By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Secretary of Defense (@footballfacts)

The Dallas Cowboys were crushed 49-17 by the New Orleans Saints Sunday night, in a defensive mis-performance for the ages.

The team from Little D surrendered a franchise-record worst 625 yards of offense to New Orleans, not to mention a shocking NFL-record 40 first downs. The 625 yards were also the most generated in the history of the Saints franchise.

Dallas had no answer for Drew Brees, who completed 34 of 41 passes (82.9%) for 392 yards, 9.6 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT and a 139.0 rating. The 82.9 completion percentage is the second highest in history for a QB with 40+ pass attempt. 

But the Cowboys made up for the failed pass defense by failing to stop the New Orleans ground game: the Saints pounded out 242 yards on the ground, including 145 on just 14 carries by Mark Ingram alone.

The lack of effort came just two weeks after the Lions shredded Dallas for 623 yards in a 31-30 Detroit victory.

The Dallas defense right now is in a tailspin of epic proportions, both by the standards of today and by any measure in NFL history. Here’s a look at the most yards surrendered by any team in 2013.

Worst Defensive Efforts 2013 Season

  • Dallas – 625 (49-17 loss Week 10 at New Orleans)
  • Dallas – 623 (31-30 loss Week 8 at Detroit)
  • Pittsburgh – 610 (55-31 loss Week 9 at New England)
  • Washington – 580 (38-20 loss Week 2 at Green Bay)
  • Philadelphia – 560 (49-20 win Week 9 at Oakland)

It’s not even close. Twice in the last three weeks Dallas has fielded the most inept defenses of the season, and among the worst efforts of all time.

Those mis-efforts weren’t just bad by the standards of 2013. They represent two of the 14 worst defensive performances in all of NFL history, according to the Play Index at Pro Football

Worst Defensive Efforts NFL History

  1. 1951 New York Yanks – 722 yards allowed (vs. L.A. Rams)
  2. 1958 Chicago Cardinals – 683 yards allowed (vs. Steelers)
  3. 1943 N.Y. Giants – 682 yards allowed (vs. Bears)
  4. 1990 Lions – 676 yards allowed (vs. Redskins)
  5. 1982 Bengals – 661 yards allowed (vs. Chargers)
  6. 2012 Jaguars – 653 yards allowed (vs. Texans)
  7. 1966 Eagles – 652 yards allowed (vs. Cowboys)
  8. 2002 Falcons – 645 yards allowed (vs. Steelers)
  9. 1950 New York Yanks – 636 yards allowed (vs. L.A. Rams)
  10. 1962 Eagles – 628 yard allowed (vs. Packers)
  11. 1964 Broncos – 626 yards allowed (vs. Raiders)
  12. 2013 Cowboys – 625 yards allowed (vs. Saints)
  13. 1948 Boston Yanks – 625 yards allowed (vs. Redskins)
  14. 2013 Cowboys – 623 yards allowed (vs. Lions)

Look at some of the company Dallas is keeping, like the N.Y. Yanks of the early 1950s. It was a franchise so inept that it went 9-24-3 in its three NFL seasons, surrendered an average of 31.0 PPG in its history, and promptly folded at the end of the 1951 campaign.

And, of course, to fast forward back to 2013: who could forget Week 5, when Dallas lost a historic shootout with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, 51-48

The Cowboys surrendered a mere 517 yards in that game, in what Dallas fans might now fondly remember as the Good Ol’ Days for the defense.

The Cowboys are now on pace to surrender 7,037 yards of offense this year and will challenge the record for defensive futility set just last year by, you guessed it, those very same New Orleans Saints (7,042). Put another way, Dallas is on pace to produce the second 7,000-yard defense in the history of football and the most porous any unit any team has ever fielded.

Here’s a look at the 10 most porous defensive performances in Dallas Cowboys history.

