Dallas Cowboys Defense Under Rob Ryan: Jay Ratliff Never More Excited?

All offseason the BTB Cowboys faithful have discussed and studied Rob Ryan's defenses. Most everyone is excited. Rob Ryan hasn't always had defenses that ranked the best, but in coaching circles, and as discussed by Jason Garrett in his press conferences, Rob Ryan seems to always get the best out those playing for him. The talent levels and success of his defenses can be debated, but Ryan has earned a lot of respect for his skills as a defensive coach and his 3-4 "organized chaos" and wherever Ryan goes, his excitement and passion for the game seem to bring out the same in his players. Reading an article at ESPN Dallas, it appears Jay Ratliff has joined the club, and is excited and motivated by the realization that his abilities and opportunities will be maximized in Ryan's defense.

"I don't know if I've ever felt this excited my whole career," Ratliff said.

Ratliff can sum up the reason for his excitement in one word: scheme.

"The best way to describe it is organized chaos," Ratliff said, punctuating the thought with a roar of laughter.

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By this point, most all are aware of the variety of defensive schemes Ryan has implemented in the past, everything from two (or even one)-man defensive lines with six or seven or eight backers and backs in the box, to four-man fronts and, of course, his father's 46 defense. We also assumed there would be movement and shifting going on pre-snap to confuse an offense and mask the assignments of the defenders, linebackers and defensive backs almost always in motion to disguise coverages and blitz packages. But Ryan now has a defensive lineman that can cause havoc from virtually every spot along the front-seven...certainly something to be excited about. 

Ryan plays coy when asked about his exotic defensive packages. But he acknowledges the possibilities are practically limitless with a nose tackle as unique as the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Ratliff, who gives offensive linemen fits with his remarkable quickness and relentless motor...

Ryan's creativity knows only the bounds of his personnel. Ratliff's versatility opens up a lot of options for the son of Buddy and twin of Rex. So does Ratliff's ability to read protection schemes, which Ryan said is the best he's seen from a player other than Warren Sapp.

The matchup of a three-time Pro Bowler against a confused offensive lineman is an awful sight for a quarterback. It's one Ryan intends to create on a regular basis.

How many offenses prepare for an explosive nose tackle by studying the variety of positions on the field from which he may attack? Make no mistake, Ratliff continues to explain he is a nose tackle. It's just that he may be standing up, backed off the line in certain situations. Consider this, the CBA was finally signed and truly completed, training camp is less than a week old, and Ryan is already teaching and practicing very exotic schemes. It seems all those player practices might have been more than a bit productive. Instead of spending the first days having to learn the basic schemes, the Cowboys were prepared and already practicing and learning Ryan's "advanced" playbook. I can't help but be as excited as Ratliff and all the other Cowboys players that recently talked to the media.

He'll still line up over the center on most downs, but his point of the attack will be a mystery in many of the Cowboys' nickel and dime packages.

For example, Ratliff is the lone defensive lineman in one package, joined by five linebackers and five defensive backs. In practices at the Alamodome, Ratliff has lined up at one spot on the line and moved to another before the snap.

It appears Jason Garret agrees that Ratliff should certainly be utilized in various positions and Ryan's defenses create added difficulty to offenses. In his press conferences, Garrett already mentioned that Ryan's aggressive but intelligent defense mirrors well his style of offense. A bit more controlled (he would say with poise), Garrett also seems excited at the possibilities with Ratliff, from which he is likely already learning and improving as he runs his offense against them.

 "When you're moving around a little bit more, it's that much more difficult," head coach Jason Garrett said. "I know as someone who is an offensive coach by nature, the identification of defensive guys is becoming more and more difficult. If you create a little uncertainty in the opposing offensive line and in the opposing quarterback's mind, that's going to help everybody. I think Ratliff will benefit from that."

Besides the sheer confusion factor, Ryan (and Ratliff) can also benefit from creating match-up difficulties for the offensive line. Imagine a four-man front with Ratliff lined-up over the right guard, Marcus Spears the defensive tackle over the left guard, DeMarcus Ware with his hand on the ground as the blindside defensive end. Suddenly, pre-snap shift, Ratliff leapfrogs Spears to become the defensive end in a 3-4 front as Ware steps back, and then just as things get settled, on the opposite side Spencer steps up and puts his hand on the line to make a 4-man front again.

Now imagine you are an offensive lineman calling out adjustments while cheers and noise echo throughout Cowboys stadium, trying to decipher which players are rushing and from where a blitz might be coming, trying to makes sure the o-line assignments allow for no one unblocked between the gaps, and the four man front switched to a three man front, and in the last second it became a four-man front again...as the ball is snapped you might have a sudden realization: Is that Ratliff and Ware over the left tackle? Suddenly, Ryan has created a one-on-one matchup for Ratliff or Ware, in the confusion, maybe both.

Like Jay Ratliff, I can best sum up my excitement in one word: Scheme

Sometimes the right coach and the right player meet up, and great things happen on the football field. Sometimes the same talent just seems to play better under a certain coach. Dallas may not have the talent many wish on the defense, but the players (even the All-Stars) now have the coaches (not only Garrett and Ryan) to help them play better and best utilize and achieve their potential.

"One thing that we'll be able to do is take a guy like Jay with his unique skill set and put him in the best position to win downs," defensive line coach Brian Baker said. "That may [change] from week to week, depending on the opponent and who we can get him matched up with. Jay gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility in our package."

Ryan's creativity gives opponents more reason to fear Ratliff than ever.

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