The Dallas Cowboys have are facing a defensive dilemma. The team’s 3-4 scheme suffered in 2011 due to a poor pass rush and an awful secondary. That’s led to consideration to switch to a 4-3 defense, which would eliminate the need for free agent outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. If the Cowboys were to let Spencer walk and draft Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw, a 4-3 defense would work perfectly for 2012 and beyond.
The Cowboys lack the talent at defensive end to succeed with a 3-4 scheme. Kenyon Coleman, Jason Hatcher, Marcus Spears and Sean Lissemore are all the right size to play the position, but only Hatcher halfway decent on the field this past season. Lissemore is improving and has great potential, but he’s not there yet. The best option is switching to the 4-3.
Dallas could then move All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware to his natural position of defensive end and just do what he does best – rush the quarterback. Ware struggled in zone pass coverage in Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s first season in Dallas and would be better suited to just rushing off the edge.
Then the Cowboys wouldn’t have to have 6’5″, 310-lbs. defensive ends to work the 3-4. Dallas should cut Spears regardless of what happens, but a 4-3 would allow Ratliff to pair up with a bigger guy like Lissemore or Coleman inside.
Enter Upshaw, who played outside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4, but could easily transition to the 4-3 opposite Bruce Carter with Sean Lee manning the middle. Huge 3-4 advocates like myself hate stuff like this, but it’s really the best option for Dallas.
Upshaw is every bit as talented as Spencer if not more and his possesses way more get-up-and-go. That’s the kind of player Ryan needs rushing the passer off a defensive end’s flank. Spencer improved in 2011, but he’s proven he wasn’t worth a first-round pick. It’s time to offer Upshaw the chance to prove he can fit that bill.
If the Cowboys stay with the 3-4, it will require better play at the defensive end position. Drafting Upshaw to replace Spencer would still be a good move, but Dallas would still lack reliable players at defensive end. Switching to a 4-3 gives the Cowboys an All-Pro in Ware on the other side and a viable counterpart in Hatcher on the other.
It will be tough for Ryan to move away from his beloved 3-4, but unless Jerry Jones gets him some better personnel at defensive end, there’s really just no other way around it. Upshaw will be a great addition to the Cowboys’ defense no matter what, but he’ll really excel in the 4-3 under Ryan.
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