Troy Aikman rips Cowboys defense: 'I’d be embarrassed' to put that performance on film

Jori Epstein
USA TODAY
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Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said he would be embarrassed.

“To me, I’d be embarrassed as a player to put that kind of performance on film,” Aikman told Dallas radio station 96.7 KTCK The Ticket. “That’s going to be seen by your peers for the rest of the season.”

Aikman was referencing Dallas’ defensive performance in a 49-38 loss to the Browns. The unit has allowed a franchise-worst 36.5 points per game through four weeks of the season and 172.5 rushing yards per game, the second worst mark and worst in 20 teams. 

The Browns gashed Dallas for 307 rushing yards, the most the Cowboys had ever allowed in a single game. 

“I just didn’t think the effort was there,” Aikman said Tuesday morning. “Over the years, you could always point to the way the Cowboys played defensively. They played with great effort and always flew around 11 guys. Didn’t always play great, but it was always there on film as far as the effort level. 

“[Sunday], I didn’t see one guy on defense that I’d say had a good game. The last touchdown that Odell Beckham Jr. scored when they cut it to 3 points—[Dalllas] had all the momentum. If they make a stop there defensively, they probably win the game. 

“It’s just not very good.” 

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Dallas Cowboys safety Darian Thompson, left, is unable to prevent Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (13) from catching a touchdown pass in the first half of an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.

The Cowboys implemented a new defensive scheme this offseason under coordinator Mike Nolan. Players have missed assignments, committed “way too many” mental errors, in head coach Mike McCarthy’s words, and struggled with eye discipline.  

But McCarthy disputes the suggestion that effort shortcomings have contributed to a 1-3 start

“You've got to be really careful when you start challenging professional athletes about effort, especially from a distance,” McCarthy said. “We don't have an effort issue. If we had an effort issue, that game would have been over in the middle of the third quarter. 

“Our guys fought all the way to the end.” 

The Cowboys rallied from a 41-14 deficit entering the fourth quarter to a 41-38 disadvantage with 3:42 to play. An improbable comeback, like in their 40-39 victory against the Falcons two weeks earlier, again seemed at least possible. Then Beckham Jr. scored a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of a drive. A botched blocked kick became a Browns 2-point conversion. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw an interception in the end zone. Dallas dropped three games in the opening four weeks for the first time in a decade. No matter that the Eagles lead the NFC East at 1-2-1. 

“At some point, you’ve got to win football games,” Aikman said. “You can’t keep saying you’re in contention when you’re not winning games.” 

On that, McCarthy agrees. But he’s not equating losses with lack of effort.

“Maybe I used the wrong words,” McCarthy said. “What I was saying is you've got to watch if you question their effort from afar. I mean, I'm on the sidelines. Our issues yesterday weren't on effort. I wasn't talking about me challenging. It's written at the top of my job description and job responsibility to challenge everybody in football operations. 

“Maybe that was a misuse of words by me. But I was talking about questioning. Because I didn't see effort as an issue in yesterday's game.” 

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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