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Defense Not As Advertised

Remember way back on January 19th when the Cowboys announced that they were hiring Rob Ryan to be the defensive co-ordinator? If you were like me, you immediately gained optimism that a coach like Ryan could come in and turn that defense around. After all, the Cowboys defensive group that finished 23rd in the league overall, and 31st in points allowed in 2010, was the same group that finished 9th overall and gave up nearly 200 points less the year before.

You see, we all thought the problem was Wade Phillips. Sure, there was modest improvement when Jason Garrett took over the team. The interim defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni stepped in and things seemed to be on the upswing. But it appears the coaching might not have been the problem.

Let’s be honest, none of us in Cowboys land thought that the defense we have now is perfect. But when Rob Ryan started working with these guys in training camp, he threw terms out like “best group I’ve ever had,” and “I’ve never had this much talent.” Those phrases may have caused us to forget that last year’s defense was the worst defense the Cowboys have ever fielded in their proud history. I think many of us were under the illusion that Rob Ryan could take those same players and turn them into a masterpiece. After all, Ryan had fielded great defenses in Cleveland and Oakland with players that were being paid significantly less than the squad he has right now.

With 13 games gone in the 2011 season, it appears that Ryan may have overstated the talent that he had to work with. The Cowboys have shown a penchant for the dramatic. Being a Cowboys fan, you naturally expect there will be some drama, especially when you consider the owner of the team is always looking for some. But being a Cowboys fan has never been harder than this year. Why? Because, while we knew what we had, we were filled with so much hope and promise that we were blinded to reality.

The reality being this: the problems from last year, have not gone away, because the players from last year are largely the same. The Cowboys cannot close out a close game. For whatever reason, the defense cannot hold a lead. Now, to be fair, it hasn’t always been just the defense, but a defense’s job is to stop the other team, no matter the situation.

The Cowboys have blown five fourth quarter leads this season. Out of their six losses this season, five of them have been lost in the fourth quarter. They have blown a 14-point lead against the Jets, 13-point lead in Detroit (was actually a 24-point lead after halftime), 3 points in New England, 7 points in Arizona, and a 12-point lead on Sunday against the Giants. Now you can point to the fact that the offense turned the ball over, or special teams allowed a big return or a blocked punt, but the reality is, when the defense has gone into the game to protect a lead, they simply cannot do it.

I don’t blame Rob Ryan. While I feel he drastically over sold his defense, I think he did what he needed to do. He is working with what he has, and what he has is not as good as advertised.

Not only can the Cowboys not protect leads, they also cannot get any pressure on the quarterback or coverage on the back end on the rare time they do. To be frank, other than DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, the Cowboys defense has been terrible. The Cowboys have 35 sacks on the season. Not too bad, except 15 of them have come from one guy, DeMarcus Ware. The next closest in Anthony Spencer with 6. But Spencer has been invisible for most of the season. The Cowboys don’t get a rush unless they blitz. Guys like Spencer and Ratliff, Hatcher and Coleman have been non-existent on a consistent basis.

The problem with not having a rush is you blitz. When Ryan blitzes he leaves an already struggling secondary more vulnerable. Rob Ryan likes to play man defense in the secondary, and blitzing forces you to do that, but the Cowboys corners are dreadful. Take Sunday as an example. Twice in a row on the Giants winning drive, the pass rush forced, Giants quarterback, Eli Manning to retreat and throw off his back foot, tossing lobs in the air. The passes were completed, and they were completed because the coverage was no where to be found. When a pass has the hang time of a decent punt, it should be picked off or at the very least contested. The Cowboys just simply don’t have the talent on defense to be a contender.

The really unfortunate part is the owner can’t see that. As we posted last week, the Cowboys resigned safety Gerald Sensabaugh to a long term contract, a move that left many Cowboys fans scratching their heads. The Cowboys need some fresh players, if not to improve a lack-luster defense, at the very least change the culture of continually blowing leads.

This season it has been difficult to be a Cowboys fan. Not because of the who the Cowboys are, but because, I, like so many of you, bought into the ‘hype’ that this team is different. But, in the end, they just aren’t as advertised.

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