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Dallas Cowboys defense is offensive

12/20/2010 - NFL Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- NFL cornerbacks need short memories. So do Dallas Cowboys fans who wanted to enjoy Sunday's 33-30 win over the Washington Redskins.

That includes the fan who happens to pick the players and bankroll the franchise.

Owner/general manager Jerry Jones hushed a question about the debacle that was his defense's performance for most of the second half, when the Rex Grossman-led Redskins erased a 20-point deficit. For one day, Jerry just wanted to focus on the positive.

"They made that stop right there at the end and got us the ball back," he said. "That's what I want to think about. I'm going to be like 'Gone With the Wind' and worry about that tomorrow."

It'll take a lot longer than one day to solve all the problems that ail this defense. The Cowboys can only hope that it won't take more than one offseason.

It's one thing to give up big games against guys like New Orleans' Drew Brees, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Philadelphia's Michael Vick, the quarterbacks the Cowboys allowed to combine for 956 yards the previous three games. But, I repeat, these were the Rex Grossman-led Redskins.

Grossman, who last started a game in 2008, lit up the Cowboys for 322 yards and four touchdowns. He threw for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone.

In typical Train Rex fashion, Grossman committed a few turnovers. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh's interception set up one Cowboys touchdown. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware's strip-sack set up another. And cornerback Terence Newman sealed the win with a pick.

But, even after a win, it's more painfully obvious than ever that this defense needs significant changes before next season.

Jerry canned his defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who served as head coach during his spare time, after the 1-7 start. At least a few players will pay the price once the league solves its labor issues, which will hopefully happen during the offseason.

The Cowboys have made a dramatic improvement in the turnover department since Phillips' firing, but this is still a bad defense. Linebacker Bradie James, a captain, actually hinted at new coordinator Paul Pasqualoni's midseason promotion as an excuse for the defense's woes. Hate to break it to him, but the defense's poor performance is the primary reason Phillips got fired.

"It's tough to just really understand what our identity is," James said. "There are so many different things that we've changed. That's the reason for minicamps, training camps and all those, so you will really know what you're doing. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don't."

It's really not difficult to understand this defense's identity. It just isn't easy to swallow.
This is arguably the worst defense in franchise history, as amazing as that is after the same unit allowed the fewest points in the NFC last season.

The stats don't lie. The Cowboys are on the verge of allowing the most points in franchise history. They're nine points shy of the magic number of 405, the total the Cowboys allowed in 2005, which not coincidentally was their last losing season.

The franchise records for the most total yards and passing yards allowed are also within reach, although the Cowboys could be saved from that embarrassment by facing a bad Cardinals team and a Eagles team that might have its playoff seed sewn up in the last two games.

The biggest problem seems to be the secondary. It's been bad enough to perhaps even bump the offensive line down a notch on the Cowboys' list of draft needs.

"It's pretty simple," cornerback Mike Jenkins said. "We're trying to do too much. That's everybody, all of us back there. We're trying to do too much just to cover each other. That's just what it is. Once we get on the right track, once we get that chemistry together, we're going to be good."

Sorry, but the Cowboys can't afford to be patient. They have to upgrade the personnel in the secondary.

Jenkins has had a miserable season, but the 2008 first-round pick is too talented to give up on. The Cowboys have to hope he can revert to his 2009 Pro Bowl form.

They also have to plan to move on without Newman, a 32-year-old who has given up far too many big plays, especially in recent games. That doesn't necessarily mean Newman has played his final home game with the Cowboys, but that's certainly a possibility, especially if one of the elite corners (LSU's Patrick Peterson or Nebraska's Prince Amukamara) is available when the Cowboys go on the clock.

Nickelback Orlando Scandrick has recovered from an awful first half, but the Cowboys can't be comfortable with him playing an increased role.

Sensabaugh had perhaps his best performance in a Cowboys uniform playing strong safety Sunday, coming up with an interception and a sack before getting knocked out of the game with a concussion. But he's been bad more often than not this season. He's unlikely to be back next season, especially if another team gives him a decent offer in free agency.

Free safety Alan Ball, who was victimized for two touchdowns by Redskins receiver Santana Moss, simply isn't suited to be a starter. He has two more games to make his case that he deserves to keep the job, but a lot of Valley Ranch minds have already been made up.

"In the NFL, you always feel like you're playing to stay playing," Ball said. "That's just the way it goes. There's nothing guaranteed in this league."

It might not be a guarantee, but it's a pretty safe bet that the opposing quarterback will put up some pretty numbers against the Dallas defense these days.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.