Don't get defensive about this, people. Actually, someone probably should since nothing on the field resembles anything remotely defensive. I'd call it a hot mess, but that wouldn't do justice to the Eta Carinae-torching at the hands of the Denver Mannings yesterday afternoon.
In the past two games, the Cowboys have given up an embarassing 81 points, 1,023 yards and consecutive passer ratings of 120.3 and 129.6. Ouch.
The defense, the line in particular, started off the season with extreme promise. Even though they had lost two projected starters, a key backup and a handful of rotational guys, the early returns had Cowboys Nation in a state of euphoria.
Think about it. Without Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, Brian Price, the Cowboys entered the season far more depleted than coordinator Monte Kiffin and line coach Rod Marinelli would ever admit to. Throw in the injury settlements given to depth guys like Alex Albright, Robert Callaway, Ike Igbinosum, Cameron Sheffield, Monte Taylor, Travis Chappelear... it's pretty mind boggling to think of the destruction that has met the Cowboys defensive line in 2013.
Spencer played 34 snaps in the second game of the year before calling it a season. Ratliff is eligible to come off PUP in two weeks, but there hasn't been nary a whisper out of Valley Ranch about his status. The silence out of that group of gabbers speaks volumes in and of itself.
Yet, confident in being "rushmen", as dubbed by Marinelli, they harassed and molested New York quarterback Eli Manning for three sacks and another two quarterback hits. The also added 15 quarterback hurries which set the pace for an astounding 5 defensive forced turnovers.
The following week against the surprising Chiefs, four more sacks and another 15 hurries. Week Three against the Rams saw an assault-charge worthy six sacks, another two hits, and eight more hurries. The talk had started. We were all singing the praises of not just "Montenelli", but also the pro scouting department for finding guys like George Selvie and Nick Hayden; street free agents that were now part of a fearsome collection of rushers.
Not only against the pass, but rushing games were being corraled as well. 50 for the game for the Giants, only 35 for the Rams. The Chiefs went over 100 but that was due to the QB running for 57.
Two weeks later and the bloom is off that rose. We're also seeing meaningful snaps from guys named Edgar Jones, David Carter, Caesar Rayford and Drake Nevis. Two weeks later, what was formerly a "we can plug anyone in there", has turned into "we're plugging anyone in there".
A defense's ability to stop the opponent undoubtedly starts with the men in the trenches. Remember those stats from earlier on the last two games? They coincide with the following pressure numbers:
1 sack. 1 additional hit.
That's it. Over two games.
Running game? We've given up over 100 in each of the last two contests. And now Jason Hatcher is dealing with a stinger; an injury that has plagued DeMarcus Ware over the last few years of his career. There really isn't any help on the horizon, either, so the team will simply have to get better internally or suffer an inglorious death, week by week.
For all the hand-wringing we've done over the linebackers inability to master dropping into underneath zones and containing running backs and tight ends, the relationship between the units must be talked about. Now granted, Peyton Manning releases the ball in sheer milliseconds and is hard to pressure, much less bring down. But something has to improve. Or this line will be known as Mendoza, and not Rushmen.
They better figure out something fast and in a hurry. A steadily-improving Bob Griffin is coming to town this Sunday, and even if hobbled, still presents an issue this defense needs to prove they have a solution for.