[I changed the original title, which was "Our Pregnant Defensive Coordinator Hasn't Fixed Anything." I'm pretty sure that Rob Ryan isn't pregnant]
I was once a member of a certain now-defunct, Cowboys-related forum. During week 2 of the 2009 season in the inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium, the Cowboys grabbed a 31-30 lead with less than 3:40 remaining. A defensive stop would show that the team had turned a corner, would give the Cowboys a 2-0 record, and would open the new stadium in style. It didn’t happen, of course, as Eli Manning marched the Giants right down field, facing only two third downs on their final drive. Lawrence Tynes nailed a field goal as time expired to give the Giants the win.
A prominent member of that forum swore he wouldn’t watch the Cowboys again as long as Wade Phillips was head coach. Wade was supposed to “fix” the defense, and his failure was evident to this forum member after the loss to the Giants. To my knowledge, this member refused to watch the Cowboys for the rest of the 2009 season (including the playoffs), and what was odd to me at the time was that a number of other members agreed with the principle of what he was doing.
Consider for a moment the defensive starters on that 2009 team — Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Mike Jenkins.
Now fast-forward to last night’s complete collapse, caused mostly by that same defense. Sure, Wade Phillips is gone, replaced by the only pregnant football coach in the United States. But look at the defensive starters— Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, DeMarcus Ware, Terence Newman, Gerald Sensabaugh, Mike Jenkins.
Dallas has added a young linebacker in Sean Lee, and he’s made a big difference, including a huge interception in the fourth quarter last night. Dallas also replaced Ken Hamlin, first with Alan Ball and then with Abram Elam. The Cowboys also bid farewell to Igor Olshansky, replacing him with Kenyon Coleman. Spears was replaced by Jason Hatcher as the starter.
Otherwise, this is the same group, including the same members of the secondary. Alan Ball couldn’t cover anyone as a safety in 2010, and he certainly can’t cover anyone as a key backup corner now. Mike Jenkins can make three great plays in a row, followed by a fourth play that drives us all mad.
Terence Newman had a great game against Buffalo a month ago. But he played a big part in the loss to Arizona last week, and he blew several coverages in the loss to the Giants. He could have given the Cowboys a 7-0 lead with a pick-six early in the game, but he caught the ball as well as your average offensive lineman and watched the ball fall straight to the ground. The Giants should have scored earlier than they did last night because Newman failed to cover Manningham on a play where Manningham dropped a sure touchdown reception.
The bottom line is that Dallas has tweaked with this defense a bit here and there, but this is largely the same bunch who could not stop anyone during much of the 6-10 season in 2010. In fact, most of these players have been around for a series of gut-churning losses during the past six years. If you want a bad trip down memory lane, read this article at ESPN, which chronicles 13 head-scratching losses since 2005.
Now back to guts, or a gut, consider this new defensive coordinator, who was supposed to fix the defense that “Mr. Fix-It” failed to fix. Rob Ryan’s resume before 2011:
- Seven seasons as a defensive coordinator in Oakland and Cleveland. Not one of those teams had a winning season.
- The 2006 Raiders finished third in total yards allowed. Of course, that Oakland team went 2-14.
- His defenses finished 22nd or worse in six of the other seasons in which he was a defensive coordinator.
- His defenses finished 27th or worse in total turnovers in four of his seven seasons.
How does this compare with Phillips’ tenure in Dallas? The Cowboys finished in the top 10 in yardage allowed during each of Phillips’ first three seasons. As far as team defensive stats, Rob Ryan’s defense has never finished ahead of a Wade Phillips defense in any season other than 2006, when the Raiders were (once again) 2-14.
No, I am not defending Wade as either the head coach or the defensive coordinator. And yes, I was one of those who wanted to believe that Rob Ryan could provide an answer on defense.
But the bottom line for me right now is that my attitude is not far from my former friend on the Cowboys forum. If I didn’t have tickets to the Eagles’ game on December 24, I might consider by own boycott. It’s seriously become that sickening to watch this team.
Anyway, Rob Ryan is Rex Ryan’s brother and Buddy Ryan’s son. That’s really what he has going for him. And apparently networks are just too happy to show Rob mouth the F word as he somehow continues to walk in straight lines even with that large stomach of his.
But he’s being asked to fix a defense consisting of the very same players who have lost so many of those games in the past several years. These are the same corners who find creative ways at various times to blow coverages at the absolute worst possible times.
We’re expected to believe that the results will change because of who is designing the schemes. Jerry apparently believes that the results will change depending on who designs the schemes.
But the greater concern is what has stayed the same. Same personnel. Same secondary coach, who was also once a head coach who managed only 15 wins in three seasons. Dallas brought in two free agents during the off-season, but both of them (Elam and Coleman) had been in Dallas before.
The most we should probably expect from a coordinator is better, um, coordination. Instead, we sometimes see confusion among members of that defense. We saw last night a last-second substitution that resulted in Mario Manningham ending up wide, wide open for what turned out to be a 47-yard touchdown. One play before that, the Cowboys neglected to cover Hakeem Nicks, who was the same player who had torched the Cowboys for nearly 100 yards in the first quarter.
The problems with this 2011 team are not limited to Ryan’s defense, and the problems are also not new to this team in 2011. The problems come down to this—no one area of this team is good enough to cover for deficiencies in other areas. Forget that talk about talent, and forget for a moment about who is designing schemes and calling plays. These players—especially the ones who have been on the field for these era-defining losses—are not good enough to win games consistently.
Some teams, such as Baltimore and Pittsburgh, can win with their defenses, even if their offenses are inconsistent.
Others, such as New Orleans and New England (in the last few years, at least), win with overwhelming offenses, even as their defenses tend to give up huge yardages to opposing offenses.
Then there are the current Packers, who seem to win games on both sides of the ball.
For Dallas, when the offense catches fire, the defense tends to suffer a let-down. But in games when the defense holds tight, the offense can’t get anything going. The offense might make a critical score late in a game, but the offense can’t trust the defense to make a key stop. But in another game, the defense gives the offense a chance to win, and the offense can’t come through.
No, this hasn’t been true in every game, or else this team wouldn’t have a 7-6 mark. However, this imbalance occurs often enough that that team repeatedly struggles to stay above the .500 mark. For 2011, I’ve returned to my original prediction of 8-8.
And when Rob Ryan joins his brother in the head coaching ranks, I’m simply not going to lose a second of sleep over it. The real question is whether Dallas will bother to fix what is really broken. When the general manager doesn’t answer to anyone but himself, though, there’s little reason for immediate optimism.