Dallas Cowboys

How will Rod Marinelli turn the Cowboys’ defense around?

Jason Garrett is true to his convictions. So is defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

The Dallas Cowboys’ coaching staff isn’t about to make wholesale changes just because they’re in one of the worst losing streaks in franchise history.

“I’ve been around it when it’s had unbelievable success and I’ve been around it when it didn’t,” Marinelli said of his Tampa 2 scheme. “Once you vacillate you are done to me, especially when you have strong convictions. You vacillate, I would lose all respect.

“I have strong belief in our players and what we do, so I never question. That’s the best part of it. Over my career, it’s been questioned before. I just let it go. I just keep doing what I believe in.”

It’s fair for questions to arise, though, given how the past three games have gone. Blame falls on both sides of the ball, of course, but the defensive issues have been just as glaring as have the offensive.

They’ve gone two games without a sack or a takeaway. They’ve allowed 13 plays of 20-plus yards the past two games. They’ve given up a combined 58 points in the second half during the losing streak.

On Thanksgiving, the Los Angeles Chargers had 11 explosive plays (runs of 12-plus yards and passes of 16-plus yards). Marinelli blamed those plays on a combination of technique and communication breakdowns.

“If they beat you fundamentally or they’re better than you, whatever, OK,” Marinelli said. “You can fight through that one. But technique? That’s on the coaches. Technique and communication.

“It’s on us as teachers. We’ve got set the tone for our standards but also set the tone in improvement.”

For Marinelli and the Cowboys, that means benching players who haven’t played up to the team’s standards. The secondary is coming off its worst performance of the season when the Chargers’ Philip Rivers torched them for 434 yards and three touchdowns.

Cornerback Anthony Brown is expected to lose his starting job with rookie second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie getting more playing time. The Cowboys could also get Bene Benwikere and Jourdan Lewis more snaps at cornerback.

Brown expressed frustration about his season on Monday.

He’s been called for a team-high 10 penalties, including a defensive pass interference penalty on fourth down against the Chargers that kept a scoring drive alive. He’s also been flagged for a couple penalties on plays in or near the end zone that set up easy touchdowns, and had an interception wiped away with a defensive holding penalty at San Francisco.

Brown also had a pivotal pass interference penalty late in last year’s playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

“I don’t know, man. I watch every NFL game, I don’t see nothing different with what other DBs do to what I do,” said Brown, who has played a team-leading 696 of 722 defensive snaps.

“I just get the calls, so I have to deal with it.”

The safety play has to improve, too. Former first-round pick Byron Jones has not made the impact desired for a player of his caliber.

Jones has created just one takeaway this season — an interception returned for a touchdown against Washington in Week 8. He also hasn’t been as physical as the Cowboys would like their safeties to be.

“That’s been our mantra since I’ve been here,” Marinelli said. “Our safeties have been very, very physical. That’s something that we’re always talking about. That’s the style of our defense.

“When you don’t do a million things on defense, you should be able to really get locked in and be physical. Balls will come out when you’re really physical. That’s something we stress.”

Marinelli pointed to the two safeties the Cowboys lost in free agency — Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox — as being physical players. The Cowboys also let cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne bolt in free agency.

There’s no question the Cowboys made a conscious decision to go with a younger, more inexperienced secondary. In turn, they made themselves more prone to these sorts of issues.

But that isn’t a satisfactory enough reason for the struggles of late. Both the players and coaching staff know it has to improve.

“You’re going to have rough patches, but you just can’t waver,” said Lewis, the third-round pick out of Michigan who has made three starts. “You can’t lose that confidence in what you play with. Just go out there and do what you do.”

Added Garrett, “You understand the personnel moves you’re making, you understand the growing pains you’re going to have, but the standards for how you want to play are going to have to remain the same. Making big plays on offense and preventing big plays on defense correlates to scoring more than anything else. So we value that.

“At times we’ve done a good job of that this year, we’ve kept the score down. At times, within games we’ve done a good job to keep the score down, but when they make big plays the likeliness of them scoring increases dramatically, so we have to do a better job.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

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