The Dallas Cowboys may just have to make a change. This team hasn’t been able to get the job done on defense for the past two seasons and why should anyone believe Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will actually bring in quality help this time? He might bring in some “new faces” like he always says, but the Cowboys just need to face the facts and switch to a 4-3 defense. When you think about it, it makes a ton of sense.
The Cowboys were extremely thin at defensive end last offseason and that didn’t change before the start of the 2011 season. Jones may have signed former Cowboy Kenyon Coleman, but Dallas didn’t add any talent or depth at the position.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s complex 3-4 scheme calls for athletic, talented and intelligent players. Specifically at defensive end, the 3-4 requires big, strong players to occupy offensive lineman without that fourth defensive lineman there to help. In addition, these monsters have to be able to keep pressure off their outside linebackers. To say the least, the Cowboys’ defensive ends didn’t do that in 2011.
To fix this, the Cowboys need to revert back to the 4-3 defense, where smaller defensive ends will suffice. For example, the Cowboys could sign Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis if the team switched to a 4-3. If not, the 6’2″, 245-lbs. Mathis would have to switch to outside linebacker if he came to Dallas.
Of course, every Cowboys fan loves DeMarcus Ware; he’s arguably the best pass rusher in the game. However, he can’t cover the pass to save his neck, especially in zone coverage, and he knows it. Opposing running backs, tight ends and receivers were open in the flats all the time this season and Ware was to blame most of the time. He’d be so much better as a 4-3 defensive end just pinning his ears back and rushing the passer every play. Can you believe those words? “DeMarcus Ware would be so much better.” Can you imagine?
Ware was a beast at defensive end in college; he was a finalist for the Hendricks Award as a senior, an honor designated for the nation’s top defensive end. Pass rushing is his best asset and that’s what he would be doing all the time in a 4-3.
Of course, Ware is only the icing on the cake of a switch to the 4-3. Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee would make a dynamite middle linebacker; have you seen that guy in pass coverage? Have you seen him in run stoppage? Lee is a monster and a switch to the 4-3 would make him the full-time “Mike” linebacker, a role in which he thrives.
Obviously, the best part about this would be the personnel possibilities, like the pursuit of Mathis in free agency. The Cowboys wouldn’t have to target only 6’6″, 300-lbs. defensive ends for the 3-4. Likewise, youngsters like linebacker Bruce Carter would benefit from the switch; he was brought in to start and he’d be able to move to outside linebacker to replace Anthony Spencer in a 4-3 while Lee manned the middle.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of a switch to the 4-3 would be Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. When Ryan arrived in Dallas, Ratliff was moved to the hybrid nose tackle position in Ryan’s brand of the 3-4 and his production took a nosedive this year. He was an All-Pro at defensive tackle and youngsters Sean Lissemore and Josh Brent are coming along nicely. They would greatly benefit from a move to the 4-3 as traditional defensive tackles.
A 4-3 just makes sense for Dallas. Several top NFL teams that ran the 3-4 in the past decade have since switched back to the 4-3. The New England Patriots are one of them; they switched back to the 4-3 this year and, in case you didn’t know, they’re in the Super Bowl. Make the switch, Rob Ryan.
Follow Jeric Griffin on Twitter @JericGriffin