IRVING, Texas — It’s hard to have much hope for the Dallas Cowboys’ defense right now.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is basically holding open tryouts to try to plug holes at inside linebacker and in the secondary. The recent results have been about as pretty as the pictures of a shirtless Ryan that surfaced after the Cowboys’ training camp beach party.
Rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Bryce Brown combined to rack up 282 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries against the Cowboys the past two games. Rookie quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles have picked apart the Dallas secondary for 765 yards and seven touchdowns the past three weeks.
The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles embarrassed Ryan’s boys, lighting up Jerry World for 860 yards and 71 points in a pair of games the Cowboys were extremely fortunate to split.
Any reason to believe the Dallas D isn’t doomed against Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and RG3 again down the stretch?
"Hell, we’ve got to fix it," a weary Ryan said on Sunday night. "We’ve got to play better than that, and we will. We’ve got some excellent coaches, we’ve got some excellent players. We’ll find out what we can do best with what we have."
Here’s some free advice, Rob: Play to the strengths of the only two certified studs left standing on that decimated defense.
Let Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware loose. If they don’t dominate, this season is dead.
Defensive end Jason Hatcher mentioned the need for the defensive line "to do more" to make up for the off-the-street newcomers the Cowboys have to put on the field. That’s nice and all, but it needs to come from the Cowboys’ two best defensive players.
No doubt that’s Spencer and Ware, in that order, at this point.
"Whoever’s out on the field just has to do their jobs," said Spencer, who is having a career year while playing on a one-year, franchise-tag deal. "We can’t really get to the point where everybody’s trying to do too much and messing up on their responsibilities."
Asked if the outside linebackers needed to dominate, Ware subtly noted that they’ve been watching a lot of coverage tape before concluding, "We put a lot on our backs to get out there and perform."
A rough reading between the lines: Hey Rob, let ’em rush the passer. Put your best players in position to do what they do best.
Not exactly rocket science, but all the dudes on that defense who still need directions to Valley Ranch aren’t ready for complicated schemes anyway. Keep it simple and count on Spencer (6.5 sacks this season) and Ware (10.0) to be disruptive forces.
The weak three-man rushes aren’t working. We shouldn’t see Ware or Spencer drop back into coverage on a third down the rest of the season. Especially not Ware, who has a two-game sackless streak going for the first time since Ryan’s arrival in Dallas.
OK, let’s blend in a little ray of sunshine with all the injury related gloom and doom. If you want a little hope, go back to the last time the Cowboys were in a playoff race and actually finished strong.
Spencer and Ware were the dominant forces during the Cowboys’ defense-fueled four-game winning streak the end of the 2009 season, including the franchise’s only playoff victory in the past decade and a half.
Ware racked up 4 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures and 2 forced fumbles during that late-season win streak. Spencer had 5 sacks, 10 pressures, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during that run.
That span started with arguably the best performance of Ware’s career, when he had two strip sacks to key a Superdome shocker over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints only six days after leaving Cowboys Stadium on a stretcher with a neck injury. That overshadowed an outstanding performance by Spencer, who had 7 tackles, 3 pressures, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in that win.
The Cowboys were a desperate team that night in New Orleans, having lost their previous two games, causing the discussion about Dallas’ December demons to reach deafening levels.
Head coach Jason Garrett, doesn’t like the word "desperate," but how else would you describe a 6-6 team clinging to a playoff dream? If the Cowboys don’t beat a talented Cincinnati Bengals team, we might as well start talking about the draft around these parts.
To do that, they better get pressure on Dalton. If they don’t, the Cowboys’ secondary will be prominently featured on elite receiver A.J. Green’s highlight reel.
"I’ve got to step it up this week, get those plays, make those big plays this week to win the game," Ware said.
A helpful hint to Ryan: Release your two best hounds and let ’em hunt. It’s your only hope.
IRVING, Texas – The Giants, Seahawks and Bears are all adept at creating pressure, but none of the teams Dallas has faced this season lead the NFL in sacks.
Dallas Cowboys players and coaches are all aware that honor goes to a Bengals squad they’ll see this weekend that’s averaging 3.25 sacks per game.
“We’ve faced some good fronts,” said head coach Jason Garrett. “There’s no question about that. I think the fronts in our division are awfully good. You know me, I don’t like to compare them too much, but this is an outstanding front.”
Former Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has figured out how to utilize his talent to the fullest in Cincinnati with the Bengals, who lead the league with 39 sacks. The constant pressure on the quarterback has also led to nine interception for the Bengals’ secondary.
“You’ve got to be alert for the pressure,” said tight end Jason Witten, one of the few Cowboys who remembers Zimmer personally from the coordinator’s time in Dallas. “He does a lot of different stuff, brings the safeties, so they do a good job with it. You’ve got to be able to handle it.”
Witten said protection will be vital this week against a defensive group containing four different players with at least four sacks. The tight end knows he might need to stay in more to help protect Tony Romo against the multitude of blitzes Zimmer’s likely to bring.
Even when the Bengals only rush four, they tend to figure out a way to generate pressure.
“There’s no question the emphasis is on protecting it,” Witten said. “We’ve seen what Tony does when he can have time, especially off the edge when they bring those linebackers and safeties. We’re going to have to solidify it.”
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan said the most difficult aspect of the Bengals’ pass rush is its versatility. They pressure quarterbacks in an assortment of ways with players coming from every direction. Zimmer isn’t afraid to blitz members of his secondary or use different personnel groupings and alignments.
“It’s fun to watch these guys play, but the challenge is there for us,” Callahan said. They’ll do it a variety of ways, whether it’s secondary pressure, linebacker pressure, or just generating a rush out of their front four. Having been in New York for four years, we’ve faced them many times. I can tell you that year by year you could see Mike’s defense getting better and better, and the front has really established itself.”
The Bengals feature two players on their defensive line who’ve already set career highs in sacks. Defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Geno Atkins both find themselves in the top 10 in sacks in the AFC.
Johnson has compiled eight sacks after totaling 11.5 sacks combined in his previous three seasons.
“You can see guys like Michael Johnson, who has come into his own, who has gotten bigger, gotten stronger,” Callahan said. “He’s really developed into a premier pass rusher. So just when you think we had the toughest rush in the league in Philadelphia, now we come into Cincinnati and we face a group that’s really well versed, really adept at everything.”
Sacks don’t typically come in bulk from defensive tackles, but Atkins is defying that trend with 9.5 sacks this season, placing him No. 5 in the conference in the category. Callahan said Atkins, a former 2010 fourth-round draft pick from Georgia, can do just about everything a coach could want in a defensive tackle.
Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga’s the AFC’s seventh-leading tackler, and Atkins opens many of the holes for him to bring down opposing backs.
“He’s one of the rare players in the league that can play with great power and leverage at the point of attack and control the point and keep the guards off the second level and linebackers,” Callahan said of Atkins. “Whenever you can control the guards in our league, those backers are free to run, so Ray Mauluga is making a lot of plays. I’m sure he’s taken him out to dinner quite a few times.”
Know The Enemy: A.J. Green – Click HERE to watch the video – Duration: 3:25
The second year wideout from UGA is one of the deadliest in the NFL. Check out the film with Bryan Broaddus to see what makes him so dangerous.