William Shakespeare (The Tempest, Act II Scene I)
A "Tempest" is exactly what one can expect any time a professional football team gives up 51 points, and routinely allows 400 plus yards to opposing offenses. There's likely to be plenty of blame to go around, and valid questions to be asked about every aspect of the defense, from the players, to the coaches, to the scheme, and to the individual game plans. The usual suspects for the Cowboys' current defensive woes are injuries in the defensive line, the transition from a 3-4 defense into a 4-3 modified Tampa Two defense, inexperienced youth in the secondary, and the misfortune of facing a murderer's row of hot quarterbacks. There's no denying that each of those points has factored into the product we're seeing on the field, with names like Selvie, Nevis, and Rayford starting or playing significant minutes in place of players the Cowboys were counting on like Spencer, Ratliff, and Crawford, and the team facing two undefeated teams early on their schedule, but all teams face similar challenges, and at some point, the excuses have to stop.
People can, and do question Monte Kiffin's scheme, and there are certainly examples one can point to where the defense has been schematically deficient. For example, it's inexplicable lack of a "dime" coverage package, replacing two linebackers with defensive backs, seems to put the defense at a clear disadvantage when facing a spread offense, and there are times when Sean Lee drops so far back in coverage at the snap of the ball, that he takes HIMSELF completely out of the running game, allowing 4 and five yards a pop to average running attacks. However, there seem to be many more examples of times when Kiffin's scheme has put his players in position to make plays, but they simply fail to do so. Morris Claiborne was an obvious example of this in the first few games, then later Bruce Carter got benched, Will Allen was released, and Sean Lee was victimized time and again by Peyton Manning. Once again, some blame for these poor performances can be laid at the feet of the coaches for not adequately preparing their players for their opponent, but the coaches can't make a tackle, or intercept the ball. In the end, it all comes down to a football player making a football play.
"Mr. Cowboy," Hall of Famer Bob Lily has often told the story of a players only meeting that occurred in 1971, in the middle of the season, after a bitter loss during the time before they became "America's Team," when the Cowboys were instead labeled as the team that "couldn't win the big one." They had been maddeningly inconsistent up to that point, winning one game, and losing the next (sound familiar?), frustrating and dividing players, coaches, and fans alike. In that meeting, the players decided to take responsibility for themselves, and to heck with what the press, the fans, and even the coaches thought about it. They went to Tom Landry and demanded simpler game plans, both offensively and defensively, so they could quit thinking so much and just play football the way they knew how. Tom and the rest of the staff complied, the team, now feeling empowered, came together and finally played up to their enormous potential, going on an incredible winning streak of TEN straight games on their way to winning the franchise's first championship in Superbowl VI. The rest is NFL history.
I can only hope that the current version of the Cowboys will have a similar moment of catharsis that will inspire them to become something greater than the sum of their parts. It will take leadership, determination, and a single mindedness of purpose, but as that noted football fan, William Shakespeare once pointed out, if it happened before, it can happen again.