On February 2nd, Bob Sturm posted this comment from NFL analyst Pat Kirwan (http://sturminator.blogspot.com/):
"We always talk about the 3-4 outside linebackers when talking with Bill Cowher, and he wants to start with his defensive ends. Go study the tapes. Aaron Smith sets up a lot of things. He's so good that he forces the tackle to go with him into the B-gap and then the outside rusher is on a back. The guys that build (the 3-4 schemes) will tell you to start right there (with the defensive ends). Not with the outside linebackers. They are the finishing touch - we are going to set it up so that they are going to be on backs a lot, and when that happens, you are going to win."
I tend to agree and believe that Dallas' greatest defensive deficiency on the front seven is the lack of a consistent pressure player at the 3-4 defensive end position (http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2012/1/29/2755797/is-the-problem-anthony-spencer-or-is-he-the-victim-of-his-surroundings). According to reports, the Cowboys are seriously considering moving Jay Ratliff to defensive end next season. The development of Sean Lissemore on limited snaps may be the catalyst for this move finally taking place (http://www.bloggingtheboys.com/2012/2/9/2786800/dallas-cowboys-pro-football-focus-trending-players). This looks to be a step in the right direction according to Pat.
"I think if you were playing a true 3-4, then Ratliff should not be a nose tackle. He should be out, just like Vince Wilfork, who is playing more as a 5-technique quite a bit now and I think Haloti Ngata got everybody creatively thinking about how to do it. But as long as you are playing basically a 4-3 defense and Ratliff is basically a 1-gap player, he's ok there."
Under Parcells, Dallas ran a more traditional 3-4 defense. Wade ran the Phillips-version of the 3-4. Rob Ryan had his tendencies, and as stated by Kirwan, Ryan's defense, like those of his predecessors became stale due to a lack of flexibility with personnel. The 3-4 defense is most potent when the coverage schemes are unpredictable.
"You better do it [drop Ware into coverage] once in a while, because if you don't, they will just call him the end in the protection schemes and the tackle is always going to turn to him. And the guard will always turn to the "5-technique" and the back will always be on the (inside) linebacker.
Most guys treat Dallas as if they are a 4-3 defense. They don't believe DeMarcus is ever going to drop and they don't believe the other guy is that much of a threat, so they look at you as if you are what we call a "4-3 Under". If you stop the film right after the snap, the Cowboys look just like a 4-3 Under defense all of the time."
At a press conference, Jason Garrett mentioned that the Cowboys would consider moving to more of a 4-3 base defensive front in 2012. In reality, the Cowboys play a similar scheme in nickel situations when Ware and Spencer act as 4-3 defensive ends, with Ratliff moving to defensive tackle.
According to Kirwan, opposing offensive coordinators have their blocking schemes based on a "4-3 Under" look that the Cowboys essentially employ. Notice the phrase, "...they don't believe the other guy is that much of a threat."
Pat is referring to Anthony Spencer. Since the defensive ends are not attracting the offensive tackles to help the guards, Spencer is consistently required to beat an offensive tackle. The same could be said for Ware, as none of the defensive ends are attracting the offensive tackle into the B-gap: DeMarcus is just better.
Today Bob Sturm makes the argument against the acquisition of Mario Williams. His final analysis consists of, "Basically, what I am saying is that Ware and Williams are birds of a feather. You cannot have both and still have a sound 3-(http://sturminator.blogspot.com/)."
I believe that Sturm, however, missed some very obvious points in his column. This will be the biggest contract Mario will sign in his career. He is currently 27 years old and this contract will likely be at least 5 years in length. If he sees the contract through to its conclusion, he will be 32 years old.
Therefore, it would come as a surprise if he did not follow the money. Consequently, every team with cap space is in play: including the Cowboys. If Dallas signs him, there is no reason why Dallas could not play him alongside Ware on the blindside as a 3-4 defensive end on first down and some second downs.
Mario seems to fit the mold of pressure 5-technique defensive ends. He has the size and the power to anchor as well as pressure the passer.
Justin Smith: 6'4", 285 (DE, SF)
Aaron Smith: 6' 5", 298 (DE, PIT)
Calais Campbell: 6' 8", 300 (DE, ARI)
J.J. Watt: 6' 5", 288 (DE, HOU)
Antonio Smith: 6' 4", 280 (DE, HOU)
Jared Odrick: 6' 5", 304 (DE, MIA)
Pernell McPhee: 6' 3", 280 (DE, BAL)
Stephen Bowen: 6' 5", 306 (DE, WAS)
Jay Ratliff: 6' 4", 287 (NT/DE, DAL)
Mario Williams: 6' 6", 283 (DE/OLB, HOU)
Wes Bunting had this to say about Mario Williams in comparison to Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina) (http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/02/cowboys-draft-2012-good-fits-for-4-3.html):
"Williams was more powerful on contact. He was explosive, but he wanted to play in contact. He was long and he could fend off blocks. And there were not any motor questions with him. He played hard play-in and play-out. He was a little raw, needed to use his hands better. Overall, he was more of a force physically than Quinton Coples."
Although Bunting is referring to Coples as a 4-3 end or tackle, realize that Bunting has also noted in the past that Coples could play end in the 3-4. In addition, the Cowboys had Mario Williams as the best player available in the 2006 NFL draft, when Bill Parcells was playing the more traditional 3-4 defense.
Mario Williams seems to have the physical attributes to play the 3-4 defensive end position and then switch to defensive end in a traditional 4-3, which Dallas employs in nickel packages. Remember that Rob Ryan switched Oakland's 3-4 front with Warren Sapp to a 4-3 in order to take better advantage of the individual talents of each player.
Ryan also likes to utilize players with position flexibility. The word "multiplicity" was bandied about in training camp last season from almost all of the defensive players. Mario Williams' positional flexibility could be maximized under a scheme like Ryan's.
If Mario were to line up next to Ware, either Williams or DeMarcus would face many single man-on-man opportunities due to presence of the other premier pressure player. If Mario was able to consistently attract the attention of the offensive tackle in the B-gap, Ware would find himself taking on tight ends and running backs on a regular basis. Conversely, if the offensive tackle stayed on Ware, Mario would be mano-a-mano with a much slower guard.
On the opposite side, the Cowboys could have Spencer/Butler alongside Ratliff, with an improved Lissemore at the nose in a base 3-4. Ratliff might do for Spencer/Butler, what Williams would be projected to do for Ware. After listening to Bryan Broaddus state that the Cowboys may franchise Spencer, I tend to think as Rafael Vela does: (http://www.cowboysnation.com/2012/02/its-fibbing-seasons-eve.html) this is lip-service and nothing is really being decided. That $9 million cap-hit would be put to better use with Mario Williams.
This would also afford Dallas the opportunity to drop Ware into pass coverage more often while sending Ratliff, Lissemore, and Williams. The front would still be expected to provide pressure with those three rushing the passer. The added benefit of making the Cowboys defense more unpredictable would yield long-term benefits, such as turnovers.
Employing that strategy (dropping Ware) now, just gives opposing quarterbacks plenty of time to wait for receivers to break into the clear. This is what Kirwan sees as the biggest deficiency currently on the Cowboys front.
It makes me nervous to disagree with a football mind such as Sturm. He has shown great insight in the past. But I believe that Mario Williams would solve many of the issues Kirwan brought up on his show last week.
How about you?