Ever since Bill Parcells converted the Dallas Cowboys to a 3-4 defense, the organization has been drafting players and signing free agents who fit that scheme. In the secondary, the difference wasn't as great, but at linebacker and along the line, there are definitely big differences in the kind of players you want. Not only are the Cowboys changing the overall scheme, they are going to a particular brand of the 4-3 that requires certain skill sets. Can they make the transition quick enough for the 2013 defense to excel? Let's look at the pros and cons.
1. Kiffin/Marinelli: The Cowboys have not one, but two of the best defensive minds in the game. Monte Kiffin's long track record (excluding the college game) has been one of remarkable excellence. Sure, he's had the occasional clunker team along the way, but when he gets the right guys in his system, it's a defense that stifles points allowed by creating turnovers. Rod Marinelli is cut from the same cloth and ran a turnover-creating machine for the Bears last season. Remember what they did to Dallas?
2. Simplicity: Anybody who has watched the Cowboys defense over the last few years has seen them scrambling around, making last-second calls, and being caught unaware when they play begins. For whatever reason, this defense could never sync-up the multiple schemes run by Rob Ryan. This year, that shouldn't be a big problem. While not as simplistic as sometimes portrayed, the Tampa-2, as far as NFL schemes go, is one of the easiest to learn. This should help the Cowboys defense.
3. Ware/Spencer Rushing The Passer: In the 3-4, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer had to spend time covering a zone instead of rushing the passer. This year, that won't happen. Ware is one of the all-time great pass rushers, and Spencer seemed to finally blossom last year. Having them both rushing the passer on every pass play could turn into a feeding frenzy.
1. New System: No matter how simple a system is to learn, it's still new. To play good defense, you need to be able to react correctly without having to stop and think. Usually this is only accomplished by constant repetition. So looking for players to understand all the nuances and play with speed and aggression, while making correct reads, is a tall order for the 2013 season.
2. Turnovers: A lot of the success of this new defense is predicated on getting turnovers. The Cowboys haven't exactly been successful on that front. Can the new scheme make it happen, or do you need the right kind of players and skill-sets to create the turnovers? Can the mindset and execution change in one offseason?
3. The Right Fit: As mentioned before, the Cowboys have been bringing in players for years now to play a 3-4. How will some of these players fare? Can Sean Lee moved backwards into deep coverage as well as he attacks downhill? How will Ware and Spencer fare with a full game's pounding each week against mammoth tackles? Can Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne play zone; can they be physical corners against the run as required by the scheme? Do we have a safety to play deep?
So what do you think? Will be much better on defense, about the same, or will we have significant growing pains?