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Trying To Keep It Simple In Dallas

If you are looking for a theme for what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish during the offseason, it might be this: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

Let us speak no more, for a while, of Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett, loose lips and media frenzy. I've pretty much milked that story as far as I can, anyway.

The OTAs have drawn to a close. The mandatory minicamp is next week, but I think I can already spot something that is the overall theme for the Cowboys this year. The team seems to really be implementing the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

This is most obvious with the Monte Kiffin/Rod Marinelli defensive makeover. There has been a lot of talk about how the assignments are much less complicated. The big change is for the defensive line, where the job is now to rush the quarterback. All Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware talked about that in an interview with Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

Ware said he's excited about the new defense because its simple and it allows the players to be more aggressive. He said the Cowboys are already seeing a difference in practices now. "I'm real excited with the way that we are playing," Ware said. "Guy aren't thinking so much. They aren't a lot of mistakes. When we go through each day there is a chart we go through on how many mistakes we made, how many turnovers, how many missed plays. There aren't a lot of missed plays and lot of errors. we are making more plays and getting more turnovers. I think that is what we needed."

There is an old saying that simple solutions are the best. It is hard to argue with that in this case. The Cowboys had multiple issues with the complexity of Rob Ryan's scheme last year, including penalties, blown assignments, and getting exactly 11 players on the field. The classic Kiffin/Marinelli approach should help a great deal with all those issues. And it looks like it will maximize the talents of several of Dallas' key defenders, including Ware, Anthony Spencer, Sean Lee, and Bruce Carter. And Kiffin is not even planning on implementing his full scheme to start the season, according to a remark he made in an interview with Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

"It takes some time, there's no doubt about it," Kiffin said. "I don't care what the defense, when you install a new defense, it takes time, there's no doubt about it. But our players have really done a good job. You can't do everything. You just have to decide where to draw the line, go with this and make it work."

On offense, the idea is not so much to simplify the scheme, but to simplify the execution. I had a long virtual talk with Joey Ickes about the new Erhardt-Perkins scheme (which always sounds vaguely medical to me, involving some bizarre apparatus). The idea of E-P is not to really change the way the plays are run, but the way they are called. Joey explained that there is a simple pattern used: Formation-alignment-motion-protection-route combination (for a pass, runs would have a different but equally simple sequence). Those five terms, whatever actual terminology is applied, let you set up almost any play now existing. It can be taken even further, such as it has been in New England, when some plays are set up as single words, for audibles. The idea is to get the play faster to the QB, who can call it faster in the huddle or at the line, and then there is more time to read the defense and decide if an audible is needed.

The 12 formation, on the other hand, provides a simplified personnel package that gives the opposing defense little to key on. Both Coty Saxman, in his recent post on the value of having two tight ends, and Fanposter DubBe in his 4 Point Stance post give excellent explanations about how this one formation lets the team run almost any play, and makes it very hard for the opponent to adjust their personnel. And with that flexibility, it is the perfect group to go hurry-up/no-huddle. The defense doesn't have time to substitute and whoever is calling the plays still can use almost anything in the playbook, since the tight ends can function as blockers or receivers.

Speaking of the playbook, that whole episode I said I was not addressing was really, at the root, all about the owner and general manager forcing or encouraging or talking his head coach into simplifying his responsibilities. Although it is always risky to try and assign a clear meaning to the utterances and actions of Jerry Jones, I do believe that he did see that Garrett had a bit too much on his plate right now, with trying to remake the entire team in his desired image and fix all the problems from last year. Whether he is right or wrong about that, it does seem clear he stepped in here. And there is a pretty good chance that this was a good move. (Remember, I am talking about what is simple on the field, not how it all got hashed out in public off the field.) I have always believed that the execution of plays was much more important than the play selection, anyway, so who is selecting specific calls is not such a big deal. Besides, one of the features that will almost certainly continue is the use of the "Kill, kill" calls, where Tony Romo goes to the line with two plays that can be run out of the same formation, a pass and a run. As Joey was pointing out, he goes up with one ready (say, in this case, a run on first down). Then he sees the other team walking a safety up to have eight in the box, and he uses the kill to go to the pass play, looking to get one of his receivers deep against single coverage. This is where the 12 formation and the E-P system and the placalling all join together. You use simple components, which the team can spend time working on to get right, and combined they have plenty of flexibility without complexity.

I don't think the Cowboys had an overall plan to go simple in multiple areas, I just think they were looking for solutions, and as it turns out, the saying is valid. Simple solutions are usually the best.

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