The Cowboys' defense, led by bombastic coordinator Rob Ryan, had vaulted to several top-five rankings in the first seven weeks of the season. Then came Eagles week. The Cowboys were exposed in that prime-time Week Eight contest, getting gashed routinely by the Eagles' offensive speed. But which version of the defense will we see going forward? Is it possible that Ryan can't cover up the shortcomings any longer?
There is a sense from some people in the league who have seen the Cowboys play defensively that Ryan's schemes in the early going definitely masked the lack of talent at key spots. Ryan fell on the sword completely after the Eagles loss, but it's clear that age is a concern, as is talent.
OLB DeMarcus Ware is an exceptional player, but he's the only one close to that level on the unit. Possibly the next best, ILB Sean Lee, just was fitted for a cast that might severely hinder his ability to shed blockers, check pass catchers and make tackles — that is, if Lee, who suffered a dislocated wrist against the Eagles, is even able to continue playing, a decision that hasn't been made yet and could be flexible.
Talented rookie Bruce Carter, who just came off the PUP list, might appear to be a natural replacement for Lee, and the ceiling is high for the North Carolina product, but Carter is still a long way from being mentally prepared to play a full load.
Some observers say that the defensive line has been one of the areas that has not stood out. Ryan does want his line to do a lot of the dirty work, clearing the way for others to make many plays, but the lack of impact plays from that group has been a bit of a concern. It has totaled only four sacks and has no forced fumbles, which, even for a 3-4 front, is rather low.
Then there is the secondary. The safeties, Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh, are average. And the cornerbacks are shorthanded with Mike Jenkins (hamstring) out for up to a month and no real depth behind Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick.