With Monday night's 45-28 loss to the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo fell to 13-18 for his career in the month of December. It's a record that Romo has taken a lot of flak for, as December swoon after December swoon has knocked the Cowboys from playoff contention.
Well, it certainly wasn't Romo's fault that the Cowboys lost to the Bears, and if that game was any indication, then much of the blame Romo has shouldered during his career has been squarely and completely misplaced.
OK, that was his fault.
There really aren't words to describe how bad the Dallas defense was against the Bears, although that didn't stop someone from trying:
7 for 7 on scoring drives tonight??? 40 1st downs to the saints??? Boy the dallas defense is easier than miley cyrus....— Adam Ward (@GFELLAH) December 11, 2013
The Cowboys allowed 490 yards of total offense and 33 first downs to Chicago. For the second time in 2013, the Dallas defense failed to force a punt in a game. The only drive the Bears didn't score on was the final one—on the kneel-downs that ended the game.
Speaking of those 33 first downs, after the game there were some folks who assumed after the game that would be the Cowboys' defensive ranking:
By the time this game is over, Dallas might be ranked 33rd in defense.— Tommy Lawlor (@lawlornfl) December 10, 2013
That would be quite the feat in a league with only 32 teams, but the truth doesn't look much better.
|Total Defense||426.8 (32nd)|
|Pass Defense||298.5 (32nd)|
|Run Defense||128.4 (28th)|
|Scoring Defense||26.8 (26th)|
Granted, there have been a number of injuries. Defensive end Anthony Spencer was lost for the year during camp. Fellow end DeMarcus Ware, linebacker Sean Lee, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and cornerback Morris Claiborne have all missed time.
However, those injuries don't completely explain the train wreck on the field.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. After the Cowboys finished last year 14th in total defense, Rob Ryan was fired to make way for Monte Kiffin. Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense was going to be the final step in getting the Cowboys over the top in the NFC East.
To be doing what we're doing and to fix what we're doing, there's nobody I would rather have than him and [defensive line coach] Rod Marinelli. Where we are today, to get this fixed over the next, if you would, week or four or five days, the next three weeks, there's nobody I would rather have to get it fixed.
First of all, he knows what's happening to us better than anyone. And if there are adjustments to be made, he's the right man for the job right now.
Kiffin's the one taking the most heat for the team's defensive woes, but he isn't really at fault—at least not directly.
It's not like the 73-year-old Kiffin is doing something he hasn't always done. If you're going to take Kiffin to task for being outdated or failing to make adjustments that's fine, but Jones should have known what he was getting himself into when he hired him.
And that brings us to the root of the problem, as it usually seems to be in Dallas.
After all, it was Jones who hired Kiffin, despite the fact that Kiffin's collegiate stays at Tennessee and USC were disasters.
That hire was borne of the fact that Jones refuses to stop tinkering with the defense, even if it means fixing things that aren't broken.
As ESPN's Todd Archer points out, it was Jones who asked Ryan to dial back his exotic blitz packages back in 2011. Jones thought they slowed the players down because they had to "think too much."
The defense regressed, and Ryan was fired to make room for Kiffin.
Who bears the most blame for the Dallas Cowboys' defensive struggles in 2013?
Since Jones essentially is the Dallas front office, it was also him who assumed that cornerback Morris Claiborne (a first-round pick in 2012) would seamlessly transition from playing mostly man coverage to zone.
Instead, Claiborne's injuries may have been a blessing in disguise for Dallas. When on the field, Claiborne has gotten torched so much the defensive backs coach has had to keep a fire extinguisher on the sideline.
Never mind Bruce Carter. A second-round pick of you-know-who, Carter was pegged to play the pivotal weak-side linebacker role in Kiffin's 4-3. In the Tampa-2, as goes the "Will," so goes the defense. The scheme helped make Derrick Brooks a Hall of Famer with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
To say that Carter has been a disaster would be kind. The third-year pro has been benched on more than one occasion this season after totally blowing a coverage or whiffing on an easy tackle. In a scheme where the ball-carrier is funneled toward him, Carter has graded out as the third-worst 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL against the run, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That's how your strong safety winds up being your leading tackler, and it isn't good folks.
Jones bought a square peg, and Kiffin is being blamed because it won't fit in a round hole. Kiffin has started down a path that will make him the latest in a long line of fall guys in Big D.
It's unlikely things change too. Ware isn't right. Lee just added a neck injury to a bad hammy. The Dallas defense would have to improve by leaps and bounds to just be awful.
So here we go again. The Cowboys' first December game in 2013 dropped them a game behind the first-place Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. However, given that Philly's defense isn't much better, it's not hard to imagine the Week 17 matchup between the two teams being for the division title.
Of course, since the Dallas defense can't stop anyone, Romo and the offense will be asked to carry the day, and it also isn't hard to imagine an ending similar to what happened when the Denver Broncos visited Dallas earlier this season.
Another year of close but not quite. Another year of missing the playoffs. Another season with pledges for change from the man who's at the root of the problem to begin with.
And more blame for Tony Romo, even though this swoon ain't his fault.