Will the Dallas defense expand its attack this year? In one sense it is hard to believe that the NFL’s leading sack team could become more of a force this year than last. However do not be surprised if that is not exactly what happens.
How could a team that lost a starting corner, Defensive End, and Inside Linebacker be better without those three guys? Pretty easy actually! And it has less to do with their replacements than you might think.
During the 2009 off season the Cowboys have upgraded in several areas, they have accomplished this through both free agency, and in the draft. While the outcome of all these moves has yet to be determined, on paper this defensive unit has gotten better.
The additions of Gerald Sensabaugh, Michael Hamlin, Mike Mickens, and DeAngelo Smith have given this team something that has been sorely lacking. Depth in the secondary! Not the kind of depth that we are accustomed to, you know mediocre players backing up mediocre starters. No, we actually have a quality starter being backed up by energetic, athletic, young, quality back ups.
Wade Phillips on third down no longer has to send the NFL’s best pass rusher into coverage. The Dallas Cowboys with a few under the radar moves have catapulted this sack happy defense into a new stratosphere!
The Cowboys did not add an Ed Reed type, but what they did add was a few safeties that can cover! Think about it, what has been the defenses biggest downfall the last few years? The secondary has not been able to give their rushers an extra split second. How many times last year did we see a rusher break free, and just before making the sack the ball would get out, only to find an uncovered receiver?
There are many opinions about Wade Phillips. Some are good and some are not so nice. In all of these though there is a commonality, and that is that he is a defensive genius. He is a master at moving people around and blitzing from angles that Offensive Coordinators would never dream of.
This is one aspect that we have not seen a ton of in his time in Dallas. Not because he forgot how to do it, but because he could not afford to do it! This team has not had the personnel to allow him the freedom to jail break.
The 34 that Phillips runs is different than the 34 most others play. In most 34 schemes it is predicated on a big nasty Nose Tackle, taking up major space, but the 34 that Phillips runs this is not necessary. The reason why is because of alignment. For instance in the Parcells 34 Jason Ferguson would line up directly over top of the center and go for a more straight ahead push, thus forcing one of the guards to slip over and help out. In the Phillips 34, Jay Ratliff lines up at an angle over the center, and tries to get his push between the Center, and Guard. This change of angle causes the O-Lineman to make a decision.
Now if this was the only decision the Center or Guard had to make this would not be a very good scheme, but while the Tackle is forcing the play Wade many times will send a slightly delayed Blitzer through that same spot. This is what causes severe question marks!
In the second half of last season we saw more of this than usual but not near as much as Wade wants. So what does all this talk about the Nose Tackle have to do with Safeties, and Corners? Everything!
Wade Phillips is looking for two things out of his Safeties. One, be able to cover a Tight End or Running Back. Two, be able to help out in the run game (be able to tackle). This is all Wade needs!
By having Safeties that can perform the duties that Wade requires it allows him to get very creative with his blitz schemes. Demarcus Ware, Bradie James, Anthony Spencer, and Keith Brooking will be coming from so many different angles your head will spin.
Everyone that played the Cowboys knew that on third down if they moved the Tight End over to where Demarcus was that it would force him into coverage, allowing themselves the luxury of not having to deal with blocking him. This is no longer a forgone conclusion, so now whether he rushes or drops it causes confusion!
I have never been big on making predictions, but this year I feel compelled to do so! Barring any major injuries, I am confident in saying that this unit will be in the top 3 in defense this year. There are only two other teams who I feel will have a better defense, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
How confident are you in this year’s defense?