Phillips: Schemes OK, but mentality isn't
IRVING, Texas -- Don't blame the schemes for the clutch failures of the Dallas Cowboys' defense.
The Cowboys have been terrible in two-minute drill situations this season at the end of games. They have resulted in losses against the New York Giants and Denver Broncos and allowed the winless Kansas City Chiefs to force overtime.
However, Phillips has hard evidence that proves the substitution (nickel and dime) packages the Cowboys have used during those key drives can be effective. The Cowboys use the same packages on third downs throughout the game. Opponents have converted only 30.2 percent of third downs. Only a trio of undefeated teams -- the Giants, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos -- have allowed a lower percentage of third-down conversions.
But teams have marched right down the field against the Cowboys with the game on the line. New York's Eli Manning, Denver's Kyle Orton and Kansas City's Matt Cassel combined to complete 14-of-20 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns during their late-game scoring drives against Dallas.
"We're playing the same coverages we play on third [down]; we're not executing them in the two-minute," Phillips said. "Now whether it's a mentality that we're softer, that's what we're trying to work out. I mean, we're trying to get that done."
After the Broncos needed only three plays to go 73 yards for the winning touchdown, Phillips made the two-minute defense a major emphasis in practice. Kansas City's overtime-forcing drive (10 plays, 74 yards) wasn't nearly as easy, with the Chiefs converting a third-and-14 and scoring on fourth-and-16.
"It just comes down to us making the plays that need to be made," outside linebacker Anthony Spencer said.
That series, which cornerback Terence Newman could have ended if he didn't drop an interception on the sideline, bothered Phillips enough that he plans to emphasize two-minute defense even more during bye-week practices.
"We actually went double last week on it and it helped some, but it didn't help enough," Phillips said. "So we're going to triple up on that if we have to."
Phillips sees the Cowboys making defensive mistakes in late-game situations that aren't happening when they play the same coverages throughout the game. He'll try to create more of a two-minute drill feel in practice by calling the coverages later to get players used to processing the information quickly and executing it.
"I think we could play really dominating defense if we could clean that up," said Phillips, whose unit ranks 21st in total defense (357.8 yards per game) and 28th against the pass (251.4).
A lot of voices around Valley Ranch like to point out that the Cowboys (3-2) are a couple of plays away from being 5-0. As flawed as the Cowboys are, that's true.
The head coach/defensive coordinator is determined to fix the most costly flaw.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.