- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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IRVING, Texas -- Most of the numbers are painfully ugly for Monte Kiffin’s defense.
The Dallas Cowboys have broken the franchise record for yards allowed in a game twice in the past three weeks. They rank dead last in the NFL in total defense, giving up 439.8 yards, which is less than a yard shy of the NFL record. Dallas is also last in passing defense (313.0), 28th in rushing defense (126.8) and 23rd in scoring defense (23.8 points).
But coach Jason Garrett insisted it isn’t all bad -- noting repeatedly that the Cowboys’ 22 forced turnovers rank second in the NFL -- and expressed confidence that Kiffin is capable of getting the defense on track.
“He has done a lot of positive things,” Garrett said. “I keep going back to the takeaways, but that is an important part of the game. That is a stat that can’t be unnoticed because it impacts the game. It impacts our scoring on offense and that’s a good thing for our football team.
“We have to get better in some other areas. Health has been a huge factor on defense. It’s not an excuse, but it’s been a huge factor. We are playing a lot of different guys. A lot of new guys. A lot of young guys. That's part of it. That’s where we are. We have to make sure it works.
“I have the utmost confidence in Kiffin and the defense to help get that done.”
The rash of injuries to hit the Dallas defense has been well-chronicled. Projected starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff didn’t play a down this season before being released. Defensive end Anthony Spencer played a part-time role in one game before going on injured reserve. Key backup defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Ben Bass are also on injured reserve. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, cornerback Morris Claiborne and safety J.J. Wilcox have all missed games due to injury. And linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant are expected to miss three or four weeks with strained hamstrings suffered in Sunday’s humiliating loss to the Saints.
However, injuries didn’t prevent the Cowboys from firing former Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after last season, when the defense had better numbers in the three major categories. The Cowboys’ health woes don’t spare Kiffin from accountability now, either.
“We don’t make any excuses for anybody,” Garrett said. “We certainly understand that we have a lot of different guys playing on defense. We get that. We bring those guys in, we teach them quickly and they play in the game. That’s been a situation we’ve had all through the year, but teams that absorb the injuries the best are the ones playing at the end.
"We’re in the situation we’re in and we have to figure it out. Players need to figure it out. Coaches need to figure it out.”