Just a few weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys were a 3-4 defense that wanted to run man-to-man coverage across the board. When Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett came to an agreement that the defense needed a "philosophical change", they quickly removed Rob Ryan and pursued the creator of the famed Tampa-2 defense.
Monte Kiffin is one of the most legendary defensive minds in the history of football. He took the Cover-2 scheme and reinvented it to his liking. While many fans aren't happy with the change from the 3-4 to a 4-3, the Cowboys are beginning to look at the big picture and want to make changes that will give them the best opportunity to win football games.
Since Bill Parcells came to Dallas and moved them from the 4-3 to the 3-4, the Cowboys have had mixed results. There were times when the defense looked great, but the Dallas 3-4 was a defense that failed to generate a lot of turnovers. The Tampa-2 is a defense that is known for the ability to generate a lot of interceptions and forced fumbles.
While the scheme may seem confusing, it's actually one of the easier defenses to run on the NFL level. Rob Ryan's defense was a complicated scheme that never really seemed to click. Kiffin's Tampa-2 is going to focus on simplifying the scheme for his players. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks explains that Kiffin's defense is about playing disciplined and simple football.
"He believes in discipline football, simplifying it, everybody knowing what you've been doing. Very similar to what Chicago is doing now."
Since Wade Phillips was fired, I wanted to move back to a 4-3 defense that focused on making things easier for the players. Back in 2010, Paul Pasqualoni ran a simpler defense that utilized more zone coverage and the defense responded by generating more turnovers. If Kiffin can successfully install the techniques and fundamentals, then the Cowboys should be able to field a defense that can finally force more turnovers.
As KD Drummond and rabblerousr touched on earlier, we have great personnel for this defense. Maybe we need a defensive end, but you can find 4-3 defensive ends a lot easier than you can 3-4 ends. We obviously have the athletic linebackers needed for the Tampa-2, so that isn't really a concern. In fact, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter could become superstars in this scheme. The cornerback situation may be somewhat concerning, but Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are talented enough to play in any defense.
The biggest hole on the defense right now is the safety position. This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the Cowboys haven't had good safety play in a very long time. If I sound like a broken record, I do apologize, but safeties are hard to find. The Cowboys simply have not placed enough of an emphasis on the position, but their scouting department has also done a poor job of evaluating talent at safety.
The Cowboys have no choice but to address their need at the position. Larry Lacewell is a former scouting director of the Cowboys, but he also has a close relationship with Kiffin from their time spent coaching against each other in college. Lacewell offered his take on how the Cowboys' personnel fits with Kiffin's scheme.
"The one position I don’t have clear in my head for them is the g--damn safety," Lacewell said. "I don’t know who it is. I don’t know who the hell it is."
Lacewell did support the idea of Barry Church being a good fit, but he wasn't very supportive of Gerald Sensabaugh. We still don't know if Church is going to come back from his torn Achilles and perform at the level he was prior to the injury. If Church can come back healthy, then he can be the leader that Kiffin needs in his secondary.
Matt Johnson was basically a wasted draft pick this season, but hopefully he comes back healthy next year and shows the Cowboys that he was worth the wait. Regardless, it's still not clear what Johnson can bring to the table.
As for Sensabaugh, he had one of his worst seasons as a member of the Cowboys. He's always played solid football, but he appeared to look slower and displayed a lot of poor technique. In the Tampa-2, Sensabaugh would be responsible for playing half of the field. Asking him to do that is going to be a real stretch.
The safeties in the Tampa-2 need to be able to cover a lot ground, but they also must be instinctive and physical. Ideally, you really want one of the safeties to be a physical force who sets the tone with big hits. As for the other safety, he should be a cover guy who has the speed, athleticism and ball skills to make plays on the ball.
Maybe that's something every defense wants in their safeties, but the Cowboys are moving to a defensive system that is going to emphasis good safety play more than they ever have before. Safeties are hard to find, and it makes sense that the Buccaneers were thrilled when Mark Barron fell into their laps last April.
The 2013 NFL Draft offers the Cowboys the opportunity to finally address their need at safety. We will get into those prospects on BTB later this offseason, but there are two names to keep in mind.
At this moment, Kenny Vaccaro is one of the only safeties that I would give a first-round draft grade on. If he is there when the Cowboys pick at 18, he could be a phenomenal pick that solves a big hole in the secondary. T.J. McDonald is another name that should interest the Cowboys this April. Kiffin coached McDonald during his tenure at USC, and he fits the criteria Kiffin is looking for.
Do you see the Cowboys entering the 2013 season operating out of a new defense with their current personnel grouping at safety? Have at it in the comment section and give us your take on the safety situation.