Can Dallas protect a lead?

IRVING, Tex. - In each of the last two games, the Dallas Cowboys have blown late leads en route to excruciating losses to the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants, respectively. Will it happen tonight?

Fans and media — both local and national — have skewered the Dallas defense, which has blown three double-digit fourth-quarter leads this season.

Players and coaches often claim they don't read what the media has to say about their teams, win or lose. That may be true for many, but defensive end Sean Lissemore acknowledged that he is aware of what is being said about the Cowboys, and specifically about the Dallas defense. The criticism, is not undeserved. But he also said that it is not a concern, because the Cowboy coaches and players are harsher critics than the fans and media.

"The day after a loss, it's a little tense," Lissemore said. "We were all frustrated (Monday, after the loss to the Giants). You don't ever want to lose, especially like that.

"But the way we have to look at it — the way we do look at it — is that it gives us an opportunity to look at the film and eliminate the mistakes that we made the last time out."

Lissemore and the rest of the Dallas defense play for perhaps the most visible defensive coordinator in the National Football League in Rob Ryan. If nothing else, Ryan's surname, wild hair and propensity for opinionated quotes garners him about the same amount of TV time as head coach Jason Garrett. Ryan shouldered the blame for the defense's back-to-back performances, and pledged to rectify the problems that ail his defense.

"The bottom line is, there's no excuses," Ryan said. "The thing has to get fixed. It's on me. It's (on) my watch. The simple fact is — I know no one believes it, but I know I'm the best coach, I'm the best defensive coach. I know (Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator) Dom Capers never had to face all the criticism, but I really don't care.

"The bottom line is — and I tell my players — I'm Sugar Ray Robinson. That's who I am — I'm the champ, and I always know I'm the best. I do. Now maybe nobody else in the media believes it, but the guys in the locker room do, and I do. So whatever it is … I'm the man who's in charge. I'm the man that will fix our problem … and I will get it fixed."

Ryan said that part of the defense's problem late in games centers around glitches in communication, and said that the unit is addressing the matter by studying game tape together, rather than breaking into specific position groups to review areas that can be improved.

"We've got to be better on communication, which people are saying," Ryan said. "We've got some communication issues. We're addressing them. We're going to get that handled. We're showing all the tape together — we're not splitting up the d-line, the 'backers and DBs. We have got to be better than that. At the end of the game, we can't afford a mistake."

The group approach is something of a change for the Dallas defense, which often splits into smaller groups to allow coaches to spend more time addressing individual players.

"Sometimes we watch as a group, sometimes we break it down by position," Lissemore said. "(Defensive line) Coach (Brian) Baker corrects our technique and makes sure we're playing within the scheme. But we have a lot of veteran players who can share their experience. It's like having more coaches than just Coach Baker and Coach Ryan. When you have a group with guys like Jay Ratliff, Marcus (Spears), Kenyon (Coleman) and Hatcher (Jason Hatcher) — they're all like coaches to me."

Lissemore said that Ryan's willingness to take the blame for the last two losses is a noble effort on his coach's part, but he also said the players obviously share in the blame.

"In our first meeting after the game, he let us know he expected more from us," Lissemore said. "But he also said he's going to do everything he can to help us win. That's nice of him to take responsibility, but we take responsibility, as well.

"Coach Ryan is a unique, entertaining guy. But he's also really smart. He's a great coach."

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