There are those who think Wade Phillips is soft.
He does look a little soft around the middle, and he has run a comparatively soft training camp, derisively nicknamed Camp Cupcake by the local Dallas media.
This year, I predict opposing offensive coordinators in the NFL are going to see another side of Wade Philips, the aggressive defensive genius side that will have teams rocked back on their heels.
The Phillips 3-4 is an attacking defense that tries to force the opposing offense to change their style of play. The last two years we only saw glimpses of what could be.
Follow the jump for more on the Cupcake from Hell.
In Wade's first one and a half seasons with the Cowboys, he entrusted Brian Stewart to run the defense. The ebbs and flows of strategy during a game are like a chess match. Each side probes for weakness and grabs an advantage until the other side adjusts and closes that weakness. Then the chess game begins again. The difference between winning and losing a game (assuming equal talent) is which team has the coordinators who are adept at playing that chess game. Stewart was not, Phillips is.
Last season, Wade took over the defensive calls and we saw marked improvement in the defensive play. What he could not scheme for was only having 10 men on the field on defense. An old maxim states, ‘The chain is only as strong as the weakest link." When you have to put the best pass rusher in football back in coverage to compensate for your strong safety, your defensive team strength is clearly diminished.
Here's a nice graphic from the DMN on the Philips 3-4. (PDF format)
Two of the key players in the Philips 3-4 are DeMarcus Ware and the strong safety. The Phillips defense calls for Ware to pin his ears back and go after the QB on most plays and rely on the strong safety to provide coverage on three receiver sets. The problem last year was grossly inadequate strong safety play. We knew it, the other teams knew it and Wade knew it. The other teams attacked that weakness and in trying to compensate for it, we sacrificed some other strengths. Have we upgraded our strength at the strong safety position enough to make a difference? With Gerald Sensabaugh I believe we have. Sensabaugh will give us much better pass coverage than we have seen in recent years from our strong safety.
An old maxim states, ‘The chain is only as strong as the weakest link."
When you have to put the best pass rusher in football back in coverage to compensate for your strong safety, your defensive team strength is clearly diminished.
This year, offenses will have to deal with Ware coming after their QB on almost every play. Ware could break the sack record this year. Jay Ratliff is tailor made for NT in the Phillips 3 -4. Our defensive backfield is significantly upgraded from Wade's first year and if Keith Brooking still has some tread left, I consider that an upgrade at LB.
Wade has been stockpiling players all off season. He knows what he needs to make his defense click and he has been steadily bringing players to fill in and back up positions. I'm looking forward to seeing this defense. If you're the opposing offensive coordinator, Wade is going to look like the Cupcake from Hell.
Note: Here is a great primer on the 3-4 defense from our sister site in Denver.