When the Dallas Cowboys hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in January, a lot was expected of the high-profile, loud-mouthed son of a great NFL coach. For the most part, Ryan has made a huge difference in the performance of the Cowboys’ defense this season. However, his unit crumbled in crunch time during the Cowboys’ 19-13 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The Cowboys possess the NFL’s 14th-best pass defense this season, giving up 230 yards per game. That’s a tremendous improvement from having the sixth-worst pass defense in the league a year ago. However, Dallas gave up almost its average in the second half alone to Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb.
The Cowboys’ defense was stifling in the first half of the Arizona loss, holding Arizona to 40 yards passing. Dallas’ defenders like DeMarcus Ware were all smiles heading to the locker room at halftime as they sacked Kolb four times in the first half and held the Cardinals to only three points.
There are two halves to every game and most of the time they are very different. That was the case Sunday as Kolb threw for 207 yards and a touchdown in the second half and overtime. Watching the Cowboys’ secondary trying to cover the Cardinals’ receivers was like watching a high school team trying to defend the New England Patriots’ offense. Add a pass interference call and a defensive holding in the fourth quarter and overtime and the Cowboys got torched.
For whatever reason, Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman is a feast-or-famine-type player. He either makes a dynamite play that tremendously helps the Cowboys or he gives up a big pass play. Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts literally had a career day against Newman, piling up 111 yards. Nobody even knew Roberts’ name before this game and Newman earns $9 million per year from the Cowboys. Something is wrong with that picture.
In his first game back from a hamstring injury, Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins did a pretty decent job covering Cardinals all-world receiver Larry Fitzgerald. He caught no critical third-down passes and Jenkins wasn’t covering him on two of his three second-half catches. Shockingly it was Newman who gave up these plays to Fitzgerald.
Like the pass defense, the Cowboys were stifling in the first half against the run. Cardinals running back Beanie Wells only gained 11 yards in the first two quarters of play. However, he gained 56 in the second half, including four on the game-tying touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Finishing is something Ryan has preached to his players this season, but his concept evidently hasn’t sunk in yet. He was absolutely embarrassed at how easily the Cardinals moved down the field in overtime and was literally speechless when Arizona backup running back LaRod Stephens-Howling took a screen pass 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
When Dallas gets on a roll, we assume the Cowboys are finally ready to contend. Then something like this happens and the team shows its true colors. The Cowboys’ defense didn’t play like a Ryan unit in crunch time against Arizona. Until Dallas learns to finish, the Cowboys will never become a great NFL team.
Follow Jeric Griffin on Twitter @JericGriffin