Yesterday, Jason Garrett released a statement on the firing on defensive coordinator Rob Ryan:
“I want to express my appreciation to Rob for all of his efforts and contributions to the Cowboys over the past two years. At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense. I have an immense amount of respect for Rob as a person and as a football coach and I wish him and his family the very best.”
The phrase “different direction philosophically” triggered ESPN’s Tim MacMahon to suggest that a “philosophical change” could mean that the Cowboys will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
The switch to a 4-3 may very well happen, but it’s probably more likely that “a different direction philosophically” was Garrett’s nice way of saying “We played incredibly stupid defense in the second half of the season, and my defensive coordinator is the reason why.”
In the final 7 games of the regular season, the Cowboys committed a staggering 9 personal fouls on defense. As personal fouls go in the NFL, there are always going to be a few that are accidental, or simply bad calls by officials with itchy trigger fingers trying to protect QBs or defenseless receivers. In fairness to the Cowboys, 3 of those 9 personal fouls were of that variety. Anthony Spencer accidentally grabbed Drew Brees’ facemask against the Saints, and was the guilty party on a weak roughing the passer call on Nick Foles against Philly. Also, Ernie Sims had an unfortunate helmet to helmet call on a defenseless receiver against the Bengals, but there didn’t seem to be anything boneheaded on the play.
However, the remaining 6 were absolutely stupid penalties, which we’ll review here:
1) Here is Orlando Scandrick delivering a forearm to the head of Brandon Weeden. This was not one of those “Well what am I supposed to do?” kind of roughing the QB calls in which Weeden’s head got in the way of Scandrick’s forearm, nor was it Scandrick trying to bat down a pass and accidentally hitting Weeden’s head. This would have been called in 1975. This play occurred on a 3rd and 10 in which the Browns threw an incomplete pass. They would have punted on 4th, but Scandrick’s stupid penalty kept the drive alive and Browns ended up kicking a FG. Three free points.
2) Later in that game, Jay Ratliff hit Weeden after a throw, which was fine, except Ratliff felt the need to stand over Weeden and bark at him. “Taunting, #90. 15 yards and a first down.” This happened with 6 minutes to go and the Cowboys holding onto a 4 point lead:
3) Mike Jenkins isn’t too keen on tackling 230 pound running backs coming his way, but he sure becomes tough after a receiver has already completely run 12 yards through the end zone for a TD:
4) Here’s Rob Ryan yelling at Andre Smith because he felt that Smith was holding on the play:
You can see here how far out onto the field Ryan is:
“Unsportsmanlike, Dallas bench, 15 yards.” That turned a 2nd and 15 at the 19 into a 1st and Goal. And here’s Rob yelling at the officials after they threw the flag on him:
5) Here’s DeMarcus Ware committing a roughing the QB penalty on Ben Roethlisberger. Ware isn’t cheap shot artist by any means, and after the play, he even helped Roethlisberger to his feet. I don’t think that Ware meant to clock Big Ben like this, but this was still a wild, careless right hook to the back of Roethlisberger’s head. This was a tie ballgame with less than 2 minutes to go and the Steelers trying to drive for a game winning FG. Giving away 15 free yards is unacceptable at any time during a football game, but is especially galling in that situation. Ware was lucky the defense tightened up and eventually got a stop.
6) And finally, on a play that would all but seal the Cowboys’ season, Jason Hatcher shoved Robert Griffin III’s head as he was trying to throw. Cris Collinsworth gave Hatcher a pass, explaining that Hatcher was trying to make a play. I disagree. It’s not as if Hatcher’s arms were up to block the pass and they accidentally hit RG3’s helmet, causing the flag to come out. There is a clear-cut shoving motion by Hatcher here. It was really a senseless play on 3rd and 7. The Redskins would have kicked a FG, and Romo would have had well over 2 minutes, down 6, to try to lead a game winning drive. Instead, the Redskins ran in a TD a few plays later. Ballgame. Season.
Again, these all occurred in a span of just 7 games.
Rob Ryan’s firing has nothing to do with the “scheme,” or the “philosophical” approach. It did, however, have everything to do with an undisciplined defense that had taken over the mentality of its leader.