How Cowboys fix their defense

It's clear changes are needed, but who stays and who goes?

Updated: December 16, 2013, 4:19 PM ET
By Matt Williamson | ESPN Insider

Monte KiffinMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsMonte Kiffin's defense hasn't worked this season in Dallas.

Despite receiving a gift on Sunday afternoon when the Philadelphia Eagles fell 48-30 to the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys couldn't capitalize. Everyone has seen or heard how Dallas blew a 26-3 second-half lead to fall 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and everyone has subsequently blamed Tony Romo and/or coach Jason Garrett. They both played their role -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys entered this game with the league's second-lowest running percentage (37) when holding a lead, and that pass-happy preference was inexcusable Sunday -- but they're not solely responsible for the problems in Dallas.

In truth, most of the blame should go to the defense, which is staking its claim as the worst in the league. What does this team need to do to fix this unit this offseason?

Before delving into everything that has gone wrong, it's only fair to point out Dallas has suffered an inordinate amount of injuries, especially along the defensive line. The Cowboys franchised Anthony Spencer last offseason, but he has missed most of the season with a knee injury. Jason Hatcher has been a superb player up front, but he, too, has missed time. At linebacker, the Cowboys on Sunday were without Bruce Carter and Sean Lee, their best defensive player and a premier linebacker. They also lost Justin Durant to a hamstring injury and Ernie Sims to a hip injury, which utterly depleted their linebacking corps as the game progressed.

However, the real issue with this defense lies in the initial decision to switch from an attacking 3-4 defense to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Cover 2 scheme. This was foolish to begin with, as they have asked too many players at every level of the defense to do things at which they do not excel. Now they must course correct to help rehabilitate the players they've put into a compromised position.


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