The change to the 3-4 scheme was brought on by then new head coach Bill Parcells in 2003, who wanted to model his Cowboys’ linebackers after his very successful, Super Bowl-winning linebacking core of the 1986 and 1990.
But 10 years after Parcells brought the 3-4 to Big D, the Cowboys are switching back to the 4-3 alignment, which means that the team’s two starting outside linebackers – DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer – will put their hand in the ground for the first time in their NFL careers, switching from their stand-up positions to defensive end.
While some may say the switch could put a heavier toll on the bodies of both Ware and Spencer (particularly Ware, who dealt with a shoulder injury last season), I for one think that the switch will only help the Cowboys’ new defense.
It is no secret that the two best pass rushers on this Cowboys team are Ware and Spencer, and it is obvious that playing on the line will allow them to get to the quarterback quicker in passing situations. This will be big for a Cowboy defense that has relied heavily upon the 31-year-old Ware and 29-year-old Spencer to provide the pass rush in recent years, especially last year when they combined for 22.5 of the team’s 34 total sacks.
The switch will also enable coordinator Monte Kiffin to run stunts — where the defensive tackle and defensive end would change gap responsibilities on a given play — that would still allow for Ware and Spencer to attack from different angles as they did in the 3-4 defense. This will also give them the opportunities to take advantage of their quickness in mismatches against bigger interior offensive lineman.
Another thing that the switch does is help with run defense. Ware, while probably the best pass rusher in the league regardless of position, is also very good against the run, which will only improve with him playing defensive end. What also can’t be overlooked is the fact that Ware and Spencer both played defensive end in college, and switched to outside linebacker once they got to Dallas because of the 3-4 scheme that was being run.
Surely, one could bring up the increased chance for injuries as well as the fact that neither has played defensive end at the pro level as reasons why the switch is a risk and potentially a detriment to the defense. But when you look at it, having your two best pass rushers playing on the line cannot be a bad thing.
Expect it to help the Cowboys this upcoming season.