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Defensive Line Analysis

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  • Defensive Line Analysis

    by Slamman Thu Jul 05, 2007 at 12:46:30 PM EDT

    2007 promises be a "comparative" year for the Dallas Cowboys defensive line. Will the DL play better under Wade Phillips than it did under BP? Will the DL play as well as San Diego's DL? Can our DL match the 17.5 sacks that San Diego's DL achieved in 06? Comparisons aside, the DL has definitely talked a good game this offseason. Now, can their play cash the checks that their mouths have been signing since the day BP left?

    * Slamman's diary :: ::

    Both BP and WP run the 3-4 defense. So, what is all of the talk about? What makes the players so excited about WP's 3-4 defense? And, why is BP being thrown under the bus every time a member of the defense is within 10 yards of a microphone?

    The answer is very simple. Responsibility. The entire DL's responsibilities have been cut in half under WP. Under BP, each DL was responsible for 2 gaps or the area to the right and left of his man. Under WP, each DL is only responsible for 1 gap... either the area to the right or left of his man, not both.

    Consider this illustration...



    Under BP, the LDE would be responsible for the gap inside and outside the RT. The Jack inside lineback would be responsible for the gap to the right and left of the RG. The NG would be responsible for the gap to the right and left of the Center. The Mike inside linebacker would be responsible for the gap to the right and left of the LG. Finally, the RDE would be responsible for the gaps inside and outside the LT.

    So, really what's the big deal? Under BP, the defensive linemen played the run first. Essentially, the defensive linemen were forced to hold their ground and extend their arms to keep offensive linemen off their bodies. Then, the DL would diagnose the play. If it is a run into one of your 2 gaps, you must then shed the OL and make the tackle. If it is a pass play, you must shed the OL and rush the QB. The responsibility would be in this order... 1. hold ground, 2. read offensive play, 3. react to the play. BP's system requires brute strength from its DL and speed is secondary.

    Under Wade Phillips, that all changes. Phillips defense only requires each DL and ILB to control 1 gap. This allows the DL to play the pass first. How so? Because all they have to do is disrupt their gap and make a play. Once a defensive lineman blows up his gap, he is free to go after the QB or chase down a RB. If it's a running play, they can tackle the running back on their way to the QB. As such, the responsibilites look like this: 1. Blow up your gap and 2. attack. This system does not rely on brute strength. Rather, each player can rely on his own natural talent. If a player is quick, then he uses his speed to beat the OL and blow up his gap. If a player is strong, he outmuscles the OL to blow up his gap. It doesn't matter... just blow up your gap.

    Akin Ayodele explained it like this...

    In the 3-4 scheme, the inside backers and the defensive line usually have a two-gap system where you have an A and a B gap. In Wade's attack defense the majority of the downs you have a one-gap that you have to be responsible for. If the ball doesn't attack your gap you can go and make a play and not have to worry about having to sit back and wait for the offensive lineman to come up and attack you.

    Now that we know what all of the excitement is about, let's look at the players.

    The Defensive Ends

    Currently on roster we have 6 DEs. The only DE we lost was Kenyon Coleman to FA. Frankly, it's not a big loss although initial reports about Coleman have been positive.


    1. Marcus Spears- 6-4, 298 pounds, 3rd season

    Spears has been the most vocal of the malcontents under BP. In fact, Spears really needs to have a huge year in 07 to justify all of the smack he has been talking. Fortunately for Spears, their is plenty of room for improvement. In 2006, Spears managed all of 1 sack in 17 games. One. Spears actually regressed from his 1.5 sacks in 2005. Spears, however, did have 45 tackles or nearly 3 per game. Spears is excited going into 2007 because he will now be allowed to use his quickness and agility to blow up his hole and rush the passer instead of simply being forced to hold his ground and play the run.

    Notes to Quote

    From Jean-Jacques Taylor:

    This is Marcus Spears' year. It's time for him to become a star. If he can't do it in this scheme, then you have to wonder if its ever going to happen. Although the Cowboys drafted him with the 20th pick in 2005, he was the player Bill Parcells wanted more than any other in that draft. Parcells thought his size and athleticism at defensive end in the 3-4 would make him a star.
    Parcells wanted him so badly, he pouted in the draft room, when owner Jerry Jones took DeMarcus Ware with the 11th pick because intelligence gathered by the scouts suggested Spears would still be around at 20 but Ware wouldn't.
    Spears has been OK in his first two seasons, but hardly spectacular. Part of the reason, is the Cowboys didn't play to his strengths: Quickness and athleticism. Wade Phillips will make sure they do.
    His scheme puts an emphasis on speed and quickness. More important, Phillips' version of the 3-4 uses stunts and movement to put play-makers in position to do what they do best.
    Under Parcells, the Cowboys' defensive ends always played the run first, then transitioned to their pass rush moves. Now, they will play the run on the way to rushing the passer.

