Offseason team needs: Cowboys defense

Cowboys offensive team needs here.

DE: DeMarcus Ware will of course play RDE. I think most people just think, “DeMarcus Ware is awesome. He can do anything.”  I’m not so sure he’ll be as effective putting his hand in the dirt.  Here was Rick Gosselin’s take on Ware:

The 4-3 scheme will add a player up front and remove a linebacker. Logically, DeMarcus Ware would move to end and put his hand on the ground. He’s a great pass rusher. What’s the difference between a rush end and a rush linebacker?

I saw the difference in 1993 when the Kansas City Chiefs switched from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 and asked their Hall of Fame-bound pass rusher Derrick Thomas to put his hand on the ground. His sack count fell from 14 ½ to eight in one season. In his first four years as a 3-4 weakside linebacker, Thomas collected 58 sacks. In his next four years as a 4-3 end, he managed only 40.

Thomas had to become more involved in the run game up front and found himself engaged in more direct skirmishes with offensive tackles. Physically, it took a toll on him. And Thomas made the switch to end when he was 26 years old. Ware would make the switch in 2013 at the age of 31.

Way back when I was teenager I followed those 90′s Chiefs teams closely. Loved Christian Okoye and Derrick Thomas. Thomas was built very similarly to Ware, and their playing styles very closely resembled each other. Derrick Thomas is listed at 6’3, 255, Ware at 6’4, 254.  I remember Thomas’ career begin to dull when the Chiefs went to a 4-3. He went from one of the top 5 defensive players in the game to a guy that was the 2nd best DE on his own team, behind Neil Smith.

There is a big difference in what Ware will be asked to do in the run game in a 4-3. Collisions at the point of attack are more physical as a 4-3 DE than setting the edge as an OLB in the 3-4. The transition from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE isn’t quite as seamless as some people seem to think. It will be interesting to see if Ware can maintain the extremely high standards he has set as a pass rusher while dealing with more of a pounding in his new position, like Miami’s Cameron Wake was able to do last season.

On the other side, the big question will be whether or not the Cowboys can re-sign Anthony Spencer. Last offseason, I was on a full-on assault of the Cowboys’ decision to franchise tag Spencer, and as it turns out, he had a breakout season. Within that piece, I was at least smart enough to leave open the possibility that Spencer would have a great 2012 season, ha:

What if you franchise tag Anthony Spencer and he finally produces for a full season in 2012?

Great!  That’s the best case scenario.  Finally, “Almost Anthony” will have shed the “almost” from his alliterative nickname.  But here’s the rub… He’ll be a free agent again in 2013.  Wanna tag him again?  You can, but it’ll cost you 120% of his salary from the previous season, or $10,560,000.  Now you’re opening up a whole new can of worms.  Do you pay a guy $10.56 million (or perhaps even a long term mega-deal) to a player with one good full season?  I guess it would depend on how good he actually was, but once again it would likely be another really tough decision.

Once again is it indeed a tough decision, complicated by the Cowboys’ salary cap issues, and Spencer’s not-so-ideal size at DE. Spencer is listed at 6’3, 250. If you want him to be a 3-down player as a DE in a 4-3, you’re going to have to ask him to bulk up, which could of course affect his play. Or do you put him in a similar role to that of Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants, in which he plays SLB, than moves to DE as a pass rusher on obvious passing downs? Typically, you don’t pay 4-3 linebackers the kind of money that Spencer will get on the open market.

The other thing to consider is Monte Kiffin’s recent urging to his defensive players to watch Seahawks tape. Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley ran that defense, and Bradley was Kiffin’s understudy for years before landing Seattle’s DC job. A lot more on the Kiffin-Bradley relationship here. Anyway, one thing Bradley often did was stick big ol’ 323 lb. Red Bryant at LDE, where he became an impact run defender. Is that the same approach Kiffin has in mind in Dallas? If so, what does that mean for Spencer? Who plays something similar to the “Red Bryant role” on run downs? Could that maybe be 2nd year man Tyrone Crawford?

It’s tough to pinpoint what the Cowboys’ needs are here without a better understanding of what exactly their defense will look like.