10 Worst Defensive Efforts, Cowboys History

  1. 2013 Cowboys – 625 (49-17 loss at New Orleans)
  2. 2013 Cowboys – 623 (31-30 loss at Detroit
  3. 1991 Cowboys – 583 (26-23 OT loss at Houston Oilers)
  4. 1985 Cowboys – 570 (50-24 loss at Cincinnati)
  5. 2012 Cowboys – 562 (34-31 OT loss vs. New Orleans)
  6. 2006 Cowboys – 536 (42-17- loss vs. New Orleans)
  7. 1981 Cowboys – 529 (28-27 win vs. Miami)
  8. 1962 Cowboys – 527 (52-20 loss at St. Louis Cardinals)
  9. 1983 Cowboys – 519 (40-38 loss vs. L.A. Raiders)
  10. 2013 Cowboys – 517 (51-48 loss vs. Denver)

*Source: Pro Football Play Index

(Note: The 1980 Cowboys also gave up 517 yards in a 1980 loss to the L.A. Rams, but allowed only 38 points that day, so consider the 51 points they surrendered to Denver earlier this year the top 10 tiebreaker.)

The reality here is that things are going from bad to worse for the Cowboys and their defense in recent years. They surrendered: 5,491 yards in 2011, 5,628 in 2010, 5,687 in 2013 and are now on pace to surrender more than 7,000 here in 2013

Even on a per game defense, it’s looking worse than the dismal units that Dallas fielded in its struggling early days as a franchise.

5 Most Porous Defenses, Dallas Cowboys History

  • 2013 Cowboys – 439.8 YPG (5-5)
  • 1963 Cowboys – 380.4 YPG (4-10)
  • 1962 Cowboys – 370.3 YPG (5-8-1)
  • 1960 Cowboys – 364.3 YPG (0-11-1)
  • 2012 Cowboys – 355.4 YPG (8-8)

People say the game has changed in recent years, making it easier than ever to play offense (and harder than ever to play defense). And some of that is true.

But offensive production is not a whole lot greater today than it was in the 1960s. Remember, as we often point out, the three highest scoring seasons in NFL history were 1948, 1965 and 1950.

The state of the game today is not to blame for the Dallas woes. No matter how you measure it, the Dallas Cowboys right now field a historically inept defense.

The Blame Game

The natural question in the wake of such terrible and ongoing defensive malaise is where to lay the blame.

Well, we know where NOT to lay the blame. It sure as hell ain’t the fault of perpetual whipping boy Tony Romo.

Hell, the only reason the team is 5-5, and one defensive stop away from outgunning Peyton Manning’s Broncos and producing a 6-4 record, is because of Romo.

Sure, he wasn’t at the top of his game Sunday night (10 of 24, 128 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT). But he wasn’t the reason the defense was gashed so gruesomely.

Hell, you could surround Johnny Unitas himself with 10 Hall of Famers and he still couldn’t consistently win games paired with a defense of Dallas’s small caliber.

Actually, Unitas spent much of his career surrounded by Hall of Fame talent on offense: receiver Raymond Berry, explosive dual-purpose threat Lenny Moore, tight end John Mackey and tackle Jim Parker. He also played for two Hall of Fame coaches: Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula.

But Unitas himself won his back-to-back championships only when paired with one of the league’s best defense. The 1958 and 1959 Colts finished No. 2 and No. 7 in scoring defense, respectively, and each ended the year No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (as critical to winning games then as it is today). Dallas right now is No. 23 in DPR (92.9).

Few teams have reached the playoffs with a pass defense that porous.

The reality is that Dallas right now fields one of the worst defenses in football by any measure, while the offense still ranks among the best in most major categories, including those passing stats that are a direct reflection of the quality of play at quarterback.

So the problems on defense in Little D are much deeper than the man under center. They go right to the very top of the micromanaged organization.

But Jerry Jones isn’t going to fire himself. That leaves head coach Jason Garrett clearly on the chopping block, along with famed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, brought in this year to replace Rob Ryan (now, of course, with the Saints).

Don’t expect either to survive very long, not after producing two of the worst defensive efforts in the entire history of football in the space of three weeks.

Things have got ugly for the team with Little D. And heads will roll.