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Monday, December 30, 2013
You can't blame the defense but ...

By Calvin Watkins

Monte Kiffin
Monte Kiffin's defense set record lows for Dallas franchise history.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- You can't blame the Dallas Cowboys' defense for the 24-22 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

How can you when a defense gets five sacks and forces a fumble?

How about the constant pressure Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was under?

DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher played their best games in weeks.

Rookie DeVonte Holloman was fantastic against the run.

However ...

Overall, the Cowboys' defense allowed 6,645 yards this season -- the most in franchise history, and the most in the NFL this season. It allowed 958 more yards than the 2012 Cowboys' defense, something that got defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fired.

This same defense, with high-priced talent like Ware, Brandon Carr and first-round draft choice Morris Claiborne and another player seeking a new deal in Hatcher, gave up 432 points, the second-most in franchise history. It gave up 388 first downs, most in franchise history.

And defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin wants to come back.

Really?

How and why would you allow Kiffin to return?

"I don’t plan on retiring, I want to keep on coaching. I really would," Kiffin said. "It’s no laughing matter. I'm proud to be a Cowboy. I'd like to get another shot next year, we’ll see."

Kiffin doesn't need another shot.

He needs to go.

Understand, Kiffin didn't have all of his pieces this season. Anthony Spencer played one game, Jay Ratliff none. The veteran safety the Cowboys' signed, Will Allen, lasted less than two months before he was released, and eventually was replaced by rookie J.J. Wilcox.

Middle linebacker Sean Lee missed the last three games of the season with a sprained neck. Weakside linebacker Bruce Carter was ineffective and benched for Ernie Sims.

Claiborne and Carr played poorly at times. We're not going to go back to what happened in downtown Detroit when Calvin Johnson was putting up video game numbers against this secondary, especially with Carr trying to cover him.

There was a stretch of games where the pass rush disappeared. But Sunday night, with the season on the line, there was Ware and Hatcher pushing the pocket. George Selvie, a man signed in training camp to help a line hampered by injuries, was chasing Foles around the field.

Of course, there was this goal-line stand late in the third quarter, when Ware and Carter stopped Foles on a sneak, turning the momentum of the game.

"It was big, it was huge," Selvie said. "It gave us a chance to go back and be in the game."

But it wasn't good enough.

Yes, Kyle Orton threw an interception on a pass intended for Miles Austin, who was trying to run a post, that sealed the Eagles' win. Yet when you look back on the Cowboys' season, the defense had as much to do with the 8-8 record than anything else.

"We just knew it was win or go home," safety Barry Church said. "We just took that mentality to the field. As a whole, the defense played pretty well. We played enough to give our team a chance to win."

Finally.

When owner and general manager Jerry Jones evaluates this mess of a season, he needs to rethink the value he's putting into some of these defensive players. Ware needs a pay cut, and he said he's willing to take one.

Carr either needs to write Jones a check for the money he's already pocketed this year, or just take a pay cut, too.

Hatcher needs to go. The 31-year-old played well this season, but the Cowboys need to get younger along the defensive line. While Tyrone Crawford (torn Achilles) should be ready to go in 2014, they need to get some young blood for the line in the draft.

Carter didn't play up to standards and while he was looking for a new contract himself, it shouldn't happen anytime soon.

The Cowboys need to figure out what to do at safety.

Church is fine. But Jeff Heath, Matt Johnson (injuries) and Wilcox are battling for a free safety spot.

I'm not even going to talk about cornerback B.W. Webb.

So, yes, the Cowboys' defense had one of its better performances Sunday night, but the big picture says it's part of a larger problem that can't be solved overnight.

"I think defensively we played well enough to win the game," Ware said. "There were some plays that we should have made. But at the end of the day, we played well enough to win the game and we didn't finish."

Sounds like the Cowboys overall, doesn't it?