Cowboys’ defense still relying on patch jobs

08/17/2014 10:29 PM

11/08/2014 11:20 PM

It remains possible, one may suppose, to build an NFL-contending defense with free agents and post-surgical castaways.

But that’s not the recommended blueprint. And despite Owner Jones’ public embrace of the Ellis Island approach — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — it’s more likely to get you beaten 37-30 and 27-7 than not.

Of course, it’s not as if Jones’ team, the Dallas Cowboys, have much choice. The Cowboys’ defensive losses from a year ago — some of their own making, some not — are considerable, and that unit was historically deficient to begin with.

No Sean Lee. No rookie DeMarcus Lawrence. And when the regular season begins, the Cowboys won’t have suspended Orlando Scandrick, either. Their absences underscore the defensive void left by the previous departures of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Jeremiah Ratliff.

Yet, Jerry Jones remains encouraged.

“I like the way our first group made those two stops right off the bat,” Jones said after Saturday night’s preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “I thought that was very encouraging.”

It was and it wasn’t. Any assortment of random tackles was destined to appear better than the first exhibition week’s 27-7 spanking at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The Cowboys’ defense recorded no sacks in that game, allowed 6.8 yards per snap and watched three San Diego quarterbacks complete a combined 14 of 16 passes for 243 yards.

After standing and waiting for most of the first quarter Saturday night, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense finally seemed to gather their stride and seized control of the game with a 96-yard touchdown drive before halftime.

A few scattered Cowboys second-team defenders were still on the field in the third quarter, when Baltimore promptly drove another 67 yards to make it 34-10.

“I wondered if we had eaten some of that San Diego fish or something when we came out for the third quarter,” Jones quipped.

Overall, though, Owner Jones was right to cite the progress shown by his first-team defense. When the starters were matched against Flacco and Baltimore’s No. 1 offensive unit, the Cowboys held them to 5, 29 and 1 yards on successive possessions.

True, Flacco was not sacked in the 18 or so minutes he played. (Opponents sacked him 48 times during the 2013 season). And the Cowboys’ No. 1 defense produced no turnovers in the first half.

But one miracle at a time, please.

The Cowboys’ defensive starters Saturday included Nick Hayden (Bengals castoff), Davon Coleman (undrafted free agent), Jeremy Mincey (ex-Bronco) and B.W. Webb, whose star slipped so much last season that he was rendered inactive for the final game.

“I liked what [Rolando McClain] did out there,” Jones chimed in. “He got some good snaps, more snaps than I thought he might get, and he did real well.”

McClain, whose résumé is soiled by two previous NFL retirements and an 18-day jail sentence yet to be served, is another of Jerry’s “rescue” pets. And McClain did have a moment or two against the Ravens.

But for a guy who was once the eighth player taken in the NFL Draft (2010) he seems far from being the Cowboys’ answer at middle linebacker.

McClain played extensively, and why not? After being out of football, his conditioning remains in question. He seemed to spend most of the night Saturday being pushed up the field by blockers.

On his most conspicuous play of the night, a fumble that was forced out of bounds, McClain was still being blocked 10 yards upfield when the football came in his vicinity. On the next snap, McClain let tight end Dennis Pitta circle behind him for a 16-yard gain.

It’s too early, in other words, to be anointing the McClains, Wilcoxes, Colemans and Zach Minters as the saviors to this Cowboys defense.

Leave that to Owner Jones.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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