"I want to express my appreciation to Rob for all of his efforts and contributions to the Cowboys over the past two years. At this time, the decision has been made to move forward in a different direction philosophically on defense..."- Head Coach Jason Garrett, via Ft. Worth Star Telegram
Wow, fire up the "What About" wagons!
With the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Dallas Cowboys are set to move into a new era of defensive football. Ryan came to Dallas with a reputation (whether deserved or not) as the schemer of exotic blitzes and mesmerizing defensive schemes. Unfortunately, the circumstances in Big D never allowed that to materialize. The first year was marred by the lockout; implementing a intricate scheme with no offseason is a recipe for disaster. This year, his scheme never got the chance to materialize as injuries prevented him from playing players in the manner he hoped.
Regardless, the job didn't get done and now he is no longer with the team. The 2012 Cowboys gave up the most yards in franchise history and forced the fewest turnovers ever. Teams with Ryan at the defensive helm are now 41-87 for his career. The Cowboys, whether this move made by Jerry was with or without Garrett's blessing or insistence, felt a new direction was needed.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones promised last week that he would consult outside counsel on his team before making decisions on the future. According to a source, the reviews of now-fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan weren't good, despite him having to play with an injury-riddled unit. The Cowboys found that his schemes and philosophy at times were unsound. They also felt he was inconsistent in his attack,
So now that Rob is gone, which direction does Dallas go? It has a vacancy to fill and there are quite a few premises being floated around the Webisphere on what the next step will be. When "Black Monday" hit last week, I made it a point to voice my stance on things. I wasn't going to campaign for Rob Ryan to go; however I wasn't going to act like it wouldn't make sense. I said that if a DC's only career accomplishment is keeping a team together by duct tape and string, that's not enough to keep him from being upgraded. Two of the first situations to happen last week piqued my interest.
The first name I think should be discussed is Ray Horton. The former Cowboys defender has been the Arizona Cardinals coordinator for the last couple of seasons. He was said to be on Garrett's list of potential hires back in 2010. Horton's Cardinals actually do run an exotic scheme of blitzers and he's made stars out of players such as Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Daryl Washington (who competes with Sean Lee for title of best young ILB in the game). The Cardinals fired both their head coach and GM last week, but Horton is still under contract should the new coach want to retain him. He's actually interviewed for the head coach spot. If he's let loose, the Cowboys would be wise to jump at him should they chose to stay in the 3-4. Click this link to read up on what Horton was doing in the desert.
What about 3-4 scheme candidates from the collegiate ranks? Kirby Smart of Alabama has coordinated back-to-back national champions. There is no word on whether or not he'd be willing to listen to offers. There's also Todd Grantham, as mentioned in this article from ESPN. Grantham was the D-Line coach under Wade Phillips.
Maybe someone in house? DBs coach Jerome Henderson or maybe even the guy I've been signing the praises of, linebackers coach Matt Eberflus could be considered. Eberflus has turned Almost Anthony into Attaboy Anthony, and helped in the meteoric rise of Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. For all the accolades people gave Ryan for overcoming injuries, Eberflus is the one that worked daily with the likes of Ernie Sims, Alex Albright and Brady Poppinga to get them ready each Sunday.
But what if the Cowboys want to go in a completely different direction? Like switching back to a 4-3 defense? Would that work, is that the new philosophical direction?
Some folks think that the 3-4 OLB and the 4-3 DE are one and the same; they aren't. 3-4 OLBs are a couple inches shorter and about 15-20 lbs lighter in most cases. Of course the 4-3 DE has less coverage responsibilities than the 3-4 linebacker does. Without getting too detailed, all parts don't fit both defenses. But do the Cowboys parts?
Lovie Smith was fired from being head coach of the Chicago Bears. He's currently being interviewed for new head coaching gigs, but if he doesn't get one, maybe he'll want to be a DC again.
He runs a Tampa 2 defense that has been able to create turnovers for years. The Cowboys definitely have two stud linebackers that could manage the coverage responsibilities, but do they have the secondary to play it? Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were brought in to play a heavy-press scheme. They weren't able to due to injury and a Tampa 2 defense wouldn't really play to their strengths.
Also, is Anthony Spencer capable of playing strongside DE? Sure, Ware could manage his side as the pass rusher, but Spencer head to head with tackles each play might not work so well. The Cowboys have plenty of players that could man that spot, in Jason Hatcher and Tyrone Crawford specifically. That could work out if they let Spencer go in free agency, but do they have to prototypcial 1-technique defensive tackle?
Hanging out with two cool dudes on twitter, @Jickes1 (who pens great FanPosts here) and @TheBoMartinShow, I spitballed a new idea.
What about going with the Wide 9? it's a perfect scheme for undersized defensive ends (which Ware and Spencer are, and so is Victor Butler for that matter) and we have the elite linebackers that Philadelphia didn't to make it a sound defense. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter could do what the turnstiles in Philly couldn't. To that effect, the Eagles let Jim Washburn go midseason. There were reports that he was undermining Juan Castillo however, so I don't know how well that would fit with Jason Garrett.
These are just a few of the names and ideas that are out there. I haven't even mentioned guys like Eric Mangini or Romeo Crennel. The Cowboys very well could already have their man in place. Heck, some folks might not even be interested in joining the Cowboys circus. As @Jickes1 said, this is "probably best DC position available now... So much talent at key spots..." Whether or not you agree with Ryan being let go, he's not here anymore. Who will fill that chair in the meeting room?