When a defense gives up a team-record 307 rushing yards in a passing era of the NFL and is on pace to allow the most points in team history, everything about it will be scrutinized.
A lack of understanding of a new scheme which has wrought communication issues and a lack of confidence has been fingered as the biggest issue with the Dallas Cowboys defense.
But NFL analysts and pundits are also saying they see a lack of effort and want to on defense as whole but with linebacker Jaylon Smith in particular.
Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said on the radio on 1310 The Ticket Tuesday morning that the most disappointing part of Sunday’s Cowboys loss was the lack of effort on defense.
“To me, I’d be embarrassed as a player to put that kind of performance on film,” Aikman said.
Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan readily concede the unit has not played well all season and registered no passing grades in last Sunday’s 49-38 loss to the Cleveland Browns, which featured the record-setting rushing performance and produced the third straight game the team has allowed 38 or more points for the first time since expansion season of 1960.
“We’re not where we need to be right now,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s stating the obvious.”
But neither coach questioned the effort of the players.
“You’ve got to be really careful when you start challenging professional athletes about effort, especially from a distance,” McCarthy said. “We don’t have an effort issue. If we had an effort issue, that game would have been over in the middle of the third quarter. Our guys fought all the way to the end. And they made a huge play there down the stretch with the reverse for the touchdown.”
Said Nolan: “There have been no effort issues, in my opinion. We played very poorly. I hope we don’t have to live through another one of those.”
It’s that reverse for the game-deciding touchdown by Odell Beckham Jr. that has some people questioning what appears to be a lack of hustle from the back side by Smith on the play.
Nolan would have none of it.
“This is the honest truth: I don’t know why Jaylon takes the criticism he does,” Nolan said. “He’s a good football player. He plays extremely hard. I think he has improved. Look, I’d be the first to say it. I always call it like I see it, but Jaylon, look, nobody has played a perfect game for us thus far, and I don’t think they will. And, naturally, as bad a game as (Sunday) was, certainly no one played a winning grade performance.
Nolan even went a step further and said Smith has not had a losing effort all season. Smith leads the team with 40 tackles but has been targeted at times for big plays in the passing game.
“We grade guys a lot of the time as a ‘winning effort,’ ‘losing effort’ or ‘just did your job’,” Nolan said. “And thus far, I can’t say he’s had a game of the four that he’s had a losing effort. I think all of his games have been ‘do your job’ or a little better. Again, I think he’s doing all the things we’re asking of him, or at least trying to do, and I believe he’s just going to get better as the year goes along.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones double downed on Smith as well.
“I think Jaylon Smith has been courageous in his performance,” Jones said. “He gives you everything that he’s got. He has not had a losing effort. We have lost games. He has not had a losing effort. Without question, he has the talent to be the middle linebacker on a winning team.”
McCarthy also refused to legitimize defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence’s post-game description of the defense as “soft.”
“I think a lot of times in this game we are all disappointed,” McCarthy said. “I don’t put a lot into comments of emotion. (Lawrence) is as committed a veteran as we have. I’m sure it was probably his disappointment.”
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