Dallas Cowboys: Matching The Players With The System


I have made it no secret that I think the most innovative offensive coaches are the ones that are able to look at their players and then fine tune the offense to take advantage of the players’ strength.  One only needs to look at the Washington Redskins to see how well that can play out.

Aug 15, 2012; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

However, when we are talking defense, the philosophy is not quite the same.  I believe that’s why Gerald Sensabaugh is no longer a Cowboy.  Sensabaugh has been an adequate safety for the Cowboys over the past several years, but has certainly never been and outstanding player.  Stellar safety play is an integral part of Monte Kiffin’s 4-3, Tampa 2 defense, which calls for the safeties to be very active in all phases of the defense.

They are required to be very physical at the point of attack in a run play and also be able to provide support for the cornerbacks on a pass play.  So, they must have strong coverage skills and be hard hitters.  In Kiffin’s defense the safeties are depended upon to provide turnovers, whether from a hard hit on the ball carrier, or a pick while roaming the defensive backfield during a pass play.

Sensabaugh never was an especially hard hitter, or solid tackler, and does have many interceptions to his name either.  Looking at the evidence, it appears that the Cowboys, and Kiffin, believe that Barry Church has the skills to thrive in this defense.  After all, they signed him to a new multi-year contract, while still injured, and then cut Sensabaugh.  That speaks volumes.

Despite their needs on the offensive line, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Cowboys draft University of Texas safety, Kenny Vaccaro, if he’s available when they make their first selection with the 18th overall pick.  There are so many solid offensive linemen available in the 2013 draft, I believe the Cowboys feel they can address the offensive line in later rounds and still do well.  Or maybe they will go the free agency route, but that’s always more expensive.  Either, way, they appear determined to win with defense in 2013.

Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys injured linebacker Sean Lee on the sidelines against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We are not seeing the type of turmoil we are seeing at safety with the other positions, because of the versatility of the players the Cowboys already have.  Although Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are bigger than the typical 4-3 linebacker, in this case it is a non-issue because both of these players possess speed and that’s why the 4-3 utilizes smaller linebackers.  So, what the Cowboys have to work with is the best of both worlds, the speed to excel in the 4-3 and the size to bring it to the ball carrier once they get to him.  The only question at linebacker is which one of their other versatile linebackers will seize the open outside linebacker position.

The defensive line appears to be covered as well for the same reason as the linebackers, versatility.  The Cowboys have several lineman that can play inside or outside in the 4-3 and in addition, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were both defensive ends throughout their college careers, so this is no big change for them.  I am looking forward to seeing how well Spencer will do rushing the passer full time and not having to cover running backs and tight ends on passing plays.