- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas – Jerry Jones, who looked for reasons to get rid of 8-8 scapegoat Rob Ryan after last seasons, keeps cutting defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin some serious slack.
Jones went out of his way during his Tuesday radio appearance to make excuses for Dallas’ defensive struggles this season, even indicating that they’re closer to the norm in the modern-day NFL.
“The other thing that’s not the NFL today is strong defense,” Jones said on KRLD-FM, changing the subject after being asked about the likelihood of the Cowboys’ offensive explosion in Sunday’s 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos potentially beginning a trend. “Now, some are playing it better than others.”
Precious few are playing defense as poorly as the Cowboys, who have already matched a dubious NFL record by allowing three 400-yard passers in a season. Dallas ranks 22nd in the NFL in scoring defense (27.2 points per game), 28th in total defense (409.2 yards) and 31st in passing defense (326.4 yards).
Why isn’t Jones concerned about Kiffin’s performance?
“Because I see how he’s coaching the players,” Jones said. “[Defensive line coach] Rod Marinelli, we talk about him a lot. We should. But I see individually they’re being coached, the technique they’re being taught. The acclimation to what we’re trying to do defensively, that arrow is going up. We’re moving some personnel around.
“We’re dealing with some young players. The more experience they get, the better we are.”
Rookie J.J. Wilcox is starting at one safety position. Morris Claiborne, a sixth overall pick in his second season, is the Cowboys’ third cornerback at this point. Third-year linebacker Bruce Carter is the only other player with a starting role in the base or nickel defense who is still on his rookie contract.
“Young players with talent, with skill have a chance to evolve up,” Jones said. “So you can be better at the end with young players than you are at the beginning. We’re playing a lot of young players. Our safeties are young. Certainly, a couple of our cornerbacks are younger. At linebacker, Carter for all intents and purposes is in his second year. These are all guys who will get better.”
See the 2012 Seattle Seahawks defense, which allowed the fewest points in the league, for proof of how flimsy the youth excuse is. Seattle’s top five tacklers – including three stars: then-rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner and a couple of 2011 draft picks, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas – were all 24 or younger. Another rookie, defensive end Bruce Irvin, ranked second on the Seahawks with eight sacks.
Jones wouldn’t accept injuries as an excuse for the Dallas defense’s decline last years, when half the starters had their seasons ended prematurely. Now, Jones is looking for reasons to forgive the defense’s regression under the man he picked to replace Ryan.