Cowboys' Lack of Takeaways Isn't a Coaching Problem

Funny that Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is coming under fire for his unit’s lack of creating turnovers. Because, after all, a habit of takeaways is why he was promoted over Monte Kiffin. And, in retrospect, why Kiffin was hired in the wake of Rob Ryan’s firing.

At some point, might restaurant owner Jerry Jones stop blaming the cooks and start re-thinking his groceries?

After 2012 the Cowboys had seen enough of Ryan’s exotic twists and fired him, mainly because his defense created only 16 takeaways (5th-worst in the NFL). To solve the problem they hired Kiffin, whose defenses in Tampa Bay intercepted 31 passes in 2002 and forced at least one turnover in 54 consecutive games.

In 2013 sure enough the turnovers increased, to the tune of 28. But so did the yards, as Kiffin’s crew set a franchise record for most yards allowed in a single season.

Enter Marinelli, promoted over Kiffin with glowing results. In 2014 the Cowboys went 12-4 and won a playoff game with the help of 31 takeaways, second-most in the league. But this year … nada.

On offense the Cowboys have been slowed by the absence of Tony Romo, an injury to Dez Bryant and the departures of running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle. The defense played well enough – allowing only a single touchdown – to win games against the Giants and Seahawks, but on Sunday night were riddled by Sam Bradford and the Eagles for 27 points.

The defense’s biggest handicap? You guessed it. Lack of takeaways.

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In eight games the 2-6 Cowboys have created just four turnovers, tied with the Ravens for fewest in the NFL. The Giants, who lead the NFC East, have 20.

With basically the same personnel – Orlando Scandrick is injured, Bruce Carter is gone, etc. – the Cowboys’ defense has deteriorated from one of the best takeaways teams to one of the worst. And the more you analyze it, the more it seems 2014 was the aberration. Because the fact is that the Cowboys just don’t employ a lot of ball hawks.

Sean Lee, who, ironically, missed all of last season, is obviously the team’s best player at creating, and taking advantage of, opponent errors. But behind him in the secondary, nope.

Consider: Brandon Carr is approaching the two-year anniversary (Thanksgiving 2013, 28 games ago) of his last interception. In Dallas he has played 56 games and has only six intercpetions. Morris Claiborne has only three picks in 37 games. Safety Barry Church has only three in 71 games. And J.J. Wilcox has four in 37.

Opponents this year have thrown 267 passes against the Cowboys. Three have been intercepted. The defensive line (Greg Hardy) has as many picks as the secondary (Wilcox).

At some point we have to stop blaming defensive coordinators, and point a finger at the players' general lack of ball skills.

A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.

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