Cowboys defense must finish ... still

IRVING, Texas -- Everything about the Cowboys’ defensive work on third down looks OK.

They are second to Houston in the NFL in three-and-out drives at 29.6 percent (24 of 81). Wade Phillips’ Texans are No. 1 at 29.9% (29 of 97).

They are No. 10 in third-down defense, giving up a first down 36.3% of the time. Houston is No. 1 at 26.5%.

But then you look closer at their big plays allowed through the air, especially on third down. It’s why former Indianapolis general manager turned ESPN analyst Bill Polian said this morning on SportsCenter, “the Cowboys can’t finish on defense.”

He mentioned the Jacquizz Rodgers fourth-quarter catch as an example. Orlando Scandrick was in position to make a play and didn’t make it. Polian wondered where the rest of the defense was on the play to help Scandrick.

The Rodgers’ grab for 31 yards was the 12th catch of 20 or more yards the defense has allowed this season on third down. That’s an alarming number. Eight of those catches came on plays of third-and-5 or more.

On 10 of those 12 drives the opponents have scored a touchdown or a field goal.

If the Cowboys want to be better in the second half of the season, they need to make a play when it counts most.