The Los Angeles Chargers are the most recent team to take advantage of a Cowboys defense that did not have Lee.
In the four games Lee has missed this season because of a hamstring strain, the Cowboys’ defense has allowed 35, 29, 31 and 22 points, with the Cowboys’ offense giving up three touchdowns on turnovers. The Chargers could have had more points against the Dallas defense if kicker Nick Novak was healthy for the first half.
There were no answers after the 28-6 loss as to how the Cowboys can fix their problems on defense.
“I don’t know, man,” defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “I’m not going to answer that until we meet and talk about it and figure it out as a group.”
Said safety Jeff Heath: "I think we just have to get back to basics, you know? We’ve got to figure out what we were doing, what it takes to win."
Said DT David Irving: "We didn’t make them one-dimensional. We just weren’t playing good.”
Well, the Chargers were mostly one-dimensional. That dimension was quarterback Philip Rivers and the passing game. He completed 27 of 33 passes for 434 yards with three touchdowns. He had eight pass plays of 20 yards or more, the most the Cowboys have allowed in a game this season.
Los Angeles’ run game improved in the second half after gaining just 9 yards in the first two quarters, but the Cowboys could not stop Keenan Allen (11 catches, 172 yards), Hunter Henry (five catches, 76 yards) or even Tyrell Williams (two catches, 58 yards).
“The quarterback is outstanding,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You try to do different things when you play a guy like this. You try man [coverage]. You try to pressure him and try to do things different ways.”
Whatever the Cowboys tried, it didn’t work. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cowboys sent four or fewer rushers at Rivers on 21 of his 33 dropbacks. Against that look, he completed 19 of 21 passes for 290 yards and all three of his touchdown passes.
In the second half, Rivers missed on just two of his 14 pass attempts, continuing a trend for the Cowboys. In the second halves of the past three games, the Dallas defense has allowed 58 of the 72 points scored by the opponents. The Atlanta Falcons had 212 yards in the second half. The Philadelphia Eagles had 268. The Chargers had 287.
“There’s no excuse,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “We’ve got to play four quarters. We haven’t, and that’s why we’re losing.”
The Cowboys have gone 27 straight possessions without a sack. The last one came in the second quarter against the Falcons, when DeMarcus Lawrence dropped Matt Ryan for an 11-yard loss. Against the Chargers, the Cowboys had just three quarterback hurries and only one came from a defensive lineman (Maliek Collins).
The Cowboys have gone 29 possessions without a takeaway. The last one was a Xavier Woods interception of Ryan on the first possession of the game. Opposing quarterbacks have gone 88 straight pass attempts without a pick. Not that the Cowboys didn’t have a chance. Jourdan Lewis dropped an interception in the second quarter. Anthony Brown failed to come up with another one on a deep ball.
Lee could miss the Cowboys’ next game, too. His days have been filled with rest and rehab, working on resistance training, trying to get his leg closer to 100 percent.
With the way things have gone lately, Lee’s return is no sure bet to fix the defense.