Thursday, December 3, 1998
Cowboys say they must play better on defense
By David Moore
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS -- The immediate concern is to find enough capable,
healthy bodies to populate the secondary for Sundays game
against New Orleans.
But a much bigger issue faces the Cowboys defense. Its
a question first raised in the rubble of a loss to Denver and
driven home with 46-36 force by Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day.
Does the Dallas defense have what it takes to compete with
the NFLs best once the playoffs arrive? Their performance
against the Broncos and Vikings fosters doubt as the team enters
the final month of the regular season.
"We know what our offense is capable of doing,"
linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "We know what our special
teams are capable of doing. Its in our hands now as a defense.
Weve got to stop teams.
"It hurts me to know Im part of the cause of not
winning these games. The offense had its ups an downs early,
but to play in a big game and the defense not to come through
the way we should have ... it hurts."
This is not a blanket indictment of the defense. Two of the
teams four losses -- 13-12 defeats to Oakland and Chicago
-- can be laid at the cleats of the offense. The defense has
given Dallas a chance to win 10 of its first 12 games.
But the numbers given up in losses to Denver and Minnesota
are sobering. A total of 88 points and 12 touchdowns. Thats
only three fewer touchdowns than the Cowboys have given up in
their other 10 games combined.
The Broncos ran all over the Cowboys. The Vikings passed at
will. These two teams didnt just beat the Dallas defense.
They overwhelmed it.
Denver scored the first five times it touched the ball; Minnesota
Minnesota the first three. Thats eight touchdowns in eight
possessions totaling 597 yards to start the two games against
"We havent gotten to the point where I dont
think we can hold teams by any means," Cowboys Coach
Chan Gailey said. "I think we still have a chance to have
a very good defense."
The coaching staff and players dismissed the 42-23 loss to
Denver in Week 2 as an aberration. As Godfrey said, the Broncos
"jumped out on us and we didnt come close to stopping
Minnesota is another matter. Injuries to starting cornerbacks
Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith left the Dallas secondary vulnerable.
Even though the Vikings jumped ahead 21-6, the Cowboys narrowed
the deficit to 24-19 in the third quarter before succumbing.
"I dont think you can put it in the same category,"
Gailey said. "In Denver, we were healthy, and they scored
the first five times they had the ball. That was one of those
situations where they outschemed us and hit a couple of big runs,
and got us totally out of whack.
"Minnesota was more a culmination of injuries and things
like that taking their toll. And us not getting it done. Thats
part of it."
Defensive coordinator Dave Campo said he doesnt believe
the losses to Denver and Minnesota provide an accurate read of
the teams defensive personality. He and the players say
they feel good about the talent and the scheme.
Still, defensive tackle Leon Lett concedes the way the defense
played against the two best offenses it faced is frustrating.
Campo said the bottom line is the defense must improve, but hes
quick to give the Broncos and Vikings credit.
"Randy Moss has done that to about nine teams this year,"
Campo said of the Minnesota receiver who had three catches for
163 yards and three touchdowns against Dallas. "Its
not just us. Give them some credit, too. Im not sure if
the game would have been any different if Deion had been there.
"You cant erase the game and say it didnt
happen. We must use it to our advantage. I think its a
wakeup call and gives us an opportunity to go back out and show
we are a better defensive unit than that."
"I put it on me," Godfrey said. "I put it on
the defense. The defense has to play better, especially against
top-notch teams like that."
The Cowboys wont face another top-notch offense until
the playoffs. Philadelphia owns the leagues worst offense.
New Orleans (No. 28) and Kansas City (No. 22) arent far
behind. Washington can generate yardage, but has a knack for
turning the ball over at inopportune times.
The final four games should give the Dallas defense a chance
to build confidence -- even with a patchwork secondary -- and
the time it needs to get Sanders and Smith healthy. But it wont
answer the main question facing this defense.
That will have to wait until the playoffs.
"I think youre measured over the course of an entire
year," Campo said. "Obviously, were not happy
that we didnt play well against Denver and that we didnt
play well against Minnesota. At the same time, we may have a
chance to face those teams again.
"Thats the challenge of the whole thing."
(c)1998, The Dallas Morning News.
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