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Sunday, December 4, 2011
Good isn't good enough for Cowboys' D

By Todd Archer
ESPNDallas.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer thought he had a free shot at Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb. Thoughts of his second sack of the day danced in his mind.

Kolb floated back and back, leaving Spencer tantalizingly close to a big play before letting go of a pass.

"A step," Spencer said when asked how close he came.

As Spencer closed, inside linebacker Sean Lee tried to retreat, but it was too late. Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling was alone in the flat, waiting for the perfectly called screen play against Rob Ryan's blitz.

Stephens-Howling would hardly get touched as he raced down the University of Phoenix Stadium sod 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown in overtime to beat the Cowboys 19-13.

LaRod Stephens-Howling
Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling raced 52 yards on a screen pass to score the winning touchdown in overtime.

"If you want to be a great defense, you've got to get that stop," Lee said.

The Cowboys have a good defense. Not great.

They have not allowed more than 24 points in any of their last five games, but they have hardly faced the NFL's elite since Philadelphia sliced and diced its way through the unit on Oct. 30. Only Buffalo's offense ranked in the top half of the league entering Week 13, and Seattle (No. 30), Washington (No. 19), Miami (No. 21) and Arizona (No. 22) were not re-inventing the downfield passing game.

But Rex Grossman directed an 89-yard game-tying drive at the end of regulation three weeks ago at Washington. On Thanksgiving, Matt Moore completed 10-of-16 passes after halftime for 192 yards and a touchdown to bring the Dolphins within a whisker of a victory.

On Sunday, Kevin Kolb was turned into a world-beater in the second half after he was beaten around for four sacks and held to 44 passing yards in the first half.

In the second half and overtime, Kolb, playing in his first game in more than a month because of a toe injury, completed nine of 14 passes for 203 yards and was sacked just once.

To start the second half, Arizona belted out drives of 78 and 79 yards to score 10 points and tie the score at 13-13. That came after a first half in which the Cards earned just 49 yards.

Arizona recorded 193 yards on eight of its plays in the second half.

"I don't have a clue," cornerback Orlando Scandrick when asked to explain the discrepancy. "I'll have to watch the film."

If the Cowboys' coach wanted to grade on a scale, they can point to the 46 other plays in which the Cardinals gained just 134 yards.

And if they do, everybody would sign up for that professor's class.

"I don't want to say we got complacent because I don't think we did," Spencer said.

How else to explain it? Great defenses don't even mention the word complacent.

The only three stops the Cowboys recorded in the second half came because of Arizona's help -- a false start forcing a third-and-16 and a dropped pass by Early Doucet that should have led to the Cowboys' game-winning field goal drive before some ill-conceived clock management. (You can't count the end-of-regulation knee as a stop.)

The Cardinals tried to help again in overtime with a holding penalty that set up second-and-19 from their 25. On the next play, Terence Newman was flagged for pass interference on Andre Roberts for an automatic first down.

"It got called so I guess refs are pretty perfect," Newman said, "so I guess it was the right call."

Two plays later, Roberts had a 16-yard catch on Newman for another first down at the Dallas 47 as he became the third wide receiver in as many games to have more than 100 receiving yards against the Cowboys, joining the Redskins' Jabar Gaffney and the Dolphins' Brandon Marshall.

The game-winning play came after a false-start penalty. Ryan chose to go with his base personnel against the Cardinals' three-wide receiver formation. Spencer and Lee blitzed. DeMarcus Ware, who entered the game as the NFL's sack leader and upped his total to 15 with one in the first half, dropped in coverage.

Kolb invited Spencer's pressure and found Stephens-Howling, who was soon celebrating the winning touchdown.

"We brought pressure and we just didn't react to it well," Lee said. "That's a good play call by them and then when we bring pressure sometimes the screen is the best play.

"They hit us right at the worst time."

There was too much of that going on Sunday after the first half and it's something the Cowboys must fix to become better than just a good defense.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.