Coach Jason Garrett doesn’t want to focus on it. Neither does defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin nor any of the defensive players.
Instead of looking at the Dallas Cowboys’ defense being ranked 32nd in total defense or passing yards allowed, which puts them on pace as arguably the worst defense in club history, everybody wants to talk about the turnovers.
The Cowboys have improved in the turnover department this season. They’re tied for second in turnover margin in the NFL at plus-9, and tied for third with 19 takeaways, but it’s hard to ignore the woeful stats.
The Cowboys’ defense has allowed an average of 422.5 yards a game and is projected to allow 6,760 yards on the season. That would be a team record and one of the worst in NFL history. They’re also on pace to give up 5,062 passing yards, which would set an NFL record.
Asked about the defense being on track for franchise futility, Garrett immediately turned the conversation to the turnovers.
“Before you get caught up in certain statistics, you’ve got to evaluate the whole body of work,” Garrett said. “There are a lot of different ways to measure how a defense is doing. One of the ways that we measure it is in relationship to the football. We’re No. 2 in the NFL in takeaways right now and those are the impact plays of the ballgame.
“Having said that, we’ve faced some good passers and they’ve gotten after us a little bit. We have to do a better job playing pass defense.”
Four quarterbacks — Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford — have each thrown for more than 400 yards against the Cowboys, the first time in history a team has allowed four 400-yard passers in a season. The blame, Garrett said, should be shared among all layers of the defense. The linemen and linebackers could do a better job getting pressure on the quarterback, and the defensive backs need to contain the receivers better.
But, after Sunday, it’s difficult not to view the secondary as the weakest link. Calvin Johnson had the second-best day of any receiver in the history of the game, and cornerback Brandon Carr was clearly overmatched.
“I’m always up for those challenges, this is what you play for,” Carr said. “I learned a lot for myself within that game. Some things I could have done differently, some things I was proud of myself for doing. At the end of the day, I stood in there and I fought. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Cowboys should have an easier task this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, who are reeling at the quarterback position, with Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman as their two best options.
Ponder and Freeman, of course, won’t pose the same threat as Manning or Stafford.
“It doesn’t really matter who is going to be starting at quarterback, I don’t really care who is starting at quarterback, I’m just trying to go out and win the game,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “Winning cures all. If we can get a win, we’ll have a little bit more positivity.”
A win could also help the Cowboys shed the “worst defense in the league” label, and quiet the defensive struggles talk at Valley Ranch. Make no mistake, the players are well aware of the standings and know they’re looking up at everybody else in the league in two categories.
“Oh, yeah, I definitely pay attention to it,” safety Barry Church said. “[Being ranked 32nd] is pretty bad, but it can’t get much worse, so we’ve definitely got to build on that.”
The Cowboys believe they will get better as the season goes along, too. They have relied on young and inexperienced players such as J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and B.W. Webb, and are hopeful that the game experience gained thus far pays off in the second half.
“One thing I’ll say about this defense is they won’t quit,” Kiffin said. “We’ll get better. We will.”