DT: In the wake of Jay Ratliff being arrested for DUI, just weeks after Josh Brent crashed his vehicle killing teammate Jerry Brown, most Cowboys fans wanted Ratliff gone (see the comment section here). The DUI aside, there were already a number of things working against him:

  • He is scheduled to make $5 million in 2013, $5.5 million in 2014, $7 million in 2015, and $7.5 million in 2016.
  • He missed 10 games last season.
  • He had a “physical altercation” with Jerry Jones after the Dallas game in Philly this season.

The one thing still working in Ratliff’s favor… and this is a biggie… is that the Cowboys are extremely thin at DT.  He also played very well in 2011, when he was healthy, despite what appear to be unimpressive numbers.  Here’s a film breakdown of Ratliff against Jason Kelce, who Ratliff thoroughly dominated.  And here’s another film breakdown from a preseason game this year against the Rams.  The guy can still play.

The overwhelming thinking was that the Cowboys would cut him. That has not happened yet, obviously, and I don’t think they can, or will cut bait just yet.

It is expected that Jason Hatcher (who was a perfect fit as a 3-4 DE) will move inside to DT to 4-3, along with Sean Lissemore. A DT trio of Ratliff-Hatcher-Lissemore doesn’t exactly scream “We’re gonna shut down your run game.” That would be my biggest concern for the current options at DT.

Again, it’s difficult to pinpoint what the Cowboys’ needs are here without knowing what the Cowboys’ have in mind as far as body types along the DL. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that whatever the Cowboys have in mind there, they don’t have enough of it at DT.

LB: 2012 was the 5th straight season in which Sean Lee missed time:

Penn State:

  • Torn ACL in 2008.  Missed the entire season.
  • Sprained knee in 2009.  Missed 3 games.

Dallas:

  • Strained hamstring in 2010.  Missed 2 games.
  • Dislocated wrist in 2011.  Missed 1 game.
  • Toe. IR. Missed 10 games.

Sean Lee is an immensely talented player, but can he stay healthy?  The same can be asked of Bruce Carter, who proved he was the real deal last season before being IR’d with a dislocated elbow. The Cowboys could use more depth here, and they’ll need to figure out who will play SLB, although that is a position of lesser importance, who typically comes off the field in the nickle.

CB: The Cowboys used major resources in fixing the CB position last offseason by using their top 2 picks to get Morris Claiborne and paying Brandon Carr a buttload of money in free agency. They also have a lot of money wrapped up in slot corner Orlando Scandrick, although his 2013 figure is low. The Cowboys’ 1-2-3 is good to go, but they could add depth.

S: Like the rest of the NFC East and perhaps the league in general, the Cowboys need help at safety. The team was high on Barry Church last season, but he was lost to a ruptured Achilles after just 3 games in 2012. Meanwhile, here were Gerald Sensabaugh’s “playmaker” numbers last season: 0 INTs, 1 FF, 0 FR, 0 sacks, 3 PBUs, 1 TFL. Still, he’s a solid enough player that he won’t kill you in coverage on the back end, which is better than you can say for a lot of other safeties around the league. The Cowboys likely need at least one new starter here, and I’m sure they’d like to see 2012 4th round pick Matt Johnson develop to the point where you can at least carve out some kind of role for him.

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11 Comments

  1. David_Does_Dallas says:

    Question: Do you use Reddit, and if you do, is your name Immynimmy?

    1. Yes, I use Reddit. JimmyKempski. Immynimmy is my boy. He’s a regular here.

      1. David_Does_Dallas says:

        Ah, ok. Thanks.

  2. izzylangfan says:

    Since the eagles are moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and the cowboys are doing the reverse – why don’t they just trade defensive lines.

  3. ct17 says:

    A lot of Cowboys fans are making noise about drafting a DT early. Cap room will be the issue. Ratliff would be a $6 million hit in dead money, Spears $2.1 million. Hatcher is in the last year of his deal.

    I remember Barry Church from his combine. The least athletic safety on the field. The Giants make him look like an all-pro.

  4. rage114 says:

    No color coded alignment chart?

    1. Haha, nope. No more color coded charts. I didn’t like that I was writing 1500 words and the comments were totally focused on the color chart.

      1. Mandmeisterx says:

        You mean when they were about the Giants?

      2. rage114 says:

        That’s too bad. I liked it.

      3. NYG_slater says:

        DWare is Green!

        ……o nvm

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