Cowboys defense continues its struggles

DETROIT -- It's not getting any better.

The confidence level, while still there from the people inside the locker room, seems to be waning on the outside.

The Dallas Cowboys defense did it again on Sunday afternoon.

It gave up a franchise-record 329 receiving yards to Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, but with the game on the line, the defense failed to make the plays necessary to win.

The Cowboys lost to the Lions, 31-30, at Ford Field because of the defense's inability to get enough pressure on quarterback Matthew Stafford, hold down the running game and of course make a play on the last drive of the game.

"We got to finish games and we didn’t finish it on defense," defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "We had a chance to win it on defense with a minute left and they came up with a big play and it's on the defense."

The Cowboys clung to a 30-24 lead with 62 seconds left when Stafford took over. The big play was a 40-yard strike to wide receiver Kris Durham, who ran past cornerback Orlando Scandrick with 33 seconds remaining.

The next play, Johnson caught a 22-yard pass at the goal line before cornerback Brandon Carr knocked him down as the clock wound down.

"It's very frustrating," cornerback Morris Claiborne said. "Brandon had tremendous coverage on his guy and he was still able to use his physical nature, his long arms and his big body to come up with some of those catches."

Stafford decided against faking a spike and dove into the end zone with 12 seconds to play for the final score.

"We had a shot at the end of the game," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We can't give them that."

This was one of those games where the defense did everything Kiffin's 4-3 is supposed to do. It forced four turnovers and still lost. Kiffin's defense mixed up man and zone coverage on Johnson. It picked up one sack, Hatcher's in the fourth, but failed to ruffle Stafford. Kiffin's defense also gave up 24 fourth quarter points.

Defensively the Cowboys have failed this team in 2013:

  • At least six receivers have caught at least 100 yards in a game.

  • According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Cowboys are the first NFL team to allow four quarterbacks to throw for at least 400 yards in a single-season.

Guess what?

Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III and maybe Jay Cutler (if he returns from a groin injury) are looming in the winter months.

At the end of this contest with the Lions, the Cowboys had three rookies on the field in the secondary in B.W. Webb, Jeff Heath and Jakar Hamilton due to injuries.

Three main defensive players are out with injuries. End DeMarcus Ware (thigh) was doing more work on the sidelines watching and trying to calm Dez Bryant than playing. End Anthony Spencer is home recovering from microfracture surgery and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff is getting ready to work out for other teams.

The no-name defense is left in its place and given the salary cap space, less than $2 million, trading for a veteran isn't going to happen.

"It's the NFL, you’re here," Scandrick said. "You get in the game you're expected to make plays. They don’t really care if you got a backup."

Kiffin has to take the blame here. While Johnson is hard to cover and beat up the Cowboys' secondary, the front four has to knock down the quarterback. The front seven can't allow 143 rushing yards. Reggie Bush became another running back to take control of the passing attack from the backfield with his eight catches for 30 yards.

You could point to the draft and the injuries and ineffective play for the reasons why the Cowboys lost on Sunday afternoon.

The bottom line is these players aren't good enough.

"We did a good job of getting turnovers but we struggled to stop them in the second half," said linebacker Sean Lee, who had two interceptions. "A lot of area to improve. We started the game strong but we didn’t finish strong. We let them score and we let them handle the ball and at the end of the game we have a great shot to win. We give up a bunch of big passes and that’s unacceptable."