find some answers.”
The Cowboys feel blindsided by their troubles on defense. They believe in the scheme and believe in the players they have.
“I’m surprised,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “I didn’t see this coming at all. We have a great group of players. We have a great scheme. We just need to adjust to it. Sometimes, we may be trying to do too much. Everybody needs to do their jobs, and we will be better off. I’m very disappointed.”
The Cowboys have been set back by injuries along the defensive line. End Anthony Spencer and tackle Jay Ratliff were supposed to be key components. Spencer has undergone season-ending knee surgery, and Ratliff has been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the season. He was expected to be back next week, but owner Jerry Jones says the team will take it slow with him.
The Cowboys’ inability to rush the passer because of double teams on end DeMarcus Ware and tackle Jason Hatcher — neither has had a sack in the past two games — has affected the defense. No rush means no coverage in the secondary. It won’t get easier facing the Redskins and quarterback Robert Griffin III because of Griffin’s ability to pass and run.
“It doesn’t matter if you play Cover 2, single-high, Cover 8, Tokyo, Phoenix. You got to play the defense,” said Kiffin, who said he’s never seen his defense play this badly. “It just goes back to the players and playing the defense to your responsibility.”
That’s linebacker Sean Lee’s take on it. He was the first one to come out this week and call for the blame to fall on the defense, not Romo.
“It’s purely on us. There are plays to be made, and we are not making them,” Lee said. “Until we start making them, we are going to have the same results.”