Different Problems Plaguing Defenses

For Dallas' 32nd-ranked defense, the major issue has been a glaring lack of a pass rush under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. It's an interesting contrast to Green Bay's offense, with quarterback Matt Flynn being sacked 12 times in his first two starts.

The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys will field struggling and inconsistent defenses for what is essentially a playoff elimination game on Sunday.

The reason for those struggles, however, couldn't be more different.

For weeks, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers lamented his porous run defense.

Dallas coach Jason Garrett, speaking to Packers beat reporters via conference call on Wednesday, pointed to the impotent pass rush provided by new coordinator Monte Kiffin's defense.

"Well, we didn't play very well the other night against Chicago, there's no question about that," Garrett said two days after his team was crushed by the Bears 45-28. "They were able to run the ball fairly effectively against us and also throw it. At different times this year, we've had a couple games like this. The biggest thing for us is to make the adjustments. I think as much as anything else, it starts with us impacting the quarterback more to make him uncomfortable. That's an important thing. It certainly helps your coverage."

Dallas is tied for the 27th in the league with 27 sacks. In terms of sacks per pass attempt, Dallas is a next-to-last 31st with a rate of just 5.18 percent after rankings 16th in 2012 and ninth in 2011.

Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn, on the other hand, has been sacked 12 times in his two starts. It will be that battle-within-a-battle that will be critical on Sunday.

The Cowboys have gotten production on an individual basis. Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leads all interior linemen with nine sacks. DeMarcus Ware, the second-fastest player in NFL history to 100 sacks, is playing defensive end for Kiffin after spending his first eight seasons at outside linebacker. He has six sacks (in 10 games). Fellow end George Selvie also has six sacks. That's 21 of the team's 27 sacks, and the Cowboys have just seven players with at least one sack.

They've also gotten production on a sporadic basis. Dallas had 13 sacks in its first three games, including six in a 31-7 win vs. St. Louis in Week 3. However, the Cowboys have recorded just seven sacks in the last six games, and they've yielded 32.2 points per game during that span.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys are 7-6 and control their destiny in the NFC East, but they have no prayer of reaching the postseason until they get their defense straightened out. In their six losses, Dallas has allowed 37.3 points per game. That includes 51 against Denver, 49 against New Orleans and 48 against Chicago.

It's not at all what the Cowboys had in mind when they fired Rob Ryan – whose 3-4 scheme has helped revitalize New Orleans – and replaced him with Kiffin. Kiffin, one of the NFL's revered coordinators, implemented the Tampa-2 scheme that worked so well during his 13-year stint as the Buccaneers' coordinator. During that tenure, his defense was ranked in the top 10 in scoring and yards 11 times.

He's been unable to replicate that success as the Cowboys have had a hard time transitioning from an aggressive, attacking 3-4 scheme to a conservative approach that relies on a pass rush from its front four.

A day after the Chicago game, Dallas owner Jerry Jones said he was looking for "whatever gimmick" necessary to get the defense turned around in time to save the season. That could lead to a more aggressive defensive game plan than what Flynn and the offense have seen on film. Only three teams have blitzed less than the Cowboys.

"You just play within your rules, play within your system," Flynn said. "You have answers for every defense on every protection or adjustments and things like that. Just play within your rules. Watch their film. Know what looks they're more likely to give you and just react to the other stuff. This offense is built from the ground up to have answers for everything. We just have to decipher it and play within the rules and get the ball out."

Beyond rushing the passer, the Cowboys' defense is not doing much of anything at an acceptable level, other than forcing turnovers (No. 5 with 25 takeaways). Dallas ranks 32nd in total defense, 32nd in passing defense and 28th in rushing defense. They're also 28th in third-down defense and 26th in red-zone defense.

"Really, the basic fundamental things of playing good football (are an issue)," Garrett said. "It's gap integrity, it's defeating blocks, it's tackling well, making plays on the ball on the back end. All those things. It's not unique to us. It's just good defense. At different times, we've done that. Other times, we haven't. We've got to get back to doing that."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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