The topic of what the Dallas Cowboys should do with Jay Ratliff is a difficult one with many angles. It’s hard to decide what is best for the player and the team at the same time. Everything I read on his situation has two scenarios. Either Ratliff is moved to defensive end and a true 3-4 defensive tackle is brought in to fill the middle who can take on the constant double and triple-teams. Or Ratliff stays at his tackle position he has played his entire career and a pass-rushing force is brought in to compliment DeMarcus Ware on the opposite side of the defense in order to create the pressure on the quarterback the Cowboys desperately need. So what would you do? Ratliff has shown he can be a force in the middle, but at the same time we’ve noticed a decline in his production due to constant double and triple-teams. Such a difficult decision requires more in-depth analysis.
Let’s look at some history to get started. Ratliff had his best years as a Cowboy in 2008-09. During that span his sack total was at 13.5 and he totaled 81 tackles. If you look at 2005-07 Ratliff only had only eight sacks and 42 tackles. These numbers can most likely be attributed to him getting acclimated to the NFL speed of play and style. Now if we look at Ratliff’s numbers from 2010-11 we notice a definite downturn in his production. He only registered five and a half sacks and 69 tackles. What this tells me is that offenses notice what kind of force Ratliff really is, and they are game-planning against him. Now you might say that opposing teams do the same thing to Ware, yet he still finds his way to the quarterback regularly. The difference is where they play on the line. Ware is outside and in turn has more space to work with. He has the option to go inside or outside which gives him options that Ratliff doesn’t have on the inside. Ratliff can go left or right of the center or try to take him on head on. Either way he is going to get at least a double-team.
In the 3-4 defense, defensive ends are used primarily as run stoppers and are much larger. Often, the position is played by a more agile or slightly undersized defensive tackle. This fits Ratliff like a tee. He is definitely small in defensive tackle terms (287 lbs.), and he is a force that can stop the run yet he is quick and agile enough to make plays if the quarterback scrambles or rolls to his side.
So why wouldn’t you move Ratliff to defensive end? Well for starters he has not played the position since he was a junior in college, and even then he was a reserve/rotational player. Along with that he has expressed interest in staying at tackle. That is where he has played his entire NFL career and he has been successful doing so. So what do you do? Here’s what I propose.
Players have made a successful transition in the past and Ratliff is talented enough that he shouldn’t have any problem. Take Mario Williams, formally of the Houston Texans, for example. He played his entire NFL career as a 4-3 defensive end. Once Wade Phillips made his way to Houston, and brought his 3-4 defense, Williams was asked to move to outside linebacker. He made the transition seamlessly and had a great season (until it was cut short due to injury). I classify Ratliff as the same kind of talent as Williams. Why not move him over to end and get a beast in the middle. A lot of mock drafts have Dallas taking Memphis Tackle Dontari Poe. The man is a giant at 6-4, 346 lbs. He had 44 reps with 225 pounds and ran 40 yards in an unofficial time of 4.98 seconds during the combine. If the Cowboys took someone like Poe they could have two strong forces on the defensive line to compliment Ware on the outside. Just think of all the different blitz schemes Rob Ryan could draw up with these players.
In the end we can only speculate as to what is going to happen. Dallas may end up going in a different direction than what I’ve laid out here. If they do, you can mark me down as one of the many fans that think they missed out on a golden opportunity.