Next season, the Cowboys defense is going to have a new look about it when it goes to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense. So what are we to expect and do they have the personnel to pull it off?
I’ve never been opposed to the Cowboys going to a 4-3. There are successful 4-3 defenses in the NFL and there are successful 3-4 defenses too. In an earlier blog, I pointed out that Kiffin’s defense wasn’t that impressive at USC last year. My concern is that while Kiffin was a very successful defensive coordinator years ago, the NFL is much more of an offensive league now and it may have passed Kiffin’s schemes by. Also the Cowboys are looking at a transition on defense which could take time.
Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense is designed to prevent deep passes and tends to allow a lot of yards but is supposed to prevent scores. It also is designed to create more turnovers which is an area that the Cowboys sure could use improvement. Last year the Cowboys defense was at the lower end of the NFL in taking the ball away with a minus 13 deficit in takeaways.
In the NFC, only the Eagles and Lions had fewer take aways than the Dallas defense. That’s why Rob Ryan isn’t around any more.
At USC, Kiffin’s defense had an impressive 19 INTs and also produced 45 sacks which was 4th best in the NCAA. I look for Dallas to produce more turnovers next season. They need to improve in sacks too. Last season they were 16th in the NFL in sacks.
I mentioned that this defense allows yards and at USC, Kiffins defense ranked low in yards allowed for rushing and passing. In fact USC was 69th in the NCAA in rushing defense. That is something to be concerned about. Expect Dallas to be weaker against the run and hope they have a lead from the turnovers and make teams pass to catch up.
Kiffin’s defense is a “bend but don’t break philosophy” but they were ranked 40th at USC in points allowed. That’s not horrible but I would expect better numbers than that from an NFL guru. They were 58th in the redzone defense too. Again, these kind of stats make me concerned.
LBs– In the Tampa 2 defense, the linebackers will be expected to have enough athletic ability to help with pass coverage in the deep middle. With a healthy Lee and Carter, I feel good about their ability to adjust to the 4-3 defense. Lee seems like he would be at home in the middle.
Safeties– The safety position is very important in the Tampa 2 which is what the 2 stands for, two safeties. The Cowboys lost Church early to injury last season and have an aging Sensabaugh. This is an area that I don’t believe Dallas can effectively play the new defense with their current personnel. Upgrades at safety will be required. Dallas hasn’t been strong in this area for a number of years and the Tampa 2 is not a good fit currently.
Look for them to try to get a safety in free agency and/or draft. If in the draft, around the 3rd round or so.
Defensive Line– Ware has been the pass rush the last couple years and now he will be asked to convert from a LB to a defensive end. While Ware did play DE in college, this will be a major transition. Because of his athletic ability, I think Ware can do it. I believe the Cowboys will have to try to come up with another DE which may be Crawford who they drafted last year. Look for a DE to be drafted too.
Ratliff has been at NT and it is taking a toll on his body as he is just not healthy enough to play it a lot longer. Ratliff may benefit from being in a 4-3. It could help extend his career. However Dallas will need another solid defensive tackle to play the 4-3. It could be where they use their first pick in the draft.
CBs– Jerry went out and signed Carr last season for $50 million in order to press cover in Ryan’s defense. Now he will be asked to play zone and be a ball hawk. Same thing with Claiborne who was drafted number 6 in last year’s draft. I think Claiborne will be a better fit in the Tampa 2 and may just thrive in a ball hawk defense that produces turnovers. It will be a transition for Carr but he is capable of doing it.
In conclusion, next season look for Dallas to improve in sacks and getting turnovers on defense. However they will allow a lot of yards rushing and passing. If they can limit points allowed, is the big question. Perhaps turnovers will benefit the offense to offset more scoring.
Personnel wise the Cowboys are in good shape at LBs but they will need to upgrade safeties in a big way. They also could use a DE and DT in the draft to help the defensive line. The corners, Carr and Claiborne, should be OK as the season progresses.