By Matthew Postins
For once Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett didn’t have to field questions about Tony Romo or the running game.
No, on Wednesday his press conference was heavy on his team’s porous pass defense, as the Dallas Cowboys are coming off allowing back-to-back 400-yard passing games.
Garrett sounded confident the Cowboys have the right personnel and the right system entering Sunday night’s showdown with Washington.
“Positive things came out of that game (with Denver), but you can’t give up 51 points and 500 (total yards),” Garrett said. “We feel confident in the players and we’re just trying to make sure they’re doing things the right way.”
Right now the Dallas Cowboys’ pass defense doesn’t pass the eye test. Last week Denver’s Peyton Manning threw for 414 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Cowboys lost, 51-48. The week before in San Diego, Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers torched the Cowboys for 401 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 30-21 Cowboys loss.
Both Garrett and Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin attributed part of the numbers to the quality of the two quarterbacks. But the Cover 2 scheme Kiffin has implemented is not working properly.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne told ESPN Radio last week that some of his difficulties in the defense came down to knowing when to hand off receivers to other defenders when in coverage. It could be that’s a wider-reaching problem than just Claiborne.
“Against the pass we have to slow teams down and they’ve had success throwing against us,” Garrett said. “We have to evaluate what we’re doing and shore it up.”
Thanks in part to the last two games, the Dallas Cowboys are ranked No. 28 against the pass, giving up 326.4 yards per game. The Cowboys remain one of the best run defenses in the NFL, ranked No. 4 and giving up 82.8 yards per game.
The Cowboys have been getting beat for big plays lately. Rivers threw two of his three touchdown passes deep and he threw for nearly 200 yards going deep. Manning didn’t beat the Cowboys deep with regularity, but he used the middle of the field to get the football to receivers so they could move upfield. Manning threw for 142 yards to the middle of the field.
Veteran safety Will Allen may have paid for that flaw, as Kiffin described Allen’s release on Tuesday as the team “going a different direction.” Allen lost his starting job in Week 3 to J.J. Wilcox. With Allen gone, Danny McCray becomes a primary backup, while rookies Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton – the latter of which was called up from the practice squad – are seeking bigger roles.
The Cowboys’ pass rush has also waned the past two weeks after getting off to a fantastic start. The Dallas Cowboys sacked Rivers just one time and was unable to sack Manning. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware was banged up going into the San Diego game and had to get an IV during the Denver game. The other starter, George Selvie, suffered a concussion against San Diego and, while he was able to play against Denver, he was not as effective.
Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who is filling in at the under tackle for the injured Jay Ratliff, has been the defensive line’s best overall player. But the razor-thin depth on the front four may be starting to show. Because of that, the front four and the secondary may not be working as well together as Kiffin saw in the first three games.
“We did (get pressure on Manning) early but we did not get pressure late,” Kiffin said. “The ball was out quick and that’s tough to defend. We could have had a few sacks but we broke down somewhere else. Sometimes our coverage was good and our secondary broke down.”
Kiffin hinted that some of his players might be trying to do too much within the scheme. Garrett said the team is considering every option to improve the pass defense, including implementing more dime packages, which means having six defensive backs on the field. Doing so would mean sacrificing either a linebacker or a defensive lineman in the scheme.
Garrett told reporters that any changes the Dallas Cowboys made would not be rash.
“You want to evaluate why things aren’t more successful and then make targeted changes to get better,” Garrett said. “We’ve had discussion about that (the dime) but changes we make to shore up the pass defense need to be changes for the right reasons.”
— Rattle & Hum Sports (@RandHsports) October 12, 2013