Given the defensive struggles experienced almost the whole year I have recently been giving some thought to what can be done to mitigate some of the issues. The issues are well known by even cursory Cowboys fans; the inability to get consistent pressure on the QB, get a stop in crunch time, and generally poor tackling are well documented. Even stopping the run, while less of an issue than the others, has been problematic from time to time.
For a defense to go from near the top of the league to near the bottom in one year, with only one player change, is puzzling to say the least. Now granted, the player change in question is a key in the defensive scheme of things given that he calls the coverage and is “supposed” to get people in the right place, but still, if the player change were causing problems with either of those tasks you would THINK that they could get someone else to do them. If there were/are issues with that player missing INDIVIDUAL assignments, as I suspect he was, then that is another story.
Another concern is that the D started out pretty well, I seem to recall that they were #4 overall or something along those lines after several weeks. And then the wheels fell off. The question is why? Spears went out for the year, but unless he was a “hidden” key to the whole machine I don’t see that as being a huge issue. He’s solid against the run but an almost non-factor against the pass. He wasn’t drawing a double team all of the time, opening up opportunities for other guys like Spencer, so that shouldn’t be a big problem.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that the problems were either caused by a tsunami sized drop in player performance by anyone not named Ware or Ratliff, or, there are major issues with schemes. Or a combination of both. We heard from several opposing players over the course of the year that they knew what defense they were going to run, and when they were going to run it. Earlier in the year it was when they were going to blitz and where it was coming from, later in the year it was what coverage they would be in on 4th and 15, etc.
Now, maybe Mr. Fixit really was a genius and was able to hide personnel deficiencies for 3 years, but I suspect not. Most likely they opponents just caught on to his tendencies. Couple that with some down years by players and some limitations on their abilities, like being a good man corner as opposed to being good in space, etc and here we are. Which leads to the obvious question, where do we go from here?
This defense was clearly built for a 3-4, so a schematic change to the 4-3 would be problematic personnel wise. While Ratliff and someone like Brent or Spears could man the middle, you’d still need 2 DE’s. Both Ware and Spencer were DE’s in college, but in the words of BP himself it would not be a good idea to have Ware going up against an OT ever play, he’d get worn down. Same goes for Spencer. Plus, a 4-3 DE needs to be more of a pass rusher and the evidence is still out on Spencer’s ability to do that on a consistent basis, especially as a DE. Moving one or both of those guys to DE would leave them needing 4-3 OLB’s, Butler might be able to do it, or possibly Lee. This would leave them depending on James and/or Brooking to man the middle. And none of this, other than a possible increase in the pass rush, does anything to help with the sieve like pass defense.
So, with all of that being said I think that a change in defensive coordinators is in order. Bring in someone with a different style and some different ideas, different tendencies and techniques to help get this back on track. Throw in a new DB coach as well while you are at it. And then pray that the addition of a veteran, or at least new, FS and some rebound years by players like Jenkins and Spencer can get this defense back to at least respectable.