I believe I have a statistic that will blow your minds this morning after a hard fought loss to the Eagles on Sunday Night Football.
Before I give you this statistic, I want to say I continue to enjoy these Dallas hard-fought efforts where it looks like everyone is trying to do everything in their power to win football games - there are just some legitimate short comings that need to be addressed before we make the mistake of looking at the Cowboys as "NFL Elite" again. A play here or a play there and the loss to the Saints is a win, and so is the loss to the Eagles last night. There is no doubt that the Cowboys are competing and for that, we can all breath a sigh of relief that the quitting of October is in the rear view mirror.
But, those short comings.... We are going to need some real improvement on those issues before we get to 2011.
Some are rather obvious. Does anyone NOT think the Cowboys need a massive overhaul to their entire offensive line? There are a few I would keep, but there are none that I would not consider upgrading if the opportunity presents itself. As good as Doug Free is, if there is a franchise Left Tackle on the board in the 1st Round, I swing Free over to Right Tackle and continue on. Perhaps Gurode could be kicked over to Guard - if nothing else, he wouldn't be in charge of the random shotgun snaps any longer. But, that discussion is for another day.
I want to get to the mind blowing statistic. Are you sitting down?
The Cowboys have 3 games left. In those 3 games, if they allow 40 points total (13.3 per game), they will have allowed the most points ever scored against a Cowboys team in a season. We should point out that 16 game seasons have only existed since 1978 so that we compare apples to apples.
51 years of football in Dallas, and the worse it has ever been around here is 405 points allowed (in 2004) and 30.8 Points Per Game against (accomplished by the expansion 1960 Cowboys squad).
Given they have allowed 28.2 PPG this season, they will need the Redskins or Cardinals to really light them up in the next few weeks to get both records (points allowed and points per game allowed), but this statistic has really snuck up on me.
Just look at the weekly scoring allowed this season: 13, 27, 13, 34, 24, 41, 35, 45, 20, 19, 30, 35, and 30. 28.2 ppg against.
Now, the game of football has certainly changed and we see more points now than ever before. Passing offenses and rule changes have made it a league where slowing down the opponent is your objective. Stopping your opponent is a pipe dream. But, let's look at the Cowboys teams of this decade:
The best from 2000-2010 in Scoring Defense? The 2009 Dallas Cowboys allowed 250 points or 15.6 points per game. Then, in order, the best Cowboys defenses were: 2003, 2005, 2007, 2002, 2001, 2006, 2000, 2008, 2004, and finally, in last place, your 2010 Dallas Cowboys.
How did this happen? How did the Cowboys go from #2 in the NFL in 2009 in Points Allowed (behind only the Jets) to #31 in 2010 Points Allowed (barely in front of only the Broncos)? I spend a lot of time wondering what has happened to the offense and the ability to run the ball. Meanwhile, the defense looks about as unproductive as they ever have.
Disconcerting to say the least. Especially when you consider that the Cowboys entered the season with their starting 11 defenders being: Olshansky, Ratliff, Spears, Ware, Brooking, James, Spencer, Newman, Ball, Sensabaugh, and Jenkins.
As we head to game 14, the defense has 10 of those 11 starters still playing most of the game. We cannot blame injury on any level for what has happened to this defense. Marcus Spears may be a nice contributor, but there isn't a Cowboys fan on the planet that would list him as a "indispensable" player on the defense, and he was injured in Green Bay so even he was there for the first 8 weeks.
Let's look at possible factors that have made the Cowboys defense that everyone enjoys playing against:
* Too Many Passengers - This is hard to measure sometimes, but when you go weeks without noticing plays of substance from certain players, you do wonder if you have enough "difference makers" on the field. I cannot recall Igor Olshansky or Marcus Spears making many plays on the defense. When I say this, people are quick to point out to me that the 3-4 doesn't allow for many plays to be made by a DE. Richard Seymour and Cullen Jenkins might dispute this premise, but I would concede that since they were also the DEs on the 2009 team perhaps this isn't the full issue. But, when you can list several players that seem to never make a big play and they all play in the middle of the field (DE, MLB, FS, and SS) then you have a a weak defense.
* Nothing from Safeties - I think we have seen enough from the Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball regime to know that this position needs upgrading. Sensabaugh is starting to find takeaways, but throughout the year he has demonstrated that he is not really a very big hitter and that he has some real speed issues. Ball might be a reasonable idea as a nickel corner, but this idea that they were going to convert him to safety seems a bit difficult to buy into. I still have trouble listing 3-5 plays he has made this year. Now, look around the league at all of the dominant defenses and you will find that they are generally led by dominant safety play. We begged the Cowboys to go get veteran safety help this off season, but they not only didn't strengthen the position, but by cutting Ken Hamlin, you could make the case they took a weakness and made it weaker. OJ Atogwe was the object of our affection in June when the Rams were bidding against nobody to keep him, but the Cowboys felt that they were fine at that spot. Atogwe is being credited for a lot of the Rams growth on defense, and the Cowboys look like they could use 2 new safeties this coming offseason. It is certainly a cheap 2nd guess to suggest the Cowboys needed Nate Allen more than they needed Dez Bryant, but at some point, you must address your needs instead of your wants. The Cowboys safety position was bad when it was anchored by Roy Williams. Somehow, it may be worse now.
* Young studs regressed - This segment is dedicated to Mike Jenkins and Anthony Spencer. In December of 2009, it appeared that both of these young 1st Rounders were throwing off their "up and coming" labels and were ready to be stars in this league in the present tense. They both made such significant contributions down the stretch to that defense that never allowed points that we felt their arrival was no longer something to look forward to. It was here. Well, there is no nice way to say this, but, Anthony Spencer and Mike Jenkins have been average players at their position this year. And when you have a defense with average or below average at too many spots, you get what we have here. A very poor defense. They were counting on those two to at least be up near DeMarcus Ware's neighborhood in their excellence. That has not happened.
* Older Studs Not What They Were - Here, we see the cases of Terrence Newman, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, and sadly, perhaps Jay Ratliff. All 4 of them at times have been Pro Bowl caliber. But, this year, teams look for 41 in coverage, they can't wait for 51 to try to cover, and offenses have learned that they can maul Jay Ratliff with constant double teams and eventually wear him down. I think the time has come to kick Ratliff out to DE where he can avoid the constant G/C double and have a chance to be disruptive more often. Josh Brent may be that NT, but I think Ratliff needs to move regardless. James is still pretty salty, but I do think he has played his best years already. Brooking needs to replaced, and Sean Lee is already in the process of doing that. It was clear last night that Lee can shed blockers like Brooking used to. But, now, once someone gets to Brooking, he is easily cleared out of the path of the runner.
Put all of those factors together and you have what you have. A defense that has allowed 30 points in 6 of the last 8 games. A defense that for the 3rd game in a row had a chance to win the contest with a defensive stop and could not do it. The Eagles started the 2nd Half with the interception to Bradie James and then scored on the next 4 possessions. They followed that up with the demoralizing and conclusive drive where LeSean McCoy and the Eagles grounded and pounded the Cowboys defense into tiny little bits.
This defense no longer scares anyone. They are no match for the teams that show up on their schedule. They allow huge passer ratings to average QBs, so why would we expect them to slow down the elite QBs?
Somehow, in the space of 1 year, the Defense as an entire unit has joined the Offensive Line as departments on this team that will need a ton of improvement before we enter 2011. But, do the Cowboys have the resources available to rebuild everything that needs rebuilding?
In the meantime, stand back. The defense has some all-time futility records to set.