The shift to the Cover 2 Defense should help address three problematic areas of the Cowboy Defense- Tackling, Turnovers, and Pressure. But which will have the greatest improvement?
Last year, despite having PFF's 6th and 15th Best rated tackling LBs (Lee and Carter), the Dallas Defense struggled to make key open-field tackles. Cowboy fans had to endure haunting moments, such as watching Jacquiz Rodgers slip out of Orlando Scandrick's hands, or seeing Alfred Morris push Dan Connor out of the way. Per FBO, the Dallas Defense had the 11th worst tackling unit, including one of the worst tackling DBs in Danny McCray (Morris Claiborne was not much better). While it is easy to blame health, scheme might be the issue. Rob Ryan's scheme often put defenders, particularly DBs, on Islands, without tackling help. Smaller Corners like Claiborne and Scandrick were expected to make solo tackles on WRs, TEs, and RBs that were often 50LBs heavier than them! Luckily, Monte Kiffin comes to the rescue. One of the principles of his defense is gang tackling, and tackling fundamentals. LB and Saftey help will swarm towards the football whenever a WR makes an outside the numbers catch over Claiborne or Carr (Unlikely, I know). The CBs themselves will help out LBs with tackling on outside runs. Anything up the middle (Seam Passes, hitches, Interior Runs) will be gang tackled by DTs LBs, and Safties patroling the middle. Furthermore, as many members of the Cowboys Defense have pointed out, Kiffin will be focusing on fundamentals this offseason, practicing techniques, as opposed to installing crazy schemes (See Rob Ryan). Additionally, it's worth noting that Carr and Claiborne are both bulking up to improve tackling strength.
One thing Rob Ryan never accomplished during his tenure as DC was to consistently generate turnovers. In 2012, the Cowboys were 31st in Interceptions, and T-19th in Fumbles Recovered. Despite significant offseason investments and hooplah, the celebrated Cowboy Corners (Claiborne, Carr, Jenkins, and Scandrick) had a combined 4 INTs. However, there is some hope that the new Cover 2 will change this. The base Cover 2 should do two things that help generate INTs. First, the more upfield style D-Line should create more pressure (more on this in a bit), and force some bad throws. Second, our defenders should be undercutting a lot more routes. While the Corners are supposed to play with outside leverage in coverage, they can easily drift inside, move into throwing lanes, undercut routes, and ultimately pick off throws (However, CBs may not take the risk of undercutting a route unless they have reliable saftey help behind their WR). Additionally, the 4-3 LBs, specifically the OLBs, should be able to use their athleticism to undercut flat and seam routes in their zones. Bruce Carter should really shine here. In terms of fumbles, the aforementioned emphasis on group tackling and ball-swarming will likely to more strips and fumbles. Hopefully Rod Marinelli can really provide valuable lessons to the defense, and maybe teach our DBs the secret to Charles Tillman's "Peanut Punch".
This is perhaps the easiest to explain. In Rob Ryan's 3-4 Defense, the D-Linemen were mere placeholders, and were simply supposed to occupy blocks and space (Note that not all 3-4 Defenses are Like this, in Wade Phillips' and Ray Horton's Defenses, the 3-4 DEs and more active). The 3-4 OLBs were the main pass rush instruments, typically providing outside Pass Rush when they blitzed. However, Rob Ryan was very conservative with his defense, and on most downs he blitzed with only Demarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer, usually dropping one into coverage or run support. With 3 placeholders, and one true pass rusher on most plays, the Cowboys understandably struggled to get sacks (T-20th) and QB pressures. In the new Dallas Defense, the 2 DEs, and the 3-Tech DT will be "getting up field" (pass rushing, and playing the run on the way to the QB) on every play. On Rushing downs the 1-Tech DT will likely act as a placeholder, hopefully occupying 2 blocks. However, he too will be "getting up field" on passing downs. With a minimum of 3-4 dedicated pass rushers one every play, the new Dallas Defense should putting more QBs on their backs. The special part of this is that DE Demarcus Ware, DE Anthony Spencer, and 3 Tech DT Jay Ratliff have all been to Pro Bowls, and have demonstrated that they can be truly dominant players. Blitzing them on every play should generate ridiculous sack totals.
Which one has the greatest improvement? I personally think that the pass rush sees the greatest improvement. What do you think? Is it Tackling? Takeaways? Something else? Vote and Comment below!