Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan hasn’t caught many breaks in his NFL career as a defensive coordinator. Since taking that position in 2004, Ryan’s teams have only drafted a defensive player three times in the first round of the NFL Draft. Only one of those players panned out – the Oakland Raiders’ Michael Huff in 2006. Heading into the 2012 NFL Draft, Ryan’s current team should draft a defensive player in the first round and it’ll be crime if that doesn’t happen.
Ryan’s complex and variable 3-4 scheme is designed to confuse opposing offenses and apply pressure from odd and unique angles. With the right personnel, this system could vault an average NFL defense to a top 5 unit if executed correctly.
Rob Ryan’s twin brother, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, ran this scheme to perfection while serving as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 2005-2008. The Ravens’ defense never ranked worse than 6th-best in the NFL during that time and was the league’s top unit in 2006.
Rex Ryan’s scheme has worked well in New York, too, for the most part; the Jets boasted the NFL’s top defense in Ryan’s first season in the Big Apple and ranked 3rd in 2010. The most impressive part of those two years was the Jets’ back-to-back runs to the AFC title game in which they knocked off top NFL offenses in the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots in the postseason.
Even with subpar offenses, the Ravens and Jets have been solid playoff teams under Rex Ryan. Thus, it can be assumed the Cowboys can experience similar success with the right defensive personnel. Dallas’ offense ranked 11th in the NFL last season while enduring a slew of injuries while its defense struggled to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks and cover opposing receivers.
Indeed, the Cowboys’ pass defense put up some of the worst numbers in franchise history last season and that’s directly on the shoulders of the personnel. The proof of that is former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips encountering tremendous success as the Houston Texans‘ defense coordinator in 2011. The Cowboys’ defensive players didn’t play well under Phillips, but the Texans sure did.
To run Rob Ryan’s defense correctly, the Cowboys need smart, athletic defenders who aren’t afraid to make big plays. Dallas’ porous defensive backs struggled mightily in 2011, giving up nearly 10 touchdowns off horribly blown coverages. Such play doesn’t win games, much less championships.
The Cowboys have taken the first necessary steps to fixing this by getting rid of guys like Terence Newman and Alan Ball and bringing in new players like Brandon Carr and Brodney Pool. However, Dallas’ secondary still needs upgrades, but not as much as the Cowboys’ defensive line.
For Ryan’s scheme to work, the Cowboys’ defense must apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks while keeping pressure off the linebackers. Such a feat can only be accomplished by big, athletic defensive lineman like Jay Ratliff. While Ratliff is there, Dallas’ defense needs three players like him up front to be as successful as Ryan plans to be.
That’s where 2012 NFL Draft prospects like LSU’s Michael Brockers come in. A guy like Brockers could play end or tackle in the Cowboys’ defense and would allow Ryan flexibility on the defensive line. Without any improvement up front, Dallas’ defense will continue to disappoint and lose games for the Cowboys in 2012 and beyond. Ryan’s scheme is a good one and it will help the Cowboys return to glory, but not without the right personnel.