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Burning Questions Persist For Dallas Defense


FRISCO, Texas – These Monday evenings can't be particularly enjoyable for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Under Mike McCarthy, all of the Cowboys' coordinators hold their weekly press conferences on the first day of the week, while the results of the previous game are still fresh from the day before.

In theory it's a smart idea, allowing the coaching staff to move past the latest game and focus on the week ahead. With his defense in a bit of a free fall, though, this has to feel like the worst kind of déjà vu for Nolan, as he seeks answers to one of the more baffling months in recent Cowboys history.

"When they say 'do your job,' basically that's what it is. Whether it's gap integrity or whether it's covering someone, it's a number of things – containing the quarterback. Someone is always responsible for all those duties," Nolan said. "There's nothing really designed to let the quarterback run free or let the running back run through your defense. Most often it's because the integrity of your defense has been broken."

That obviously reads like Football 101, but that's at the heart of the Cowboys' problem. With all due respect to their opponents, they've been beaten badly on some fairly basic concepts.

It was a pedestrian rushing offense that ran through the Cowboys for more than 200 yards on Sunday. And Terry McLaurin scored uncontested from 52 yards out on a standard vertical route – a result of Trevon Diggs looking in the wrong place, to hear it from Nolan.

"His eyes got him in trouble -- he's looking inside, he stopped his feet and then the guy went right by him," Nolan said. "The guy didn't even stutter, he was just running vertical. I thought in the game that he kind of gave him a stutter or something to get him to stop, but he didn't."

Monday's press conference was actually a perfect encapsulation of where things have gotten for the Cowboys. Because it's a guarantee that the big storyline won't be anything Nolan said, but his run-in with a rogue drop of Tabasco hot sauce. Unbeknownst to him, Nolan accidentally rubbed his eye with some hot sauce left on his finger and had to excuse himself for several minutes.

Given the state of the Dallas defense, the mishap naturally went viral on social media as an indicator of how hapless things have become.

"My eye feels a lot better right now, but it was burning," Nolan joked afterward.

The memes are going to be made, and the jokes will be told. That's the way life goes when you're not succeeding in the NFL.

It doesn't change the work that's in front of the Cowboys, which is attaining some semblance of cohesion. This team currently ranks dead-last in scoring defense, but Nolan maintained that there have been flashes of ability – just nowhere near often enough.

"We've had spurts where we've played good, whether it was three-and-outs," he said. "What was it, there was about 28, 29 plays into the Arizona game where I thought we were playing a pretty good ball game, and then we did not play good for a stretch there. To me, it's the consistency."

At this point in the season, it's all going to ring a bit hollow until the results reflect the response. But for Mike Nolan, the goal is to get this group to band together. That's the only way to make these Monday meetings any more enjoyable.

"My message has pretty much been playing as a unit, trusting one another to be accountable," he said. "Because any defense, every defense – every offense, for that matter – everything is designed to play as one. There's an objective in mind and everybody has a piece to play in making that objective work, whether that's on offense or defense."

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