"At the end of the day I haven't been playing like the DeMarcus of the past and I got to get back to that. It's December (and) people always say the light turns on in December and you set yourself apart from everybody and I got to get back on track with that."
The facts are that Dallas went from three 5-11 seasons to finishing 10-6, 6-10, 9-7, and 9-7 (a 34-30 cumulative regular season record). The Cowboys made the playoffs Parcells' first and last seasons.
Of course, Bill never won a playoff game. Wade Phillips benefitted from the talent accumulated by Parcells but oversaw the slow deterioration of what Bill took four seasons to build.
Since taking over for Wade, Jason Garrett has coached the Cowboys to consecutive 8-8 finishes. As with Bill, a palpable shift in culture has taken place. Unlike Parcells, however, Garrett's manner does not grate on everyone at Valley Ranch. It is a shame that Parcells was not encouraged to finish the job he started. It would be criminal to commit the same mistake in lieu of the present circumstances.
Since Parcells was hired, Jason and Wade have been the only head coaches hired by Jerry Jones. Through three different head coaching regimes, though, the Cowboys defense has directly led to five defensive coordinators being fired.
Mike Zimmer was this unit's first victim under Parcells. He is currently having success in Cincinnati. Wade Phillips left the Cowboys defense and immediately improved the Texans defense. Rob Ryan has found similar success in New Orleans after he left Dallas.
Monte Kiffin is an accomplished defensive coordinator that has received critical acclaim. After another defensive debacle, fingers are pointing in Kiffin's direction.
Exactly what has everyone been watching for the last decade?
Orlando Scandrick is the perfect example of what ails this defense. Orlando has been starting for the Cowboys at cornerback since the beginning of the season. Dallas is now depending upon him to provide quality minutes.
Of course, Orlando is the player that let two interceptions go through his hands, missed several tackles, was frequently out of position, and incurred a terrible "launching" penalty. Anyone paying attention over the last few years has seen many passes slip though Orlando's hands, has seen him miss many tackles (remember at Atlanta last season?), and has seen Scandrick incur his share of costly penalties.
This does not include the countless times Orlando has failed to turn around while the ball is in the air to make a play. While Orlando Scandrick is a decent cornerback, he can hardly be considered a cornerstone player to the defense. Since the Cowboys lack talent, however, he is elevated to a prestigious position despite his limited talent.
Players of limited talent play as Orlando does: well and poorly. This defense has fielded players of limited talent and has attempted to pass them off as qualified starters since Parcells began running the drafts at Valley Ranch.
Brandon Carr was the second best cornerback in Kansas City before the Chiefs chose to let him test free agency. Dallas paid him as an elite starter, and his play has been erratic as of late: similar to players with limited talent.
Include underperforming or injured veterans that have demonstrated their elite talent, and the current iteration of the Cowboys' defense is described. Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher have all missed time with injuries and have been limited secondary to physical ailments.
The Dallas defense is relying on players like George Selvie, Martez Wilson, and Jarius Wynn to play extended minutes and apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks. None of the other 31 teams, and by extension 31 general managers saw fit to attempt to sign these players.
Pass rushers are among the most well reimbursed players in the NFL. There is a high demand for talented pass rushers. That 31 other teams could not justify signing any of these defensive players speaks volumes.
This is not a new issue in Dallas. Parcells had Bobby Carpenter, Pat Watkins, and Keith Davis starting at linebacker and safety respectively. Bill relied on a conservative game plan to limit the deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. Wade and Rob Ryan utilized scheme and strategy to hide the gaping holes in talent.
Kiffin's scheme relies on execution and talent to win. Jimmy Johnson's 4-3, and Tom Landry's defenses also placed excellent players in position to succeed. The difference is that Jimmy and Tom had talented players to make plays. When Tom's teams became older and stopped executing well enough to win consistently, Landry was unceremoniously released.
The problem in Dallas is not Monte Kiffin, or Rod Marinelli, or Jason Garrett. The problem in Dallas has been the talent, or rather the lack thereof. Many defensive coordinators have experienced success since leaving Dallas. Kiffin is a legendary defensive coordinator and Marinelli has experienced success everywhere save Detroit and Dallas.
Of course, when Rod was in Detroit, he had one of the most talentless teams in NFL history. It is not a stretch to compare the talent from that Lions defense to the one currently residing in Dallas.
Ware may not be a good defensive end, may be nearing the end of his career, and may need to go to a 3-4 team to continue producing at an All Pro level. Jason Hatcher is playing well, but despite his career season should not be retained due to his age and anticipated cost. Sean Lee is the only other exceptional player in the front seven of the defense. His health is obviously a concern.
Claiborne has been disappointing and may not receive a second contract. Carr is playing inconsistently at cornerback, but may be the best safety on the roster: this is more of an indictment on the safeties.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of pointing the finger at the coaches, perhaps the blame should be leveled at the players that have consistently come up small in big moments.
Holding the players accountable is obviously less popular and more complicated than blaming the few men coaching them, but it is the correct tack. It is also long overdue.
Note: I understand that what I am suggesting implies that Dallas will require several drafts to upgrade the talent on the defensive side of the ball. Considering the premium placed on pass rushers by the 4-3 scheme employed by the Cowboys and their recent failure to procure such players in recent drafts (as well as losing players to injury), it is hardly a surprise that this edition of the Dallas defense is historically abysmal.