On January 8, 2013, Rob Ryan was fired as the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys two seasons and almost two full calendar years into the job. Prior to this news, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones promised that Valley Ranch would become very uncomfortable for those in power. Of course, many Cowboys fans took to the various social media outlets and voiced their shock and displeasure, blaming Jones for making a move just for the sake of doing so. Three days later, Dallas hired soon-to-be 73-year old Monte Kiffin as his replacement and some of the grumbling dissipated.Today’s column will focus on why that decision was not only correct but necessary. We will also examine the philosophy of the new defensive scheme and show how it could be the right type of defense for the Dallas Cowboys.
After doing a bit of research in regards to the two coordinators, it doesn’t take a lot to see which one has has more success in the league. Rob Ryan has had three previous opportunites in the NFL as a defensive coordinator before getting hired recently by the New Orleans Saints. In only one of those spots did he actually improve the defense in his first year. That was for the Cowboys in 2011, however Dallas was the second worst defense the prior year. In Kiffin’s three stints as a defensive coordinator, he improved all three defensive units he took over.
Ryan has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL for nine years. The best any of his units has ever finished in overall defense was in 2010, when the Browns had the 13th best defense in the league. Conversely, Kiffin’s Tampa Bay teams only had one year out of 13, that they did not finish as a top ten defense. Kiffin also has had eleven top ten pass defenses and six top ten rush defenses. By comparison, Ryan has only had three top ten pass defenses and one top ten rush defense.
As if the numbers were not enough proof that the Cowboys made the right decision, there is also the intangibles. Bringing on Kiffin also helped Dallas land Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach. Adding Kiffin guarantees that the Cowboys do not get penalties on the coaching staff for taunting players as Kiffin works from the booth. Lastly, employing Monte Kiffin leaves the door open for possible upgrades at the head coach like Lovie Smith or Jon Gruden in 2014 if Jason Garrett fails to get this team into the playoffs.
Scheme is another aspect of the coaching change that should assist the Cowboys in improving, not only defensively but as an overall team. Kiffin’s “Tampa 2” has four main principles. The system emphasizes speed over size and strength. It can be described as bend but do not break defense as it focuses on preventing scoring more than the prevention of yards. The Tampa 2 allows for multiple defenses from one alignment, making it difficult for the offense to adjust play calling to take advantage of defensive personnel. It is also a very aggressive and attacking, looking to make a big play or cause a turnover.
Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) – defensive end Anthony Spencer (93) – linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) – defensive tackle Jason Hatcher (97) – linebacker Bruce Carter (54) – nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) and cornerback Brandon Carr (39) on the line of scrimmage before a play during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
This philosophy caters to the roster that Dallas currently has. The two best defenders on the team, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee and both extremely quick yet somewhat undersized. Big play corner backs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne present the ability to create turnovers. Up and coming players such as Bruce Carter, and Barry Church add youth, speed and athleticism and allow the Cowboys to play aggressively. Finally, the Cowboys could address the interior line with a high draft pick to add the final puzzle piece to complete the new system.
All of these signs point to an improved defensive unit in 2013, which should take some of the pressure off of the offense which may finally lead to the Dallas Cowboys break the playoff drought.