forget the past three opponents have sported a 100-yard rusher against the Cowboys, and a fourth, Denver, missed by just two yards after Ron Dayne took that one 55-yards in overtime.
Oh, and for good measure, let's add just six of their 32 sacks in the last five games and just three of their 14 interceptions
Yeah, I'll say there is trouble in what was once the Cowboys' defensive paradise.
What's the deal?
Well, the Cowboys are playing without two of their starting-four linebackers, Al Singleton and Dat Nguyen on injured reserve. Singleton was lost (collarbone) in the Arizona game. Nguyen hadn't been himself since the fourth game of the season. They haven't had a whole Anthony Henry since the season's eighth game. Now third corner Aaron Glenn is trying to play through a high ankle sprain, as has linebacker Scott Shanle, Nguyen's replacement. Signing Mike Barrow was useless. He plays once, and goes on IR.
Then there is head coach Bill Parcells' idea of rotating his defensive linemen. Veteran defensive end Greg Ellis has not started the past three games, the Cowboys going with Chris Canty in the first two and then La'Roi Glover against Minnesota with Canty nursing a sprained ankle. Ellis plays only in pass-rush situations now.
Parcells blamed some of the sub-par run defense on his secondary's lack of support. The tackling wasn't good against Washington. Safety Roy Williams must be more of a force. But remember, and this is not something we're just bringing to the table. The perceived weakness of the 3-4 defense is stopping the run, especially when offenses have mammoth tackles taking on your 250-pound outside linebackers. And both K.C. and Washington exploited the Cowboys on the edges.
And then, too, let's not forget the relative youth on this defense. With Canty healthy, three rookies start. Three other defenders are first-time NFL starters. That's six. Scott Fujita starts because Al Singleton isn't available. That's seven. Terence Newman is in his third year. That leaves salty veterans Glover, Williams (fourth season), Jason Ferguson (when starting) and Henry (when healthy).
But you know what, as I suggested two weeks ago, uh, just before the offense broke out for 31 points against Kansas City, the fate of this Cowboys' season rests in the laps of the defense. Hey, throw out the 31-point Kansas City aberration, and the offense has scored no more than 21 points in the past six games. And get this, in those six Cowboys' losses this year, the Cowboys have only once scored more than 13 points.
With the offensive line struggling so, and now Rivera highly questionable to play, nothing suggests this offense will get straight anytime soon, and especially not this Saturday, since the Panthers rank third defensively. Again, with the exception of that Kansas City game - the Chiefs currently rank 28th defensively, and 31st against the pass - there has been a steady deterioration on offense.
Here is all you need to know: Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been sacked 15 times in the past three games. Factor that pace over a 16-game season, that's 80 sacks. My gosh, the club record for most sacks allowed in a 16-game season is 60. This is David Carr-ish, who is sitting there with 64 after 14 games.
Bledsoe also has thrown five interceptions in the last three games. That's nearly a third of his ever-growing season total (17).
So, as we were saying, Saving Cowboys is up to the defense. At least that side of the ball has shown some propensity to play effectively on a consistent basis. Hey, at least the defense still ranks 10th overall. Hope reigns.
That is, if those Cowboys defenders can find themselves and recent-school it.
| If the Cowboys should beat Carolina, they will finish with a 4-4 record on the road this season. Do you realize the Cowboys have not produced a winning record on the road since 1995 when they went 6-2 and just happened to win a Super Bowl? The Cowboys did go 4-4 during the 2003 10-6 season, and also in '98 and
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