We go to Vinny Iyer of the Sporting News for his look at the Cowboys new 43 Defense, read here.
The biggest issue for the Cowboys has been pass defense. The yardage numbers will tell you they have improved from No. 26 in 2010 to No. 23 in 2011 to No. 19 last season. But under Ryan’s aggressive mode, two things stood out: They gave up a lot of big pass plays without making enough of them.
They were burned before and after the catch, and when the Cowboys blitzed, opponents had a 101.5 passer rating last season. Dallas countered with seven interceptions, which tied for the league low, and an uncharacteristically low 34 sacks, in 2012.
The base concept of Kiffin’s defense is zone, but it includes well-timed wrinkles with blitzing up front combined with some man coverage on the back end. With what Kiffin inherits on the outside and inside, the good news is that Dallas will maximize the fundamentals and raise the playmaking quotient.
Of all the teams switching fronts, no team is better and more established on the edge with its pair of outside linebackers-turned-ends.
“You would expect that DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will handle the move to end well,” says former Cowboys offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, an analyst for NFL Netwrok.
Given that Ware (6-4, 254) can do just about everything, that Spencer (6-3, 250) is a late-blooming 2012 Pro Bowler who has evolved into a complete player on the other side, and that neither will have coverage responsibilities like in the past, they are set up to surge as pass rushers.
Ware and Spencer, who combined for 22 1/2 sacks in 2012, will put Kiffin in a position where he’ll often be comfortable rushing just four and dropping back seven. Defensive tackle Jay Ratliff also has a history of pass-rush production to complement that cause well.
One AFC scout thinks there’s another reason the Cowboys will thrive with their new look: The delayed returns they will receive on the cornerbacks they added in ’12—veteran Brandon Carr and first-round pick Morris Claiborne.
Carr has the good size (6-0, 210) needed to excel in Kiffin’s coverage scheme and is well versed in the Tampa 2 after playing his rookie season under Herman Edwards in Kansas City. His strength in run support is another key factor.
The Cowboys drafted Claiborne sixth overall because of his potential to make big plays on the ball. At a solid 5-11, 188 pounds, he is versatile enough to interchange between zone and man. Claiborne is ready to make an impact in Year 2.
The pass-rush combo of Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware is a great fit in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense. (AP Photo)
Kiffin’s scheme also requires a rangy, fly-to-the-ball middle linebacker, and Sean Lee offers just that. Two years ago, as an inside linebacker in Ryan’s 3-4, he broke out with 104 tackles and was exceptional in coverage (four interceptions). He was on the verge of a monster 2012 before suffering a season-ending toe injury in the Cowboys’ sixth game.
Justin Durant is one of Lee’s new teammates, slated to start on the outside next to him. In just a short time with the team, Durant has seen just how driven Lee is to be the best.
“He’s pretty intense, one of the most intense guys I’ve played with,” Durant said. “He wants to know everything when he’s out there.”
Durant is coming off a good two-season stint in the Detroit Lions’ version of the Tampa 2. After respecting Kiffin from afar, he’s now seeing firsthand how the 73-year-old relates so well to much younger players and puts them in the right position to succeed—much like Phillips did.
“We were in a bit of different situation when I came to the Lions in ’11 and we went to the playoffs, but there’s some of that same feeling with this team,” Durant said.
With Romo and his many weapons in the passing game, the Cowboys already fit the profile of an NFC playoff team. But they needed to clean up their pass defense mess to balance that out, and that’s exactly what will happen in 2013.
The Bears Defense under Marinelli helped them get to a +20 turnover ratio on the season. They finished 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs. The offense led by Jay Cutler just did not get it done down the stretch.
If Kiffin and his crew can create turnovers then it’s up to Romo to take this team to the playoffs.