The Cowboys won on Thanksgiving Day in dramatic fashion, coming back to beat the Dolphins 20-19 following a last-second field goal. Yet the takeaway point of the game was the disturbing play of the secondary, which allowed several big plays in Dolphins QB Matt Moore's 288-yard throwing day.
The loss of CB Mike Jenkins, who has missed four games, has hurt the group. So has the fact that S Gerald Sensabaugh is playing with an injured foot. Jenkins could return in Week 13 against the Cardinals, which would help.
Without him, the Cowboys allowed five pass plays of 20 yards or longer and had three pass-interference/illegal-contact calls against them. The previous week against the Redskins, one of the weaker throwing teams, the Cowboys allowed six 20-yard-plus pass plays.
CB Alan Ball, who figures to move down the chain when Jenkins returns, was victimized a few times. But so were Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick, both of whom allowed long receptions in the win. Safeties Abram Elam and Barry Church also were picked on in coverage, and reserve CB Frank Walker was called for unnecessary roughness inside the Dallas 10-yard line.
Pass defense is not entirely on the heads of the four, five or six defensive backs on the field, naturally. It also involves the skill of the offense, the pressure provided by the defensive front, the coverage skills of the linebackers and the defensive play-calling. However, against the Dolphins, the Cowboys racked up four sacks and nine pressures by PFW's count, which is more than ample. Plus, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan didn't appear to be putting his defensive backs in poor position with lots of risky or complex defensive calls.
Newman had been better of late, and Scandrick is perhaps the Cowboys' most consistent DB, so with the potential return of Jenkins, the level of panic is not extraordinarily high. Yet, following two shaky performances by the back of the defense, we might want to consider this area one of potential concern as the Cowboys, winners of four straight, head toward the playoff march. If they want to win the division, they will need more consistent play on the back end while trying to fend off the Giants.