IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys made their defensive coaching changes after last season to spark more turnovers, allowing 54 more yards per game wasn't supposed to be part of the process.
The Cowboys fired their defensive coordinator last season after finishing 19th in yards allowed, 24th in points allowed and tied for last in interceptions around the NFL. They're now 17th in interceptions, but they're still No. 22 in points allowed and No. 28 in yards allowed this season with Monte Kiffin at the helm.
"We've got to get better, and we've got to get better in a hurry," said Brandon Carr. "It's a bit of a learning curve still just trying to learn the ins and outs of the defense, but right now it's no more excuses. We've got enough ballgames under our belt that we should know our assignments on the field and our details."
It didn't start as poorly as it looks right now.
Through three weeks, the Cowboys led the NFC in sacks. No one questioned the defensive changes after Week 1 against the Giants. The Cowboys brought in Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to help pressure the quarterback and create turnovers, and they brought down Eli Manning three times, returned a fumble for a touchdown and returned an interception for a touchdown. [embedded_ad]
That was before the Giants started the year at 0-5 and before the Cowboys had to face Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning in Weeks 4 and 5, respectively. Rivers and both Manning brothers threw for more than 400 yards against the Cowboys this year.
"It's not a good feeling," Carr said. "You've worked so hard throughout the offseason, just the anticipation that builds up to the season, to come out of the gates clicking on all cylinders and then to hit a lull like we did, right now just trying to find some answers. We're not too far off. We're not happy with the amount of yards they're putting up in the secondary as a defense as a whole as far as the passing situation."
That's really the one area of drastic concern. The Cowboys are a top-5 team in the league against the run, but that's because teams are having so much success throwing. Dallas sits last in the NFC and in front of only the Broncos in pass defense, allowing 326.4 yards per game through the air.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick said the whole defense is surprised at that, and he personally didn't see it coming at all. But Scandrick's not quite in panic mode, and he still believes in the scheme Kiffin has introduced to the defense. Both Kiffin and Scandrick said the players might be trying to do too much, which puts the defense in a bind.
"I just feel like we need to adjust to it," Scandrick said. "Sometimes we may be trying to do too much. Everybody just needs to do their job and we'll be better off. I sat here before you guys after we beat the Giants, and I said I wasn't satisfied because of the big plays. I said big plays will get you beat, and now we're here four weeks later, giving up a ton of big plays, and we're 2-3."
Last week, Manning threw a 57-yard pass, a 29-yard pass, a 26-yard pass and two 19-yard passes, all to five different receivers. A week prior, Rivers tossed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead, while also completing a 31-yard pass to Keenan Allen and a 28-yard pass to Eddie Royal.
So if the Cowboys' defense is trying to do too much, what exactly does that mean?
"I wouldn't say trying to do other people's jobs, I would just say sometimes seeing too much," Scandrick said. "Sometimes you want to go make a play on something else, and you kind of forget to take care of your responsibility. When you play somebody like Peyton, when you're not where you're supposed to be, he's going to throw it where you're not."
Peyton Manning threw for 414 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in a Broncos win. The week prior, Rivers threw for 401 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception.
Those two performances against two of the league's better quarterbacks have the Cowboys in worse position in terms of yardage allowed than they were last season, when a coordinator got fired. But both Carr and Scandrick don't want to focus on that.
"I don't think about last year," Carr said. "I don't try to compare. I just know that this has to stop. We can't continue to keep playing this way and expect to win football games."
Carr said he thinks the Cowboys have the pieces to respond to the recent adversity and that it's just a matter of getting everyone on the same page and figuring out the expectation level individually.
The Cowboys have plenty of time to turn things around just five weeks into the year. Scandrick said now is no time to doubt the new scheme, coaches or personnel, and it's up to the veterans of the group to take leadership. With Will Allen now gone, that responsibility is on the shoulders of Scandrick and Carr.
"I think it's my job to kind of help those guys and bring them along and continue to have them believe," Scandrick said. "You've just got to continue to have faith. We've come too far to turn our backs on our coaches now. I don't think that's the right thing to do. I don't perceive that happening with the group of guys that we have."
Eleven regular season games remain on the slate to determine whether the defense from the first two weeks of the season or the last two weeks of the season is more the norm. That answer might become clear within the next few weeks, beginning this Sunday against a top-10 passing team in the Redskins.
"It's a divisional opponent," Carr said. "We know more about them. We can try to scheme those guys, but as far as comparing, I'm not going to compare. We've got a different situation, different techniques, different system, different everything. It's just got to stop now. No more excuses. We've got to get the job done."