IRVING, Texas (AP) — Maybe Rob Ryan wasn't the problem for the Dallas defense.
Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seems willing to acknowledge as much after New Orleans torched his team for a franchise record in yards allowed — the second time that's happened in the past three weeks under Monte Kiffin, who replaced Ryan when Jones fired him 10 months ago.
Ryan was in charge of the Saints defense that held Dallas to its lowest offensive output in five years in a 49-17 loss on Sunday night. "We thought that it was best for us to go in the direction that we are, and that doesn't look good right now," Jones said. "Candidly, we're having some of the same things that Rob had last year. He had a lot of people, frankly, to be fair to Rob, he lost a lot of guys on defense."
The biggest loss for Ryan last year was linebacker Sean Lee, who was gone for the season after injuring a toe in the sixth game. Lee got hurt again in New Orleans, pulling a hamstring in the first quarter. He should be back this year, but is likely to miss at least one game.
The Cowboys looked hopeless without Lee, surrendering an NFL-record 40 first downs and 625 yards — 2 more than the franchise record set two weeks earlier in Detroit. Those are the first two 600-yard games allowed by Dallas in its 53-year history.
The only reason Dallas didn't allow a fifth 400-yard passer this season — the Cowboys already have the record by surrendering four — is because the Saints quit throwing after Drew Brees got to 392 early in the fourth quarter.
"I just didn't expect this," Jones said. "I never saw this coming. What I did think is that we could come in here and get some points on the board. I felt that certainly we are compromised relative to our defense where we are right now with our personnel, but that's not an excuse. Because we still didn't play as well as they played."
The Cowboys have their bye week to think about a lot of things before their next game Nov. 24 at the New York Giants. Lee's backup, Justin Durant, also left the game against the Saints with a hamstring injury. The Cowboys simply couldn't stop the run with Bruce Carter and Ernie Sims trying to fill the void in the middle. Star pass rusher DeMarcus Ware aggravated a right thigh injury in his return after missing three games — the first time he was sidelined in his nine-year career.
At one point against Brees, the Cowboys had three undrafted rookies in the secondary. Safety Jeff Heath was one of them, and he played every snap even though he missed several tackles and tripped over himself on a 52-yard scoring pass to Kenny Stills. He has started three games in place of rookie third-round pick J.J. Wilcox, who is expected to return next week from a knee injury.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, yet another player batting a hamstring problem, is expected to return against the Giants. "We have to find a way to get healthy," Lee said. "And I need to find a way to get out there on that football field. And we, as a team, have to find a way to play a whole lot better."
That goes for the offense, too. The Cowboys had gained at least 200 yards in every game when Tony Romo was taking every snap — until Sunday night, when they had just 193. Romo targeted Dez Bryant only twice and completed less than 50 percent of his passes for the second time in three weeks after he hadn't done it at all since 2009.
As they get ready for the Giants, the Cowboys are faced with the fact that their offense has been held to less than 300 yards three times in five games since getting a season-high 522 in a 51-48 loss to Denver.
"We have a chance to sit back and assess what we are doing on offense, defense, and the kicking game, and who we are doing it with, and how we are doing it, and how we can do it better," coach Jason Garrett said.
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