FRISCO, Texas – Does anyone have a handle on this Dallas defense? It sure doesn't seem like it.
For 11 weeks, it's been a bit of a baffling run – a statistically solid group that has yet to meet its own expectations. To illustrate the point, look no further than Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, who was asked Tuesday morning how his defense can improve.
"What are we, seventh in the league on defense?" he asked.
That's the crazy part: Jones is actually correct on two different counts. The Cowboys are seventh in the NFL in total defense, allowing 322 yards per game, and they're also seventh in scoring defense with an average of just 19.7 points allowed.
And yet, even though they allowed just 312 yards to Detroit last weekend, it was hard to feel encouraged watching backup quarterback Jeff Driskel lead the Lions to 27 points.
"I think, if anything, one of the things I'd say about our defense is we're a bend, but don't break-type defense and we didn't do a good job of that," said Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones.
That's fair to say, given that the Lions didn't attempt any field goals Sunday, instead scoring four touchdowns – though Stephen Jones was sure to point out that the Cowboys' offense had a hand in some of those.
"To the defense of the defense, we did give them two short fields there early where they got their first 14 points," he said. "Between the turnover on the offensive side and then the big kick return, we gave them a short field twice on their 27 points."
Even still, the Cowboys allowed seven plays of 20 yards or more, including a 39-yard catch by Marvin Hall and a 23-yard quarterback scramble by Driskel. A big part of that was some lackluster tackling, allowing ball carriers to extend plays.
"The bottom line is that we need to wrap it up more, we need to just tackle better," Jerry Jones said.
Then there's the matter of takeaways. The Cowboys seemed to have solved their problem generating turnovers against their division opponents, as they combined to force seven in wins against the Eagles and Giants.
That wasn't the case against Minnesota or Detroit. The Cowboys haven't forced any takeaways these past two weeks, which has no doubt put them in a tougher spot – especially considering their offense has a committed a turnover in four-straight games.
"We need to have gotten more turnovers, then we would be more satisfied with our defense," Jerry Jones said. "And I'm not trying to be trite or specific, but the turnover thing is where I think we're lacking the most. If we could've played the same kind of defense and had some more turnovers during this period of time, I think we'd be less critical of the defense."
The hope is that the pass rush can accommodate that request. The Cowboys have had some success getting to the quarterback in the recent weeks since they traded for Michael Bennett, but it sounds like they may have more ideas on how they can ratchet up the pressure.
"We may, as we move forward, do a little more here and there in terms of getting some pressure and making some plays on the ball – as you said, getting turnovers, getting more negative plays so we can get the teams out," Stephen Jones said.
Again, it's not that the Cowboys have been bad, but something does seem to be missing. Even moderate improvement could help them find the consistency they're looking for – and it sounds like they're well aware of that fact.
"We still feel, if we're going to be a championship-caliber team, we've got to play a little bit better defense," Stephen Jones said.