Week 2’s loss can be blamed on a lot of people or units, but no one deserves more of the blame than the defense. It was a fantasy to think that the turnovers would continue through the season like week 1, but they fell off the map to 2012 levels. Lots of almosts, but if almosts counted the 2012 Cowboys would have had a ton more turnovers and a great win-loss record. What did continue from week 1 was the inability to get a stop when it mattered. Everyone knows that plays in the fourth quarter are bigger than most plays earlier in the game, and later in the fourth quarter even more so. The first quarter defense looked great, but once Andy Reid had time to make adjustments, they looked more like the 2012 defense than anything else.
The offense did them no favors this week, that’s for sure. Especially in the second half when Tony Romo looked to have reinjured his ribs or the injection wore off. Or worse, made some of those throws without a medical excuse. But regardless of what the offense did, the defense still has to do its job, like some weeks when the offense will bail the defense out. On that final Chief’s drive, everyone in the stadium and watching at home knew what they wanted to do—run the ball and throw inside routes, keeping the clock moving at all costs. Still, even knowing what the offense was going to try to do, the defense was unable to get a stop when it mattered most (yes, they eventually forced them to punt, but with :16 left on the clock, is that even worth it?). Defenses gain a reputation based on how they play in big moments, and this one did nothing to change the prevailing logic that Dallas’ defenses come up short.
Kiffiners might say, “But we WOULD’VE had a stop on 3rd and 10 but Mo Claiborne was called for pass interference on a bad call.” I can’t say if the call was good or bad, it looked pretty even to me. One of those that sometimes you get, sometimes you don’t. What’s more important, and damning, on that play is that Claiborne was trying to break up the pass anyway. It was 3rd and 10, so a stop is going to yield a punt. Rewatching it, it doesn’t look like the receiver is going to get the first down on the catch. Mo saw it in time to jump the pass and try to break it up, so he had plenty of time to be right on the receiver and make a tackle as soon as the catch is made. Maybe he even dislodges the ball and it goes down as an incomplete pass, but that’s guessing too much. If he makes the tackle and prevents the conversion, it’s a punt. I’m bad at the math of how much time Romo & Co. would have had in this scenario, but it would have been way more than 16 seconds.
An argument against it would be that allowing the catch late in the game is contrary to what the secondary is doing the entire rest of the game, asking a player to flip his instincts on a dime. I don’t think it is. I think it’s the same as an offensive player running out of bounds late in the game to conserve clock instead of fighting for yards. You would like players to be thinking big picture at all points of the game, but they absolutely need to see the macro view late in the game. Mo can be blamed for not thinking it, defensive coaches can be blamed for not stressing it before the drive, or they can split it. Doesn’t matter how you cut it, the offense still received a new set of downs and the Dallas offense lost precious time off the clock.
Cowboys fans are used to ifs and butts defining the defense in big moments, and nothing has changed. Week 1 against the Giants is looking more and more like an aberration or dream, and that doesn’t bode well for weeks 6 and 7 against Washington and Philadelphia.