Monte Kiffin evaluates defense

IRVING, Texas -- On a rather cool day of practice, Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin met with reporters who were seeking answers.

Kiffin, the 73-year old coordinator with over 25 years in pro football, was seeking them too. Kiffin joked that he didn't want to speak with reporters because it was the bye week, but it's during this time when serious conversations take place at Valley Ranch.

The Cowboys' defense ranks last in total yards per game and against the pass. It's just 28th against the run. An four quarterbacks have thrown for over 400 yards against Kiffin's defense, an NFL record.

This season, the Cowboys have allowed an NFL-record 40 first downs in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, a franchise-high 625 yards to the same team, the longest completed pass in 2013 when Matthew Stafford completed an 87-yard catch and stiff-arm run by Calvin Johnson and the the second-best receiving performance in league history. Johnson caught 14 passes for 329 yards.

If that's not enough to create conversations to figure out what's wrong, Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' owner/general manager, said maybe he made a mistake in firing Rob Ryan and hiring Kiffin.

Kiffin didn't have any response to Jones' comments.

"Oh, I'm not in that deal at all," Kiffin said. "I'm not going there."

Asked if it's frustrating, Kiffin had a better response.

"Oh yeah, sure it is, but that's part of the job you know, what the heck, you sign on, let's go," he said. "It's tough for everybody, coaches, everybody on the staff. It's not a whole lot of fun, but that's part of coaching. If you want to be a coach, there's going to be some ups and downs."

But like this?

Kiffin put what happened last Sunday, a 49-17 loss to the Saints, into the proper perspective. In 1999, Kiffin, then the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, saw his unit get beat 45-0 at Oakland in late December. The Bucs rebounded, allowing just 16 points in the final two regular-season games and eventually reached the NFC championship game, losing to the St. Louis Rams, 11-6.

"I've been through some, yeah," Kiffin said of tough times.

Kiffin said he's never had a defense as historically bad as this one.

"No, I don't know, if your looking at rankings," Kiffin said. "I really don't look at the rankings. I look at turnovers. No, it is what it is, it's not good."

Yes, the turnovers, something Kiffin's defenses are noted for creating. The Cowboys have 22 this season, second most in the NFL. But the team's record is 5-5. There are injuries to deal with, and the personnel needs shuffling.

Kiffin will miss starting middle linebacker Sean Lee for three to four weeks with a pulled hamstring. Strong side starting linebacker Justin Durant is also out three to four weeks.

Bruce Carter is the only starter remaining, and Ernie Sims, a former first-round pick by the Detroit Lions, will replace Lee.

The secondary is a mess. Rookies Jeff Heath and B.W. Webb continue to struggle in pass coverage. Kiffin is hoping another rookie, starter J.J. Wilcox, can return from a sprained knee after the bye week against the New York Giants.

The defensive front has names such as Drake Nevis, Jarius Wynn and Everette Brown playing alongside starting defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who is nursing a sore thigh, and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, whose return from from a stinger would be a boost to the pass rush.

The Cowboys' defense is in trouble heading into the final six games of the 2013 season. Ryan was fired because of the problems of 2012, and Kiffin was hired to fix them.

But all we've seen heading into the final six weeks are more problems.

"You've got to look at yourself as coaches and stuff and I think you always want to win before the bye week," Kiffin said. "You always want to win no matter if you have a bye week or didn't have a bye week. We didn't win and we didn't play very well and we had a nice practice [Wednesday] and we sat down yesterday, Monday, Tuesday and re-evaluated the whole thing as a staff. We looked at some things and we critiqued some things and showed our players some things on how we can get better."