Point the finger at the Cowboys' defense

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
2:31
PM ET
So you know how much I like to mix it up with all of you on Twitter. It's the first thing I check when the wheels of the plane hit the ground, and when that happened at Newark Airport this morning I saw that @EZ_Money13 had sent me this bit of 140-character wisdom:
This loss isn't by any means on Romo but it's gonna b "the talk of the town" bc it was n December
[+] EnlargeRob Ryan
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCowboys defensive coordiantor Rob Ryan had no answer for Eli Manning and the Giants on Sunday.
And @EZ_Money13 is right, of course, but what I told him and what I believe is that that's plain silly. Not only that, it goes to show how silly all of this obsessing over Romo's December record is. Romo was 21-for-31 on Sunday for 321 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That's not a good game for a quarterback, it's a great one. And if you're a quarterback and you throw a touchdown pass that puts your team up 34-22 with less than six minutes on the clock in a home game, you have every right to consider that game won.

The problem, as later tweeters pointed out, was that Romo missed badly on a third-down toss to Miles Austin just before the two-minute warning that would have, if completed, either padded the Dallas lead or at least allowed them to chew more time off the clock. But (a) Austin said he lost the ball in the lights and (b) are we really going to hit Romo for one of his 10 incompletions in a game in which the Cowboys scored 34 points?

No, the only way this loss is on Romo is if they asked him to go in and play nickel cornerback on the last two Giants possessions and he refused. Or if he had a mirror on the sideline and was reflecting light into the eyes of all of his defensive backs, rendering them unable to cover anyone in a Giants' uniform in the game's final five minutes. This loss was on the defense, plain and simple, and anyone who watched the game knows that.

This was on Rob Ryan, the first-year defensive coordinator who had the defense clicking so well in September but has been unable to find ways to stop teams at critical times in the past month. But it goes deeper than that. The Cowboys have personnel issues in the secondary that are costing them. Terence Newman has faded terribly after a hot start. Mike Jenkins makes plays, but he seems to get hurt or at least nearly get hurt every time he does. The mixing and matching of blitzes has resulted in miscommunications and coverage busts in the secondary, and Sunday night they paid for it at the hands of Eli Manning, who's having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the league.

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The Cowboys knew this was going to be a problem. Remember, they tried hard to sign free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason before the Eagles snatched him away. They were going to cut Newman to make room for Asomugha in their lineup and under their salary cap, and they believed he'd be a major upgrade. Asomugha hasn't played up to his hype in Philadelphia, but it's no stretch to believe he'd be doing better at this point than Newman is.

This is an area the Cowboys must adjust in the next offseason. They appear set to part ways with Newman and go with Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick as starting cornerbacks. They're committed to safeties Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh. But they need depth in the secondary, and they need to add a playmaker or two, because the major problems they're dealing with now are personnel problems more than they are scheme problems.

Make no mistake: Ryan deserves his share of the blame and will surely accept it. The talk a couple of weeks ago about him as a head coaching candidate has cooled and will continue to do so as long as teams can throw and score at will against the Cowboys in the fourth quarter. But the Cowboys knew they were going into this season shorthanded on the back end of the defense, and lately it has begun to show up. Sunday night, it showed up big time, and it -- not the Cowboys' quarterback -- lost them a pretty important game.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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