There it was Sunday night, right before my jaded eyes--the Dallas Cowboys' dismal 2010 season, wrapped up in a three-play microcosm. LeSean McCoy for 12 yards. LeSean McCoy for 19. LeSean McCoy for 13 more. Game over. Season defined.
The game was there for the taking. Eagles clinging to a 30-27 lead with 4:22 remaining following a Jon Kitna to Jason Witten touchdown pass. Momentum clearly wearing metallic blue. Get loose, David Buehler.
Then--bam, bam, bam. Good night.
This Dallas defense would have to get appreciably better just to be awful. How did this happen?
Allow me to back up. In August, I picked our 'Boys to go to the Super Bowl. I do not make predictions with my heart, witness the fact I was the only member of the BTB staff to pick the Eagles last week. My point is that I genuinely, intellectually believed the Cowboys were the best team in the NFC. My opinion was based in large part on a defense that allowed just 250 regular season points in 2009, fewer than 16 points per game. There was no reason to think that D wasn't going to be at least as good this year. I'm an Old School guy who believes that while offensive production is prone to wide fluctuations from week to week, defensive performance can and should be relatively consistent. Ironically, as we examine a Cowboy defense that is on pace to give up the most points in franchise history, it appears I was right. This defense has been consistently putrid.
LeSean McCoy simply did what Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Maurice Jones-Drew et al had done before--shred a Dallas defense that gave up 6.3 yards per rush against the Eagles and has allowed 4.3 a carry this season. And those figures would no doubt be even more inflated were it not so easy to throw the ball against the Cowboys.
Philly ran the ball for 171 yards. Philly. An Eagle team that through much of the Andy Reid era has appeared completely disinterested in running the ball. Remember the last two of the Cowboys' three wins over Philadelphia a year ago? Of course you do. In the regular season finale, Dallas surrendered only 37 rushing yards in a 24-0 whitewashing. Six days later, Philly gained just 56 rushing yards in a 34-14 Cowboy playoff victory.
This can't all be written off to the loss of Marcus Spears, can it? Uh, no.
Here's what my eyes are telling me. Jay Ratliff was a great player a year ago. Today, he's pretty good. That's a major difference in the key run-stopping position in a 3-4. Here's the rest of this sad tale. You've heard the expression, "It's no sin to get blocked, it's a sin to stay blocked." Too many Cowboy defenders too often stay blocked. I know Keith Brooking is playing with a debilitating foot injury. I also know he is getting velcroed by opposing O-linemen.
And please don't get me started on tackling technique.
Was there any way you would have imagined before the season started that Dallas would rank 31st in points allowed? Would you have believed the 2010 D might end up allowing the most points in the half-century history of the Dallas Cowboys? Or that opponents would score 30 or more points in seven of the Cowboys' first 13 games?Me either.
I go back to the expansion Cowboys. I go back to those campy uniforms. I go back to guys getting claimed off waivers on Tuesday and starting on Sunday. This defense is as bad as any of those.
Here's the most stinging question of all. Is it possible that the Cowboys have the worst NFL defense in the state of Texas? Think about it.
Keith Brooking--God love him, I so much respect what he's done in his career--says the problem is lack of consistency. Brooking is wrong. This defense is fatally consistent.