FanPost

Cowboys Myths... The 4-3 Switch...


This is the 2nd part of a series I'm doing in which I will address several myths out there about things the Cowboys organization should do that would put them in a better position to succeed long term. I apologize if my first post was misleading, I was planning to do multiple myths in a single post, but as I was addressing the Romo Replacement issue, I realized adding a 2nd issue would make the post much too lengthy.

Now, on to our myth...

Myth #2: The Cowboys should switch their Defense back to the 4-3 because....

A)They don't have a true 3-4 NT

B)It's easier to draft personnel for the 4-3

C) They won their Super Bowls in the 90's running a 4-3 so they can do it again now!


Take the jump to find out why none of these hold any true merit...

First of all, Let's tackle the Nose...

When you talk about a 3-4 NT most people think of a gargantuan of a man, someone like Casey Hampton of the Steelers, or BJ Raji of the Packers. These players are 6'1" tall and 325lbs, and 6'2" 337lbs respectively, while Dallas' starting NT Jay Ratliff stands 6'4" tall and weighs only 287lbs. Many people believe that this is a very big (pun intended) reason why the Cowboy's defense hasn't been successful over the last few years. While men like Raji and Hampton, do not necessarily represent liabilities in the Pass Rush department, the reason why most 3-4 teams have a very large NT, is to be able play a 2 gap technique (control the blocker in front of you, and have run responsibility on either side) and draw multiple blockers, allowing the ILB's to run freely because they don't have OG's running freely to the second level to block them in the run game. Thus having that stout 325+lb NT on the inside will improve their run defense to a level that will allow them to win more games. However, if we look at the numbers for the Cowboys run defense we see some interesting facts.

The Cowboys finished the 2011 season T-11th in Yards per Carry with a 4.1 yds/carry average. The top 2 teams (SF, Baltimore) in the NFL last year averaged 3.5 yds/carry against. That puts the Cowboys .6 yds per carry from being at the top of the league. Dallas' defense also gave up only 99.1 yards per game in 2011, good enough for 7th in the NFL. The 49ers demolished the rest of the league in this category, averaging 77.2 yards against, and the RAvens were 2nd at 92.6 yards against. So again a very small (6.5 yards/game) difference between the Cowboys and the top couple of teams in the NFL. One of the most important aspects of run defense is preventing explosive plays or runs of 20 yards or more. In 2011, the Cowboys allowed only 7 plays of 20 or more yards, including 3 in the first game against the Eagles. The top 2 run defenses in the league (SF & Baltimore) each allowed 4 of these explosive rushes.

As you can see by looking at these numbers you see that the Cowboys run defense was on par with some of the best in the league, falling in the top 10 in several categories and falling outside the top 10 by .1 yard per carry in that category. So we can see that the run defense was not the problem for the Cowboys defense, and therefore the absense of a large NT is not a reason to switch the base alignment of the defense to a 4-3.

Drafting for the 4-3 vs the 3-4

Many fans remember when Bill Parcells took over the Cowboys HC job and switched the defense to a 3-4. What many people don't remember, is that one of the stated reasons for making that switch is the fact that it is easier to draft players for a 3-4 scheme and less expensive to re-sign those players. Most defensive players can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, however the most significant difference you see is the primary pass rushers for a 3-4 team and a 4-3 team. A 3-4 team relies on their OLB's to get pressure on the QB, primarily the Will Backer, sometimes called a Jack or Joker by coaches in hybrid schemes, while 4-3 teams use their defensive ends to rush the passer.

To illustrate my point I'm going to use NFL Rookie Combine data for 5 highly touted and successful 4-3 DE's and compare that to the same data for 5 successful 3-4 OLB's who specialize in getting after the QB. This data is courtesy of nfldraftscout.com.

4-3 DE Ht Wt 40 3 cone shuttle vert broad bench reps
M. Williams 6'7" 290 4.65 7.21 4.37 40.5 10' 35
J. Peppers 6'6" 283 4.74 dnp dnp dnp dnp dnp
J. Allen 6'6" 265 4.72 7.11 4.34 33 10' 13
J. Pierre Paul 6' 4.5" 270 4.71 7.18 4.67 30.5 9'7" 19
K. Vanden Bosch 6'4" 270 4.76 6.82 4.08 37.5 9'11" 26
Average 6"5" 275.6 4.716 7.08 4.365 35.375 9'10.5" 23.25

3-4 OLB Ht Wt 40 3 cone shuttle vert broad bench reps
D. Ware 6'4" 251 4.56 6.85 4.07 38.5 10'2" 27
B. Orakpo 6'3" 263 4.63 7.26 4.45 39.5 10'10" 31
A. Smith 6'4" 263 4.74 7.19 4.5 34 9'10" 20
T. Suggs 6'4" 257 4.65 dnp dnp dnp dnp dnp
C. Barwin 6' 3.5" 256 4.59 6.87 4.18 40.5 10'8" 21
Average 6' 3.7" 258 4.634 7.0425 4.3 38.125 10' 4.5" 24.75

As you look at this information, we see that at the time they entered the league, our 5 DE's were 1.3 inches taller, and 17.6 lbs heaver, while running within 1/10th of a second of the OLB's in each of the speed and agility drills, and jumping within just a few inches of the OLB's in the leaping drills. The agility and jumping data doesn't include Julius Peppers or Terrell Suggs who did not participate in those drills. However you have to believe that adding Peppers' running and jumping would have only helped the DE's considering he played basketball at North Carolina.

The 4-3 DE is very similar to the true Center in basketball. Finding a person with a frame that large, that can move that well is a very very rare thing to find. To show the difference in value, look at the 2 DE's with the prototype size and speed combination, Peppers and Williams, and their current contracts. In 2010 Peppers signed a 6 yr $84 million contract with $42 million guaranteed, and this off-season we saw Mario Williams ink a deal with the Bills for 6 years and up to $100 million if he earns the $4 million in incentives with $50 million in guarantees. When we compare this with the 7 year $79 million deal with $40 million guaranteed, signed by Demarcus Ware in 2009, we can see that even though no pass rusher has equaled #94's production in his first 7 seasons, the prototype DE has more value than the prototype 3-4 OLB.

As I have said before, 4-3 teams win with personnel, 3-4 teams win with scheme. Having only 3 down linemen gives the DC a ton of flexibility in where to bring pressure from, who to drop in coverage and who is the force player against the run.

They played a 4-3 in the 90's

I don't really even think this deserves too much discussion. Do you wear the same clothes you wore when you were in college in 1992 and dated the hottest girl on campus? Or do you use the same computer you used 15 years ago? Do you still carry your walkman around in your fanny pack and listen to Vanilla Ice casette tapes? I don't think so, and just because it worked for them at one point nearly 20 years ago doesnt mean it is what is best for them now.

Conclusion:

As currently constructed, the 3-4 is the best base defensive alignment for the Cowboys, but it is important to remember, especially with a guy like Rob Ryan as your DC, it doesn't matter what your front 7 looks like before the snap, what really matters is what technique they are playing (one gap, two gap) on any particular play, who is coming after the QB, who is the force player vs the run, and who rushes with contain principles, those are the things that define a defense, not where they line up before the play even starts.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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