Cowboys' Offseason Moves Geared Towards Achieving "Multiplicity"

Tyrone Crawford does the multiplicity dance

Before I start, I just gotta give it up to O.C.C., who gifted me with the vast majority of the research for this post...

Since Jason Garrett took over as the Cowboys head coach, there have been a lot of changes at Valley Ranch, ranging from the large collages of each of the five Dallas Super Bowl winning teams set up outside the meeting rooms to practicing in pads on Wednesdays and noticeably uptempo practices. Some of these changes are accompanied by concomitant rhetorical shifts. In the aftermath of the 2012 draft, for example, one of the terms thrown around with great frequency was "makeup," which was used to designate a prospective "RKG," a high-character player with positive intangibles.

Another term coming from the Dallas coaching staff of late is "multiplicity." Actually, we heard a lot of this term last summer, as Rob Ryan was installing his defense. Multiplicity is the central idea in his defensive scheme. Here at BTB, you've heard this called position versatility; Mike Mayock has called it scheme diversity. In a recent post, I noted that, in their free agency and draft acquisitions, the Cowboys have added several diverse talents: a defensive lineman who can play either inside or outside in Tyrone Crawford; Kyle Wilber, a pass rushing OLB, who, in the rookie camp, showed he can also drop into coverage; a fast, agile ILB (Dan Connor) to team with Sean Lee; and Brodney Pool and Matt Johnson, two safeties who hove shown off playmaking ability in the past.

More about multiplicity after the jump...

In the press conference at the end of the draft's second day, when they had just drafted Crawford, Jerry Jones was asked whether the Cowboys braintrust now had a different defensive end blueprint, and if they were now placing a greater premium on pass rushing ability. Jones response is classic Jerry (many thanks to O.C.C. for transcribing the presser):

Multiplicity is the name of it! And what that means is sometimes you want to be in that traditional 3-4 with the heat coming from the outside with those two standup guys, but sometimes it's nice to have four of those guys going.

Jones, who almost certainly picked up the term when it was dropped during a defensive coaches meeting, obviously struggles to define the term:

Now what that causes you to do is you have to pay all of them like ... no, I'm teasing. Seriously, we joke about that a little bit, but our defense is ... aaahhh ... Jason, talk about that...

With Jones handing him the mic, Garrett offered a more cogent definition:

...Mr. Jones mentions the multiplicity. We play a lot of multiple fronts. Hybrid type fronts, where it looks like we might have three-down [i.e., 3-4) personnel in there but we play it as a four-down [i.e., 4-3], and a lot of teams in the league do that. We feel good about that, so a lot of these players are not necessarily the fencepost defensive end, five technique, every down - that's not what we're talking about.

And similarly with our nose tackle, with Jay Ratliff, he's very rarely in a zero nose, meaning he's lined up head-up over the center. He does a lot of different things in our fronts. I think Rob Ryan does a great job providing the variety within our fronts and the versatility of our defensive linemen is a big part of that.

With multiplicity clearly defined, Jones takes back the spotlight:

That's what I meant.

What Garrett suggests is that Rob Ryan's scheme requires front-seven types who can line up anywhere, across the formation. When asked about Ryan's scheme in training camp last year, DeMarcus Ware told reporters that the defense was all about "multiplicity." By this he means positional diversity. He went on to explain:

You'll have a guy...that you know that he can rush the passer, [Ryan will] put him in there on certain packages. You'll have certain guys like me, I'll play nose guard, I'll play tackle, I'll play outside linebacker...

The point of positional diversity, Ware makes clear, is "getting guys in one-on-ones at certain positions" where they can put pressure on blocking schemes and exploit mismatches. As I pointed out in the aforementioned post, such diversity leads to confusion for the QB: when every front seven body and any of the safeties can line up anywhere in the formation, the defense can disguise the actual source of pressure by making it seem as if any - or all - of nine defenders might actually bring the heat.

After the Cowboys' thrilling week two overtime victory at San Francisco, Ware was asked about what the defense did to get the 49ers off the field in their only overtime possession. His answer?

"Getting out there and creating multiplicity. When you're havin' three linebackers out there instead of four defensive linemen, they don't know which way you're coming."

They don't know which way you're coming. That, my friends, is the key to Ryan's scheme.

Under Bill Parcells, Dallas' 3-4 was mind-numbingly predictable; under Wade Phillips, it grew stale and became equally easy to foretell. Last year, the addition of Ryan to the coaching staff promised to change that but, largely due to talent deficiencies, the Cowboys had to scale back the variety of formations and play a more straight-up version of the 3-4. Now, with an infusion of positional and schematically diverse players, expect to see "multiplicity" - and, we hope, the resultant quarterback uncertainty - in action on the field as much as we've heard about it during press conferences.

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