IRVING, Texas – As it stands today, 132 players in the NFL have more interceptions than the entire Cowboys secondary.
It's not too difficult to make that list. All a player needs to do is intercept a pass. Through six weeks, the only Cowboys player with an interception is linebacker Sean Lee.
The Dallas defense ranks No. 1 in the league in passing defense, allowing 181.6 yards per game through the air, but the secondary hasn't picked off a pass yet this season.
"We think it's very good that we haven't given up a lot of passing yards," head coach Jason Garrett said. "We made a huge emphasis on that with our football team, in the personnel decisions we made in the offseason, as you know, and we think that's good. But having said that, as a defense, we need to create more takeaways, and that's knocking the ball out, sack fumbles, intercepting passes. We need to do more of that and we'll continue to focus on that."
Despite owning the No. 2 total defense in the league and ranking in the upper half of the NFL in both passing defense and rushing defense, the Cowboys are just 20th in opponents' scoring average and possess a minus-eight turnover ratio.
The teams who create the most pressure on opposing quarterbacks tend to be the teams who also rank toward the top in interceptions. The Cowboys are tied for 23rd in the league with 10 sacks this season.
"We believe that takeaways and turnovers are team things," Garrett said. "The guys up front, the linebacker level, all of that stuff impacts the potential for an interception. Similarly on offense, the protection, the guys getting open, that similarly affects it. So we really try to make that emphasis. We just have to do a better job of it, protect it better and go get it better."
Dallas recovered an onside kick against Baltimore, but never forced a fumble or intercepted a pass. The Cowboys have thrown more interceptions and picked off fewer passes than any team in the NFC.
Safety Danny McCray said opposing quarterbacks aren't making the kind of mistakes and turnovers the Dallas defense has seen them commit on film. McCray said it's up the Cowboys to make them more uncomfortable.
"We have great players," McCray said. "We just haven't been able to get our hands on those interceptions. But once they come, they start coming. Right now, we're a little dry, but hopefully that snowball effect starts rolling sometime soon."
While the Cowboys hold the NFL's top-ranked passing defense, the secondary allowed Brandon Marshall to catch seven passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. One game later, Anquan Boldin finished with 98 yards receiving.
Teams are beginning to have more success against veteran cornerback Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne than they had at the beginning of the season. Still, Garrett said he thinks Carr's played well through six weeks, and his willingness to move between cornerback and safety has made the team better.
"He's done a lot of really good things, but at the same time, his standard for himself and for our team and our defense is really high," Garrett said. "He works very hard at it. He's committed to getting better every day. Regardless how well he's played, he wants to get better. He believes he can get better and he's going to get better, and that's why we like him."
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera doesn't think it's defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's fault that the Cowboys haven't been able to rattle quarterbacks into throwing interceptions. He said the Dallas defense possesses dynamic athletes who will eventually start creating more turnovers.
"To me, it's just a matter of time," Rivera said. "It really is, because they've got a solid football team with a lot of good football players."
Rivera said creating takeaways is a combination between a defensive mentality and luck. The Cowboys are the second-worst team in turnover differential in the NFC, while the Panthers are the third worst at minus-five.
"There're so many variables that are involved," Rivera said. "It's not as easy as some people think. One year you could be one of the leading teams, the next year you can be right in the middle of the pack, or at the bottom. It's a year-by-year thing, but I think also it's a mentality."