Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin Will Keep Things in Perspective When it Comes to the Numbers that Matter
By Matthew Postins
Four hundred and fifty. Or 450, if you prefer.
Monte Kiffin probably has that number written on a wipe board somewhere near his desk in his office at Valley Ranch.
That represents the number of yards that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning torched the Cowboys for Sunday night.
Kiffin cares more about the win. He also cares more about the six turnovers his defense forced (technically five, since one was a muffed punt) and the 14 points the Cowboys defense scored off those turnovers.
But that 450 passing yards? That has to be addressed.
But is it a product of a leaky secondary or an NFL that has changed markedly since Kiffin left the league after the 2008 season?
That’s worth exploring. Kiffin left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after that season to join his son, Lane, at Tennessee. The next year Lane went to Southern Cal and father followed.
Have things really changed that much in the NFL in just five years?
There are numbers to indicate that is the case. Kiffin’s last year in Tampa Bay saw the league as a whole throw the football 15,986 times. Just four out of 32 teams threw the ball at least 600 times, and 20 threw it at least 500 times. Meanwhile, just five teams threw for at least 4,000 yards and none threw for 5,000.
Last year, 2012, the NFL saw nearly 2,000 more pass attempts – 17,788 in all. One team – Detroit – threw the ball 740 times. The number of teams that threw the ball at least 600 times last season swelled to nine, while the number of teams that threw the ball at least 500 times grew to 24. Nine teams threw for at least 4,000 yards, while three other teams were within 200 yards of clearing that plateau.
Even a casual NFL fan knows the league is passing the ball around like never before. Those numbers back up that change in the five years Kiffin took a break from the NFL.
How has that impacted pass defenses?
In 2008 nine NFL teams allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game. In fact, the highest average passing yards allowed by any team was 259 yards.
In 2012 just three NFL teams allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game. Plus, the highest average passing yards allowed by any team swelled to 297 yards.
It makes sense. If you’re throwing 2,000 more passes, that yardage has to go somewhere. But to see the high average go up nearly 40 yards in just five years is telling of not only how much teams are passing, but also how few teams are equipped to handle it.
Said another way? Most teams still don’t have enough quality cornerbacks to handle the load, which is why both the corner and safety positions are held in such high esteem on draft day and in free agency. The Cowboys spent two of their picks in April’s draft on a corner and safety. Last year the Cowboys drafted a corner, Morris Claiborne, in the first round and gave Brandon Carr good money to leave Kansas City and come to Dallas.
The Cowboys seem to get it. So why didn’t it translate Sunday night?
Well, there’s the new system, and as much as those that have watched the ramp-up to the opener have praised Kiffin’s installation of the scheme, it is still a work in progress. The plays in which Manning really torched the Cowboys – up the deep middle – are indicative of plays in which the safeties are still learning their roles in coverage. That should correct itself over time.
It’s a different NFL than the one that Kiffin left. His scheme, the Cover 2, is still quite valid. But even he must have been taken aback by the sheer enormity of Manning’s game.
Plus, the influx of passing means there are better quarterbacks and better pass catchers in the league now, which means they’re all harder to cover.
Those are all valid reasons why the Cowboys gave up so much passing yardage Sunday night. You can also toss in the fact that the Cowboys’ run defense basically shut down the Giants (along with a couple of key fumbles). But Dallas still won the game, 36-31. Kiffin’s mantra is points and turnovers, not yards and total defense. There’s a case to be made that it’s the right approach.
Of last year’s 12 playoff teams, four – Washington (3), New England (4), Minnesota (9) and Atlanta (10) were in the Top 10 in most passing yards allowed per game. That’s one-third of the playoff field. Not every defense can be the Baltimore Ravens. It is possible to give up more yards than you would like and still make the postseason.
Doing so comes down to the points you allow and the turnovers you create.
Kiffin knows that all too well.
It doesn’t mean he won’t harp on his secondary this week to reduce the mental mistakes and to get better position in coverage. But it’s best to keep a number like that in perspective when assessing the bigger picture.
For Kiffin, that bigger picture is wins, points allowed and turnovers.
In that order.