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Terrance Newman and Mike Jenkins
What once was a strength for the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 has quickly turned into its biggest weakness heading into 2011.
Whereas the Cowboys' pass defense was fifth best in the NFL in 2008 (187.7 ypg) thanks in part to a league-leading 59 sacks, it has steadily declined to seventh-worst in 2010 (243.2 ypg). The Boys were also seventh-worst in completion-percentage allowed (64.4). On top of all that, Dallas gave up the second most points (27.3 ppg) and surrendered a league-worst 33 touchdowns through the air. Only the porous Houston Texans were as bad.
Terence Newman, a two-time Pro Bowler, is quickly aging and has never really lived up to his potential as a top-five pick. Sure he had some good years (All-Rookie team in 2003, Pro Bowl in 2007), but only last year did he record more than four interceptions (five). Newman may still have a few decent years left in him, but injuries seem to be catching up to him. Although he has not missed a game in the last two seasons, he always seems to be popping up on the injury list with some nagging injury.
Newman's fellow corner-mate, Mike Jenkins, was more than solid in 2009. Jenkins started 15 of the team's 16 games (including its two playoff games) and picked off five passes while deflecting 19 more. He, along with Newman, were named to the Pro Bowl as injury replacements. However, Jenkins took a huge step backwards in 2010. He managed just one INT and nine pass deflections and even had his character called into question after he failed to attempt to tackle an opposing player near the goal line.
Both of these guys were getting burned left and right last season. Still, it seemed as if the entire Dallas passing defense was getting torched, so they can't take all of the flack. Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball, Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann need to receive some of the blame as well.
Something happened to the Dallas D midway through the season. Through their first five games, the Cowboys only gave up an average of 180 yards through the air and only once did they give up more than 216. However, starting with their Oct. 25 game with the Giants, Dallas went on to allow an average of 299 passing yards over the next nine games. Here is the breakdown:
NYG - 297
JAX - 238
GB - 277
NYG - 373
DET - 263
NO - 333
IND - 365
PHI - 258
WASH - 286
Some were 'passing' teams. Some weren't. For the past decade the Dallas run defense has always been in the top half of the league. Coming into games, especially last year, teams knew that the way to get by the Cowboys' defense was to throw over them. The NFL has quickly become a passing league and for at least the last two years it seems as if the Cowboys have been behind the curve in learning how to cope with it. Some of it is attributed to quarterback pressure, and hopefully Rob Ryan can bring some of that back to Big D, but regardless the secondary was getting burned too often to even think about making a serious run at a title.
Of course I would like Dallas to make a run at free agent Nnamdi Asomugha. Who wouldn't want one of the league's best cornerbacks on their team? But I just don't see Jerry Jones going after him with 1) Asomugha's asking price and 2) the new CBA.
Hopefully Rob will borrow some of Rex's blitzing schemes and take some of the pressure off of the secondary. Either that or just give the opposition some different looks. The fact is is that something needs to be done because it is almost certain that teams will be looking to test the Dallas secondary once again in 2011.