Back to the Future: The 4-3 Flex Defense

Greetings BtB, this is my first fan-post here, but after this roller-coaster season of defensive letdowns and debacles I wanted to not just "vent" but at least air this out for a little thought.

Woeful after woeful performances by the Cowboys Defense has left a lot of us Cowboys fan wondering: "How the heck can we fix this defense"? I'm not sure if there is a simple answer to that question.Clearly the front office (aka Jerry Jones) needs to make some radical overhauls at several Key positions (DB please, please, please). However, I posit that one of the main sources of our defensive failures over the recent years (contrary to sometimes impressive stats) is that we, and by we I mean the coaching staff, are essentially out-scheming ourselves and playing a defense that does not in any way cater to the strengths of our defensive players.



In 2003 Bill "Big Tuna" Parcells came out of retirement to coach the Dallas Cowboys and he brought his 3-4 defense with him. However, since leaving after the 2006 season, the Cowboys have retained the basic concepts of Parcells 3-4 defenses (of course with Wade Phillips and now Rob Ryan twists). But is the 3-4 really serving our needs, and more importantly is it maximizing our defensive players potentials? I would say at one time it absolutely did, however that time has long since passed. A fundamental change is needed, something that will alter the very essence of this defense; not only in strategical "diagram" terms, but also in future players selection. Luckily we Cowboys fans need not search far to find the answer. We need only look to perhaps the greatest Cowboys of them all, for he has the answers.



What's the answer? Well unless you didn't read the title you probably know what I'm about to opine. The solution? Bring back the good ole 4-3 Flex defense! As any Cowboys fan will tell you, Tom Landry (god rest him) is largely credited with the invention and popularization of this base defense. A majority of the teams in the NFL run a derivation of this defense and most if not all teams have run the 4-3 at one point since at least the 1970's. Along with the 3-4, the 4-3 has also gone through periods of popularity and obscurity.

I'm not going to go into all the mundane differences between the 3-4 and the 4-3 but here are some key tenets of both schemes and some of the big differences.

3-4 Defense.



As you can see, this is what the 'Boys currently run. The most important positions in a 3-4 (of the front seven) are the Nose Tackle (Jay Ratliff) and the two Inside Linebackers (Sean Lee and James/Brookings).


At one time Jay Ratliff was an elite manster-like NT, using his smaller stature to slip between slower Centers and Guards. While he is no doubt still an effective NT, the years of wear and constant double teams have noticeably taken their toll.


Sean Lee is a man amongst boys in this defense. He plays better with one hand than anyone else (excluding D-Ware) does with two. So no problems with him. Bradie James himself knows he's done, EVERYONE knows he's done, so not going to harp on that. The same goes for Keith Brookings whom I genuinely find a likeable guy, but 16 years in the league have robbed him of anything he thought he had left in the tank.

You'll notice I don't have Bruce Carter here, that's because he hasn't so much as sniffed a meaningful down as an ILB so far (great blocked punt today by the way!). Why? Only god and Rob Ryan knows. So for the purposes of this fan-post I'll put this position as VACANT.

So: Ratliff (getting older and not as effective a NT as he was even three years ago), Lee (Thank you baby Jesus), and VACANT. Not great.

This doesn't even mention our DE's who lets face it....are just a bunch of JAG's (excluding Lissemore who actually shows some promise). Our OLB's: Ware (Best 'Boys pass-rusher since Haley, but really more of a DE if you think about it) and Almost Anthony Spencer. So out of our four Linebacker's, we really only have one true Linebacker (Sean Lee) and thank god he's amazing. As someone a lot smarter than me once said,

"I think good coaches will coach with the personnel they have,and if you only have one good Linebacker, you're not going to play a 3-4" --Hank Bullough

The 4-3:



Obviously with the 4-3 there are some positional changes to be made within the front seven. The major differences are that DE's now become the most important position on the line, and now your solitary middle linebacker must be smart, athletic and have the power to fill the A or B Gaps in the middle. I'm no genius but here's how I envision it with our CURRENT players alone.

DT's: Jay Ratliff (moved from NT) Marcus Spears (Run Stopper)

DE's: Demarcus Ware (played DE all throughout HS and College it's his natural position) Jason Hatcher

Mike Linebacker: Sean Lee (has played a 4-3 at Penn State, and he already is the QB of the defense)

Outside LB's: Bruce Carter (fast, big enough to come fill holes from the outside) VACANT (FA pickup or Draft)

With Ware if you really wanted to emulate Landry you could use him like Tom used the Manster himself. Moving him all around the line in a sort of "Rover" look. I think it would be very similar to the way Rob Ryan has been using D-Ware.

I think this single adjustment would cure a lot of match-up failures the Cowboys seem to lose. This would take a ton of wear off Ratliff and allow Hatcher and Ware to do what they do best without having to worry about potentially losing outside contain, or god forbid cover a pass route.

Will this ever happen? Probably not, but It can't stop me from dreaming it's possible.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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