The Safeties are Not Interchangeable in the Dallas Cowboy Defense


This is the final installment of, Debunking the Monte Kiffin Myths. To Recap: In Part 1 we addressed the Myth that Kiffin just runs the Tampa 2 Defense. In Part 2 we debunked the myth that the Tampa 2 was a version of the Cover 2. Also in Part 2 we took a look at the myth that Hatcher and/or Ratliff will fill the role of “Warren Sapp” in this defense. And yesterday we shot down the Myth that Monte Kiffin’s Defense is Easy.

Today we address the myth that the safeties in Monte Kiffin’s Defense are interchangeable…

Myth: The Free Safety and the Strong Safety are the Same in Kiffin’s Defense

Sep 11, 2011; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) is pressured by Dallas Cowboys defensive back Barry Church (42) during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

News recently broke that Barry Church will NOT be playing the Strong Safety but rather the Free Safety entering training camp. This news surprised many people as Church is best suited as an in-the-box type safety and may lack the speed to succeed as a traditional free safety.

Our worries were pacified when some proclaimed there was little difference in the Tampa 2 between the Free Safety and the Strong Safety.

They said it wouldn’t matter who was playing where. It’s only important we have 2 of them.

It doesn’t take much film study to see this is blatantly wrong. There is a difference between the two safety positions – even in Monte Kiffin’s Defense. John Lynch wasn’t interchangeable in Tampa Bay. He played the position that fit his strengths. He didn’t play as a generic one-size-fits-all safety. Kiffin is notorious for moving his safeties to confuse QB’s and to jump the slant routes. He uses safeties in run support – not as back-up in case someone misses a tackle but to cover a specific gap/ running lane.

While the tradition Tampa 2 alignment holds two safeties back in deep zone coverage, that isn’t the only positioning or assignments that will be asked of them. Remember, Defense is all about disguising coverages and trying to get offenses to make errors. Do you really think the Cowboys could run a basic Tampa 2 every single play and not get picked apart? QB’s are so good in this league anyone of them can beat you if you run the exact same coverage every time.

In fact, the Cowboys intend to play more Single High Safety than 2-Deep safety in 2013. Sounds a little crazy right?

Remember earlier in the year when Head Coach Jason Garrett said this,

"Anybody who’s ever played in a Tampa 2 style defense also has to be able to play in a single high style of defense. And certainly some of the things that Seattle has done from a front standpoint – playing some of their 8-man fronts, some of their pressures are similar to what Monte has done in the past and I think what they’ve tried to do, which was fit their scheme to what their personnel is and I think we’ll try to do the same."

May 21, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin works with linebacker Sean Lee (50) and the defense during organized team activities at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Monte Kiffin will always play to his players strengths and having big physical CB’s is one of his strengths. Playing a passive Tampa 2 zone doesn’t utilize those strengths. Just like Seattle, the Cowboys will look to use one safety back as a ball-hawk and one in the box as a thumper. Barry Church projects best as a thumper but since he’s the most knowledgeable veteran safety (besides Will Allen who should be a back-up) he will be placed in the more critical role of FS for now.

Church is a playmaker and even though his speed is a little suspect, he can hold down the fort at FS. But if Matt Johnson steps up like expected (or hoped), Church could get moved into the box. And Matt Johnson at FS and Barry Church at SS would be ideal for Monte Kiffin’s defense.

Truth: The Safeties are VERY different in Monte Kiffin’s Defense.

Stay tuned for more on the Single High Safety. I’ll explain that concept and more in the coming days.

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