Nearly two years ago to the day they hired Rob Ryan as their new defensive coordinator on Jan. 20, 2011, the Dallas Cowboys hired long-time NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin to replace the fired Ryan on Jan. 11 of this year. With Ryan’s departure and Kiffin’s arrival, the Cowboys are able to turn the page on a rather disappointing two seasons with Ryan as defensive boss. In 2013, Kiffin should prove to be a significant upgrade.
Under Ryan, the Cowboys finished 14th in total defense in his first season in 2011, but regressed to 19th last season. Their pass defense went from 23rd in 2011 to 19th in 2012, but their run defense regressed from 2011 to 2012, going from seventh overall in the league — allowing 99.1 yards per game — to 23rd — allowing over 125 yards per game.
But Kiffin, who brings in a new system that one could argue fits the Cowboys’ defensive personnel better, should get the maximum results from the defense, which is something Ryan didn’t do. Under Ryan, the Cowboys ran an aggressive 3-4 scheme that was predicated on confusing offenses by moving players around to different spots, and attacking from different angles. There was a lot of lineup shuffling pre-snap and in between plays, and more often than not, players didn’t know where to be.
With Kiffin’s scheme, the roles are more simplified, and that will surely help a defense that seemed out of sorts over the last couple years. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware even admitted as much, and how the change will help, during the team’s minicamp in early June, saying that Ryan’s defense required a lot of thinking, more so than normal, and definitely more so than what Kiffin will require.
The Cowboys are also due to see big upgrades in their defense simply also because of the success Kiffin has had with his defenses at the NFL level. From 2002-2008 — which was his final year in Tampa Bay — the 73-year-old led his defenses to two No. 1 overall finishes — in 2002 and 2005 — two No. 5 finishes, a second overall finish in 2007 and ninth in 2008. The only blip on the radar during that span was a 17th overall finish in 2006, a year the Buccaneers went 4-12.
The current Cowboys also have the ideal defensive pieces to not only make the most of Kiffin’s system, but be one of the best defenses in the league. Ware and Anthony Spencer will now play defensive end, getting the team’s leading pass rush artists closer to the line. Bruce Carter, who will play the same position anchored by Derrick Brooks when Kiffin was with the Bucs, has some of those same physical gifts that Brooks had that will enable him to succeed. And both cornerbacks – Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr – have what it takes to be physical, playmaking cornerbacks in Kiffin’s system.
A lot of the same players are back, but there is a different system being implemented — a system developed by one of football’s all time greatest minds — that suits the defense better.
Expect that great mind to make a big impact this season, and lead the Cowboys’ defense to greater success than it has had in recent years.