Last week, I told Dallas Cowboys fans to be very scared of what Jerry Jones was capable of when he talked about big changes this offseason. Here’s what I wrote at the time of Jones’ proclamation that change was coming: “No one has a clue what an angry, irrational Jerry Jones will do this offseason and as much as we all know the Cowboys need change, the thought of what Jones maybe thinking should frighten us all.”
Has that about summed up what Jones has done so far? He has certainly made things uncomfortable for his coaches and players in the week and a half since the season ended, but it’s the last two moves that has Cowboys fans all up in arms. The firing of Rob Ryan and hiring of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator have sent anger and frustration throughout the Cowboys fan base. As of yesterday, I was one of those people who couldn’t understand the move.
However, after reconsidering the move to hire Kiffin, I now think the move could out well for the Cowboys. I understand the frustration over hiring a 72-year-old coach who flamed out during his past four years as a defensive coordinator in college, but let’s see how it works out before we start bashing the Cowboys’ decision to hire him.
Not many people wanted to hire Kiffin, I understand that, but what had Ryan done in the last two years that everyone loved so much? Almost every Sunday this season, I had heard people screaming about the Cowboys’ lack of aggression on defense. The anger over Ryan not blitzing more and where were the turnovers we had all hoped for with his defense? And now that Ryan has been let go, all I hear is frustration over a coach that many fans couldn’t stand on game day!
You can’t have it both ways. You wanted change and now that you’ve gotten some, you don’t like it. These fans didn’t like Ryan’s defensive calls, but now that he’s gone, those same people are talking like he was the best defensive coordinator in the game! The defense in two years under Ryan was average at best, so shame on you if you think any differently. Forget the injury excuse. Cowboys fans have been hanging onto excuses for their teams’ failures for too long. Ryan didn’t get the job done, period.
Now along comes the hiring of Kiffin and, at first glance, it doesn’t appear like a great move, but there are reasons to like the hire. Ryan ran a complex system and the Cowboys defense had as many missed assignments as any team in the league. Here comes Kiffin and his Tampa 2 defense, which former disciple John Lynch praised, saying the beauty of the scheme is in its simplicity. After watching two years of blown assignments, give me simple.
Another factor no one likes about Kiffin’s scheme is that the Cowboys personnel doesn’t fit the 4-3 defense. That couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the Cowboys should make the transition rather easily. DeMarcus Ware will still disrupt the quarterback and the scheme is a much better fit for Jay Ratliff, who now will get to work one-on-one against offensive lineman and use his strength and quickness to his advantage.
It’s also a good fit for Jason Hatcher, who–if you missed it–played at a Pro Bowl level this year. The Cowboys can either keep Anthony Spencer as a defensive end or, if they don’t re-sign him, can use Tyrone Crawford as the other end. They also have Sean Lissemore to rotate in, as well as Kyle Wilber, who was a defensive end in college, so the scheme fits him as well.
At the next level, the Cowboys are set up perfectly for the 4-3 defense with Sean Lee in the middle and Bruce Carter on the weak side. The front four will allow Lee free access to get to the ball and he won’t have to take on as many blockers; in other words Lee will still shine. As will Bruce Carter, who will use his speed in space to create turnovers, like how former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks was used. The Cowboys also have the depth to find out who will play the strong side but there are good candidates to choose from and I really like Alex Albright‘s potential there.
Now, if you’re worried about how the secondary’s going to work with a zone based scheme because of their physical corners, here’s what former Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell thinks about the fit. He said Kiffin asks his corners to play “much more man than you think…Whether they’re playing man or zone, the corners play press a lot.” Sounds good for Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, if you ask me.
Lacewell does think the Cowboys need to go get a safety or two, but it’s not like the Cowboys have solved their safety issue in the past 10 years anyway, so it’s not news that they still need a safety. They need someone to pair with a healthy Barry Church, hopefully.
Another thing Kiffin’s defense does is create turnovers and that’s been a huge issue for the Cowboys defense for a number of years now. Ryan’s defense never caused enough of them and I heard constant complaints all season long about the lack of turnovers forced, so spare me the talk the 4-3 defense won’t work. How do any of us know?
Here’s the biggest question, though. No matter what scheme the Cowboys run, do they have talent? Looking at their defense, it’s clear that they do, even if Spencer leaves. So if you have talented players, they should fit whatever scheme you put them in, no matter what. Scheme is just another excuse Cowboys fans are looking to use if they fail and excuses should not be tolerated. The Cowboys have talent on defense, so make it work!
Let’s also be really clear. I know this discussion has centered on the defense, but if the Cowboys don’t address the offensive line needs this offseason, it probably won’t matter who the defensive coordinator is. Agreed?
Every Cowboys fan knows the Cowboys have major needs on the offensive line, defensive line and at safety and the decision to hire Kiffin doesn’t change those objectives. It’s actually easier to find 4-3 defensive lineman than it is to find 3-4 guys, but the safety spot remains an issue and no one denies that.
The bottom line is the Cowboys have gotten rid of an average coach and hired one with an impeccable record as a defensive coordinator, no matter what scheme he brings. The Cowboys fired a coach who has never had a top 10 defense and hired a coach who has led 11 top 10 defensive units, yet there is anger over bringing him in?
We’re all allowed to be skeptical, but let’s also give it some time. Let’s see what Kiffin can do before judging the decision to hire him. We might just be surprised at how it works.
you can contact or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi