IRVING, Texas – Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan believes his staff spends more time studying the red zone than anyone in the NFL. It hasn’t been enough.
The Cowboys are ranked 22nd in the NFL in red-zone defense efficiency, having allowed 17 touchdowns on 29 possessions.
"We're not playing good defense and it's only because of the red zone,” Ryan said Wednesday. “If we get that cleaned up, we'll have a great defense. It's been disappointing. It takes everybody's focus and for us to be where we want to be, where everybody wants us to be, we have to play better there."
Ryan was particularly embarrassed by last week’s performance against the Redskins. Washington scored three touchdowns in the red zone, including a quarterback draw and completion over the middle caused by a coverage bust.
All season long, Ryan has taken the blame when things went wrong for his defense. Those two plays are the exceptions.
The 4-yard touchdown run by Rex Grossman, who has never been known for his speed, came on a third-and-goal.
“Everybody in the building knew it was a quarterback draw and we didn’t execute how we wanted to stop that play,” Ryan said. “That’s embarrassing.”
The touchdown in the final minute of the first half might have frustrated Ryan even more. Grossman hit Jabar Gaffney on a crossing route in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard score. Slot corner Frank Walker bit on an underneath route and Gaffney got inside Gerald Sensabaugh.
“You know me, I'll be the first one to wear the hat when anything is a little skewed, but there is no excuse to give up a touchdown in five-deep coverage on two-deep receivers," Ryan said. "That was a little annoying and we have to do better than that.
“It takes everybody's dedication to play better in the red zone. To me, that was two plays that signified that it's not right yet."