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Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Defense's problems bigger than Monte Kiffin

By Calvin Watkins

IRVING, Texas -- At some point, maybe today, or tomorrow, or even next week, Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's fate will be decided by owner/general manager Jerry Jones in consultation with coach Jason Garrett.

The discussion isn't going to be pretty.

The duo must decide what to do with a defense that needs an overhaul.

Statistically the Cowboys were historically bad.
The problems on defense are bigger than Kiffin.

Yes, the 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme seems outdated if you don't have the personnel to run it. Kiffin didn't run the Tampa 2 portion of his scheme sometimes, instead going with more man-to-man coverage to benefit cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick. Morris Claiborne complained earlier in the season about not being able to produce plays in zone coverage.

Kiffin returned to playing man coverage and Claiborne continued his struggles. If there was one play to sum up Claiborne's season it occurred Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. On an incomplete pass, Claiborne went to knock the receiver down instead of going for the ball that just hung in the air.

Secondary coach Jerome Henderson was standing there pleading with Claiborne to chase the ball.

Dallas' Morris Claiborne
Morris Claiborne's struggles were one of many problems for the Cowboys' defense this season.
In the past month Claiborne lost his father and became a father to a baby girl within a three-day span, all while trying to recover from a pulled hamstring injury.

"I feel like I'm another person," Claiborne said. "I feel like I had to grow up a little faster. It was for the best."

Maybe with a clearer head, Claiborne will play better, but he's just one example of what's wrong with the defense. Barry Church led the team in tackles from the safety position, but there was inconsistent play from free safeties J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath. It seems Wilcox is the better player but Heath has a better command of the scheme.

The pass rush, led by defensive end DeMarcus Ware, is stale and is not getting better. Ware needs elbow surgery, marking the second consecutive season he needs something done to his body in the offseason.

Ware's age could become a factor, he turns 32 this July and he finished with his lowest sack total (six) of his career.

"DeMarcus, like a lot of our guys, had to battle through some injuries this year," Garrett said. "He had a few different things he was dealing with over the course of the season, and at times he played very well. I think you can probably correlate the games that he’s played his best in with the games he was most physically healthy, and other times he was fighting through it. He’s a tough guy."

Ware could see three possible new line mates in 2014. Jason Hatcher, the tackle, who led the team with 11 sacks, is going to play elsewhere in 2014 because he's a free agent.

George Selvie, the other starter at end, and Nick Hayden, the tackle, played well at times, but there are some replacements on the horizon. End Tyrone Crawford was lost less than a week into training camp with a torn Achilles and he's been seen running around Valley Ranch on schedule to be ready for 2014. Anthony Spencer was a projected starter at end until his troublesome knee became to great to overcome and he underwent microfracture surgery. He's also a free agent and the Cowboys could offer him a contract or let another team make a request for his services.

The Cowboys could venture into the draft and upgrade this position.

"We do have some guys who have been cornerstone players for us," Garrett said. "But it’s an important piece to playing good defense. When you play a 4-3 defense, the defensive linemen are really, really important players and them having an impact."

Sean Lee is the quarterback of this defense at middle linebacker but toe and neck injuries cost him games in December.

The Cowboys need Lee with this defense. His replacement, Bruce Carter, played unevenly in 2013. At one point he was benched for Ernie Sims, and then Sims struggled himself.

The Cowboys need a healthy Lee and to somehow fix Carter, who was supposed to be a good fit in this Kiffin scheme, in 2014.

It's not all about Kiffin's scheme or if he's ready to retire. He's not. The personnel must improve or more defensive records will be set.