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Learning The Defense: Why The Dallas Cowboys Defense Should Improve In 2014

Familiarity with scheme, not new players, should have the Cowboys seeing a big improvement on defense in 2014.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Our own Dawn Macelli recently highlighted that our defense should expect to see a change in philosophy next season. For many of us, the title alone was enough to set off panic. I myself immediately began yelling at my imaginary friends calling my large circle of very real friends to complain. After raging for a while I decided to read the article. And I saw how Dawn actually phrased the changes that were coming; evolutionary vs. revolutionary.

Now for my angry imaginary friends many of us, those words sound like spin, just a way to avoid blaming Jason Garrett and the rest of the coaching staff for once again waffling and making changes to the system. But in all honesty they're not. Those words are actually a very good reason why we shouldn't panic over this upcoming philosophic shift, and why the Dallas Defense should be better this year, even without a huge influx of talent. And it all has to do with one guy, Jean Piaget, the Godfather of educational development and one of the founders of Constructivist educational theories.

According to Piaget education is basically the mental construction of schema "a basic set of knowledge that has been gained through personal experiences and defines how things should be and act in the person’s environment." As we interact with the world around us we either incorporate new experiences into our existing schema, or we have to modify our schema to fit our new experiences.

Those two ways of learning, incorporation of new experiences into existing schema or changing schema to fit new experiences, are called assimilation and accommodation respectfully. Assimilation is easy; it's the mental equivalent of putting an experience into an already marked mental file. Accommodation on the other hand, is mentally challenging. To accommodate one may have to make a new mental file, or completely scrap your old filing system and start a new one. For many people accommodation is too difficult. We've all seen it. Two people arguing in the comments, and one will bring up a set of facts to prove their point. Then the other person will refuse to acknowledge the new information, change the subject, or stop responding. That's because when assimilation and accommodation are not in balance people enter a state of disequilibrium. While disequilibrium is essential for learning it is uncomfortable and, (especially as we get older) people tend to avoid it.

So what does all that have to do with our Dallas Cowboys? Everything! Last year was, for many of our players, an extended period of disequilibrium. Most had an existing schema already in place, (the 3-4 defense), on how to play football. The concepts of our new 4-3 had to be mentally accommodated, which becomes harder as you become older, (meaning it is actually harder for veterans to adapt than for younger players). That was doubled for our corners who not only had to accommodate a new defensive scheme, but also new positional techniques, (press man vs. zone). Since these were entirely new concepts our players were only accommodating, not assimilating, meaning they were basically in a state of disequilibrium all year.

By now, the new concepts should be integrated into new schema, meaning that our players are now in a state of equilibrium. Rod Marinelli's new philosophic changes will be assimilated into existing schema, meaning players will not have to worry about disequilibrium. So this year, not only will our players not be playing with a mental handicap, (being in a state of disequilibrium), they will be able to incorporate new ideas and techniques easier and faster, (as the new incorporation will be assimilation not accommodation). Our players should not only have a better baseline of development, the coaches will now be able to start installing some of the more advanced features of the defense. Fear the Swarm.

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