Numbers are no longer enough to explain how bad the Dallas Cowboys defense has been this season.
The injury-ravaged unit signed its 19th defensive lineman (Frank Kearse) Wednesday, and he will play Sunday against the Washington Redskins with rookie sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman at middle linebacker, a position he has never played before.
The Cowboys defense not only ranks last in the league but also has already given up more yards (5,982) than any unit in franchise history, and there are still two games to go in the season. It is also on pace to become one of the worst defenses in league history.
Things are so bad that an exasperated owner Jerry Jones admitted that the Cowboys went into last Sunday’s 37-36 loss against the Green Bay Packers wanting to take chances and be aggressive on offense because they didn’t expect to get any stops on defense.
Hearing Jones’ opinion hit the members of the beleaguered defense like an anvil.
“This is the first time I’m hearing it,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “I mean, he’s the general manager of this team, and if that’s the way he feels, he’s entitled to his opinion. It’s my job to go out there and play and do what I’m coached to do and take the field and do the best I can with my teammates.
“It’s very frustrating — very frustrating, very frustrating. We faced some adversity, but that’s still no excuse to set records. We’ve just got to play better.”
Said cornerback Brandon Carr: “I don’t listen to anybody outside these walls, no disrespect [to Jerry Jones]. That’s not my mindset; it’s not something I put in my mind or listen to. We know our defense. We’ve got to do better. It just comes to a point in time we’ve got to start making plays, and we’ve got two weeks left. That’s the only guarantee we have.”
Two weeks left. Two games left. Two chances remain for the Cowboys to win the NFC East and make the playoffs to salvage something of their season.
If you are looking for reasons why the Cowboys keep coming to work and remain hopeful after a season full of shameful performances, those are it.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin admits it’s a struggle trying to move players to different positions and coach them on the fly, but he says he has no choice. He remains positive and hopes that will translate to the players.
“We’ve just got to do the best we can,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to show up and we’re going to play hard, and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job. When we walked into that meeting this morning, man, we’re upbeat. Let’s go. Let’s go, man. We’ve got a couple of games to go and hopefully another one after that. That’s the way it works. We ain’t going to pout around. We’ll be ready to play.”
When the Cowboys were giving up a ton of yards earlier in the season, they could at least point to the ability to force turnovers as a saving grace.
The Cowboys have 26 takeaways and are tied for third in turnover margin at plus-11. But they have only five over the past five games and just one the past two games.
Now, they are not stopping anybody and aren’t turning the ball over, either. That is most evident in back-to-back losses the past two weeks to the Chicago Bears and Green Bay when backup quarterbacks Josh McCown and Matt Flynn looked like Hall of Famers against the defense.
“We can’t get off the field on third down, and in situational football, we have no awareness,” Carr said. “Too many times we let the quarterback get off on us and have big games with 400-plus yards. Too many games we can’t hold up on our side and give up too many points while the offense is scoring 30 points, and we still can’t win ballgames. That’s why it’s frustrating, but at the same time, we still have a chance.
“We have a great opportunity ahead of us and a great challenge. We’ve just got to win. You win and you’re in.”
That is the attitude of everybody in the locker room. But there is also no hiding the frustration and exasperation of a defense that is at its breaking point.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said this season has typified his entire career with the Cowboys, which has included one playoff win and frequent disappointment.
“Yes,” Hatcher said. “Pretty much my whole career here. I wouldn’t say the same type of stuff. This is the best team I have been on.”
Carr said he was “fed up.”
“In this league, it’s wins and losses. You either get it done or you don’t. Too many times on our side of the ball we haven’t gotten the job done to help our offense out.”