Should the Dallas Cowboys Go Back To A 4-3 Base Defense?


There has been a lot of talk both positive and negative in the press about the impact Rob Ryan will have on the Dallas defense. I decided to do a break down on the scheme, to give the fans an opportunity to actually see the scheme and decide for themselves.

One thing to note is that Rob Ryan was heavily influenced by his father, Buddy Ryan, who was one of the best defensive minds to ever coach the game. All old school Dallas fans like my dad, remember him as a nemesis to the Cowboys. Many defensive coordinators in the league have formulated their schemes based on some aspect of the mechanics Ryan used. Offensive Coordinators had a long week preparing to face him.

In short yardage situations Ryan likes to use his fathers “46” defense. It is a unique scheme. On the out side of the left side a LB lines up with his inside foot on the TE’s outside foot on the scrimmage line. Another LB lines up with his outside foot on the TE’s inside foot on the scrimmage line. Another LB is heads up on the tackle like 41/2 yds from the scrimmage line. The left end is shaded out side of the guard. The LT is is heads up on the center. The RT is shaded out side of the guard. The RE lines up 1 yard outside the offensive tackle. The SS is is heads up on the offensive tackle 4.5 yds from scrimmage and the CB’s are in their normal position.

The “46″ defense utilizes basic 4-3 personnel, with a bit of finazz. If you check out the alignment .You can see that all of the down-linemen are shifted to the weak side of the formation. The three linebackers are all lined up over the strong-side offensive tackle or even further out.

Ryan generally uses the defense only in short-yardage situations, although he will dial up zone variations of the “46″ in other situations which are meant to confuse the quarterback.

In addition to Ryan’s traditional three and four-man fronts, he also uses alignments that invoke just two, one, and even zero down-linemen. As Code and Football writes:

“Nickel fronts arise when, from the 3-4 you replace a defensive end with a rush linebacker. Psycho fronts happen when both defensive ends in a 3-4 are replaced with a rush linebacker. You can also go from a four man front to a nickel front by replacing both defensive ends with rush linebackers. I’ve seen substitutions that look like 4-3 over and under defenses where the weak side DE has been replaced with a rush linebacker. These end up appearing as if they are very shifted 3-4 fronts.”

If you remember the Browns vs. Saints game, you could see Ryan’s cloud front. You could see an abundance of rush linebackers and defensive backs “floating” around before the snap, giving Drew Brees no indication of who might be rushing.

Knowing that Ryan wants to utilize an abundance of aggressive pass-rushers, perhaps using more of the 4-3 and 46 fronts is a better idea for the Cowboys overall. The 3-4 requires a special type of personnel. Namely a NT of at least 330 lbs. Ratliff is undersized for the position and is in more cases than not, only drawing one on ones and being contained by average centers. The whole concept of a successful front is the ability to collapse the pocket. The NT is supposed to draw double teams to be able to free up the other players around him to get pressure on the QB. He is also supposed to be able to create a pile in the middle to plug up the running lanes.

It sure would be scary to see DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer lined up as the defensive ends. Spencer was a dominant DE in college and there is a lot of talk that he isn’t getting enough pressure on the QB as an OLB.  Most people don’t realize that this is because he isn’t rushing as much as Ware. He is forced to play the run and drop in to coverage a lot in the 3-4.

In the 4-3, Spencer would be rushing a lot more. The younger and more athletic LB’s (Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, and Dan Connor) the Cowboys have, could handle the coverage. With Rats lack of size he is better suited to play the 3 technique in a 4-3 front. With Sean Lissemore being bigger than Rat, I like the idea of him playing the 1 technique.

All in all, with the talent the Cowboys have, I would expect to see a huge difference in the pass rush, using the scenario I just mentioned. Imagine an OC trying to scheme against Jay Ratliff and Demarcus Ware side by side on the line. With Lissemore plugging up the middle and Spencer rushing from the same side. There has to be improvement. This scheme has worked well for the Giants.

I am sure there may be some fans who don’t quite understand what a 3 technique, a 5 technique, (the 5 is the DE in a 3-4) and a 1 technique are. Basically this is just a name assigned to a player based on which gap he is responsible for. I have inserted a diagram below that shows the positions and gaps in a 4-3.

As you can see in the diagram above, the 4-3 is not only easier to get pressure from, but when Landry designed the system, he did so with the thought in mind of freeing up the MLB to blitz up the middle. You can see the basic gap responsibilities for the LB’s as well. With 4 men on the line instead of 3, many coaches believe it is also to easier to defend the run in a 4-3.

Leaving the intricacies of the theoretical benefits to each system aside, the real issue is finding players to fit your scheme. The bottom line is, with more and more defenses going to the 3-4, it is much more difficult to find decent players in the draft because most colleges use a 4-3 system. Don’t forget, the Cowboys won all of their championships with a 4-3 defense. The 4-3 was a major factor in Landrys’ 20 consecutive winning seasons as well. Doomsday left Dallas with the switch to the 3-4 base defense. If it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it. Obviously the Cowboys have failed miserably at acquiring the proper personnel for a 3-4 system. It is clear that the defense has been broken for quite some time. It may not have been broken when they switched to a 3-4, but it is now, so it’s time to fix it.

Based on the current personnel on the Cowboys roster, they are much better manned to run a 4-3 system.

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