COLUMN By JEAN-JACQUES TAYLOR /The Dallas Morning News
Column by JEAN-JACQUES TAYLOR / The Dallas Morning News | Jean-Jacques Taylor
IRVING – Mr. Fix It's defense has been rather ordinary this season.
It's pretty good at some things, but it's not great at anything, which is a problem.
Wade Phillips' defense was supposed to be so much more. It was supposed to dominate this season, especially after it posted consecutive shutouts to end the 2009 regular season and finished second in the league in points allowed.
After all, virtually all of its star players – DeMarcus Ware , Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Mike Jenkins – were in their athletic prime. So were most of their really good players such as Bradie James, Terence Newman and Marcus Spears.
The numbers say the Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in defense.
That's based solely on yards allowed, a silly way to determine defensive efficiency. Although Dallas allows only 281.4 yards per game, it's giving up an average of 22.2 points. Some of that, however, can be blamed on the offense and special teams.
Bottom line: Mr. Fix It's unit doesn't do many of the things dominant defenses do.
It doesn't stop the run on first down, forcing teams into long-yardage situations on second and third down. The Cowboys yield 5.0 yards per carry on first down, good for 24th in the NFL.
It doesn't create negative plays – runs and passes for negative yardage and sacks. That total of 30 ranks 13th, while the New York Giants, Monday's opponent, lead the league with 45.
And we all know this defense doesn't force turnovers.
Dominant defenses such as the Jets, Ravens and Steelers change the tenor of a game.
The Giants won a championship a few years ago because its defensive line dominated every playoff game, especially in the Super Bowl when New England quarterback Tom Brady spent much of the time avoiding New York's defensive linemen.
These Cowboys have intercepted only two passes this season. Only winless Buffalo has fewer.
These Cowboys have forced only four turnovers, tying them with Buffalo for fewest in the league.
One reason the Cowboys rank third in total offense (400.0) and 17th in points (20.4) is because the defense rarely gives them a short field by getting a turnover.
Mr. Fix It would have you believe a punt is as good as a turnover, especially if it's at the conclusion of a three-and-out.
Turnovers affect the game's emotion.
They excite the players on the sideline, rev up the crowd if the game is at Cowboys Stadium and shut up the fans if it's on the road.
Teams can ride the momentum of turnovers to victories. Why do you think coaches put such emphasis on it every week?
Hey, the Cowboys are 1-0 when they have the edge in turnovers and 0-4 when they don't. Against Minnesota, an interception set up the Vikings' game-winning field goal.
Teams are 20-2 this season when they score a defensive touchdown.
None of this is a coincidence.
Mr. Fix It's scheme is designed to create big plays on defense because he puts players in position to make plays within the confines of the scheme. Since Jenkins likes being physical, he plays a lot of bump-and-run. Newman prefers to play off the receiver, so he does.
Ware, Jenkins, Spencer, Newman and Ratliff are supposed to be the primary playmakers on this defense.
They haven't created enough havoc. Newman has a fumble recovery and Jenkins has an interception.
Phillips' most attractive asset as a head coach is Mr. Fix It's expertise.
If the Cowboys' defense is going to be just ordinary, then what's the point of having Mr. Fix It around?