A lot of people figure it is just a matter of time before Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones fires defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and starts over with the horrible, inept Dallas defense. Jones has denied that he has any such intentions, in somewhat surprisingly positive terms.
"Now, to be doing what we're doing and to fix what we're doing, there's nobody I'd rather have than him and Rod Marinelli. And where we are today, to get this fixed over the next, if you would, week or four or five days ... ain't nobody I'd rather have to get it fixed." - Jerry Jones
While I might not be quite that effusive, I do tend to agree in principle with Jones. Not so much that Kiffin is the right person to fix the problems, but in the sense that I don't think anyone could do a very good job with the motley crew of players Dallas is trying to field. The talent, folks, is just not there.
It is a problem with multiple aspects. I heard Darren Woodson talking on ESPN Radio's SVP and Russillo program, and he stated that there were only two players on the Dallas defense that had the talent to play with one of the top NFL defenses: DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. He has a point, but I think he made one mistake. This year's edition of DWare may not qualify. That leaves one player on the team, who struggles to stay on the field, who is seen by a very knowledgeable former defensive standout as being a quality defender.
We all know about the constant search for players to fill in on the defensive line this season due to injuries and one act of petulant betrayal, but the issues have expanded beyond that to encompass all parts of the defense. KD Drummond pointed out just how bad it has gotten.
Sterling Moore is now the 39th different player to line up on defense for Dallas in 2013... by far most in league— KD Drummond (@KDP10for10) December 10, 2013
The Cowboys are faced with a variety of personnel issues on defense.
The injured. Anthony Spencer, Ben Bass, Tyrone Crawford, and Matt Johnson all went on injured reserve without making any contribution this season. Spencer was the only one who even saw the field, and he was gone before we even noticed him. You can add the player formerly known as Jay Ratliff to that list, although his injuries turned out to be just malingering in order to get away from a team that he had come to hate, for reasons that still are puzzling to most. That's five key contributors, at least three of whom would have been starters.
The underperforming. Brandon Carr, Bruce Carter, Morris Claiborne, and Justin Durant lead this list. All have not lived up to what the team expected from them. And you can probably add Ware, although he is straddling this and the injured category.
Carr is definitely not living up to his big contract, and Claiborne is making the trade up to get him look really bad. Woodson stated bluntly he is a bust at this point. Carter is just a bit of a mystery. He seems to be poorly motivated or just lost in the new system.
The overwhelmed. J.J. Wilcox, B.W. Webb, Jeff Heath, Nick Hayden, and lately George Selvie fit this category. They are all players who have potential, but have been asked to do more than they are truly ready for. All may have a future with the team, but right now, they are liabilities.
One point was made about Selvie (I am not sure who made it, but it may also have been Woodson). Ware has been slowed by his injuries, and that has allowed teams to leave the left tackle one on one with him, sending the tight end over to help with Selvie. I haven't tried to verify this myself with video review, but it does make sense after the fast start Selvie got to the season.
Shouldn't be here in the first place. The list is too long to go into, but clearly the Cowboys are trying to use players who just are not NFL caliber talent. All over the field.
Kiffin has tried to make his scheme work with these players. The only ones he has had that have been somewhat reliable (when not nicked up) are Lee, Jason Hatcher, Barry Church, and Orlando Scandrick. They may be adding another name with Kyle Wilber, who seems to have found a home as the Sam linebacker. But none of them were very good against the Bears outside of Lee, and of course he missed part of the game with a stinger (that hopefully will not keep him out this week).
This is where the problems start. It is supposed to take a year and a half to get a defense like Kiffin's fully installed, and constantly throwing new players into the mix is not helping that process. Now you have to try and execute the scheme with inferior players and this leads to throwing stuff out there that just doesn't work. Mike Fisher rightly says that the problem for the Cowboys defense is pretty much everything.
Monte Kiffin's Cowboys are playing a chess game with inferior pieces and are making moves with inferior results. It's about being out-schemed and about philosophies, about mental mistakes and physical errors, about subpar talent and bad luck.
This is why firing Kiffin would likely do little to fix things and probably would just back the team up another year. The first step is going to be getting better pieces. Get some of what you already have healthy, develop some of the younger players with potential, and be smart with the draft. It almost has to be a defense-heavy draft this year, because the cupboard is just too damn bare for the Cowboys.
And there are going to have to be some decisions made on some of those underperforming players. That may well include DeMarcus Ware, if he does not recover his old form the last three games.
But that is for the future. Right now, the team has to try and find a way to win those games. The players may not be what the team wants. But that's what they have to go with.