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ESPN Insider: Dallas must pressure quarterbacks


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Dallas must pressure quarterbacks

By Darrell Trimble

NFL Insider


There have been many explanations given for the Dallas Cowboys late-season swoon. Whether it's the increasingly poor play of Quincy Carter, the lack of a consistent running game, or a spike in penalties, the offense has gotten the bulk of the grief.

That's because the defense is the No. 1 ranked unit in the league, allowing only 260.8 yards a game. But in spite of their lofty ranking, they have been every bit as culpable for the team's recent woes.

Over the last two games, the Cowboys' defense has given up 76 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. And over those two games, the Cowboys Achilles' heel has been their anemic pass rush. Because the front four can't get to the quarterback consistently, the Cowboys have blitzed perhaps more than any other team this season. But lately, even that hasn't helped.

A look at the Cowboys sack total shows that even during their 7-2 start they didn't actually get to the quarterback before he got rid of the ball. They had only 18 sacks during that run, hardly an impressive number. But there is more to the game than sacks, and the Cowboys proved that by causing chaos in the offensive backfield and consistently forcing opposing passers to throw the ball earlier than they wanted.

That hasn't been the case lately. The Cowboys averaged 7.9 quarterback pressures per game over the first 11 games, but in the last two weeks they have six combined. And without pressure, the Cowboys secondary has been unable to stop anybody. Over the last eight quarters, the pass defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 64 percent of their passes for 487 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

To make matters worse, they haven't been short passes. Jay Fiedler and Donovan McNabb gained 8.9 yards every time they put the ball up in the air.

The jury is still out on whether team's have become more familiar with Dallas' blitzes or if the Cowboys are just in a temporary slump, but things won't begin to turn around for them until they find a way to generate pressure on the quarterback.

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