- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' defense is historically bad, and there doesn't appear to be any hope.
Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, said he's never had a defense this bad. He can remember only two occasions in his long career when his defense blew a big lead. The first person to beat him in such fashion was Peyton Manning when he played for Indianapolis and Kiffin was in Tampa Bay. The other time was last weekend, when Matt Flynn and Green Bay rallied from a 26-3 deficit to beat Dallas.
Kiffin is trying to forge ahead with a defense that won't have middle linebacker Sean Lee, nickel corner Morris Claiborne or strongside linebacker Justin Durant. The injuries to the unit, coupled with the ineffective play, have been unnerving to those inside Valley Ranch.
But Kiffin believes his defense can rebound in the final two games of the regular season.
"I walk in that room, whatever time we meet, 8:30 in the morning. It starts with coach Garrett," Kiffin said. "You go into your defensive room and you split up and away you go. You walk in, 'Get your heads up, let’s go.' That’s the way it works. We ain’t going to pout around. We’ll be ready to play."
Kiffin is still settling on his starting linebackers. Ernie Sims, battling groin and hip problems, is the middle linebacker. Bruce Carter is the weakside backer and Kyle Wilber is on the strong side. DeVonte Holloman are the nickel backers. The backups are Orie Lemon and Cameron Lawrence.
If Sims can't play, Holloman moves in as middle linebacker. Lemon said he can work on both outside linebacker spots if need be. Wilber remains the strongside linebacker regardless.
The Cowboys are going to need healthy linebackers because the Washington Redskins come in with the third-best rushing offense in the NFL.
"A good offensive line," Kiffin said. "They run and throw it. We know we’ve got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that. We’ve just got to do the best we can. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job."
One of the main themes of Kiffin's 4-3 scheme is turnovers, and fittingly the Cowboys are tied for third in turnover differential at plus-11. In the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys forced 12 turnovers. On Sunday, newly signed cornerback Sterling Moore picked off a Flynn pass for the Cowboys' third interception in the last six games.
"You just have to keep doing it," Kiffin said. "Like I say sometimes, turnovers are like sacks. They come in bunches. Hopefully they’ll work the other way the next week."