    2. Chris Canty- 6'7, 300 pounds, 3rd year

    While Canty hasn't been nearly as vocal as Marcus Spears, Canty also looks to benefit from Wade Phillips scheme. Canty had 2.5 sacks in 2005 and only 1 sack last year. Canty has averaged 34 tackles over the past 2 years. Like Spears, Canty's stats can only improve under Phillips.

    Notes to Quote

    Wade Phillips on Canty:

    He disrupts a lot of stuff. He's really coming on.

    Spagnola added:

    Take note, and remember, when the Cowboys went to their four-man line on the nickel during the mini-camp, Canty was being used as one of the inside rushers - next to Jay Ratliff and inside of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.


    Spears and Canty need eyes in the back of their heads because Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher are coming on strong. Both have demonstrated the ability to make plays. Both seemingly out produced the starters in their limited playing time.

    1. Jay Ratliff- 6'4, 305 pound, 3rd year

    Ratliff has been a 7th round gem for which BP was famous. In 2006, Ratliff had 4 sacks and 18 tackles despite limited playing time and battling a nagging injury. Ratliff surprising ability to rush the passer has earned him a spot on the nickel defense. Additionally, Ratliff is being considered for our back up NT should Jason Ferguson go down for any extended period of time. As it now stands, Ratliff is nibbling at the heels of the starters. Perhaps I only speak for myself, but I would love to see what Ratliff could do in extended playing time (although preferably not at NT; we want Fergy to be completely healthy in 07).

    Notes to Quote

    One recourse the Cowboys might have in case Ferguson goes down is to move two-year veteran Jay Ratliff back inside. Ratliff has shuffled from end, to tackle and back to end during his NFL stint, and says because of the moves, he has become familiar with every position on the defensive line, and at 6-4, 305-pounds, he wouldn't be undersized for the nose.

    2. Jason Hatcher- 6'6, 295 pounds, 2nd year

    Like Ratliff, Hatcher has shown a lot of promise in his limited playing time. In limited playing time in 14 games, the rookie Hatcher had 2.5 sacks and 15 tackles. Hatcher could also see some time inside on the nickel defense.

    Notes to Quote

    It's a different situation than in college, Hatcher said, "because of the business aspect of it. A new coach brings in his guys and you can be out of job. That's in the back of your head. Not that I feel that way; I think I showed some things in my first year. But you have to convince the new staff that you can do it all over again."

    Hatcher, a reserved person when he's not on the field terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, didn't criticize Parcells, though what he said about his new coach stands as its own contrast.

    He's a players' coach," Hatcher said of Phillips. "I feel like I have a lot more to play for, versus last year. He's a great guy to play for. He makes you want to play harder.


    1. Stephen Bowen- 6'5, 300 pounds, 2nd year

    In extremely limited playing time, Bowen actually registered a sack against the Lions in game 16. I don't know if this is a promising sign for Bowen or an omen for Spears and Canty. Regardless, Bowen matched Spears and Canty's sack output for 06 and did so in approximately 98% less plays. Bowen probably makes the team.

    2. Marcus Smith- 6'4, 281 pound, RFA out of Arizona

    I know nothing about him and would gladly defer to anybody who does. Regardless, it will be a struggle for Mr. Smith to make the team. If he has a real good camp, he may be able to earn a spot on the practice squad.

    The Nose Tackles

    While Wade Philips and Mickey Spagnola have repeatedly mentioned that there are not a lot of holes on the Cowboys roster, the nose tackle position is definitely an area of concern. Hole? Not yet. But, let's keep our fingers crossed that Jason Ferguson has another year like 06.

    1. Jason Ferguson- 6'3, 310 pounds, 11th season

    Ferguson was brought over in 2005 as one of "Parcells' Guys." Ferguson got hurt in 05 and struggled to overcome a training camp injury. While Fergy was still able to play 16 games, his production suffered. In 06, Ferguson had 46 tackles, up 9 from 05. Ferguson was consistently the most disruptive DL in 06. Ferguson should also benefit from Phillips one gap system. While he has never been considered a sack artist, he did have 4.5 sacks in 03. If he could match that production again, Dallas could have a very stalwart defense in 07.

    2. Montavious Stanley- 6'2, 310 pounds, 2nd year

    Stanley was orginally cut by BP after a poor training camp. Stanley was later brought back after he landed a spot on another team's practice squad. This was one of BP's classic "contingencies." I really don't know what to expect from Stanley in 07. He is on the bubble to even make the roster if Ratliff demonstrates that he can hold down the nose... thus freeing up another roster spot for our overcrowded LBs and WRs.

    3. Remi Ayodele- 6'2, 300 pounds, 1st year

    Best known as Akin's brother, Ayodele bounced around on several team's practice squads last year. He recently got more experience playing in NFL Europe. Ayodele is a long shot to make the squad but could very easily end up on the practice squad again. He would need to have a huge preseason to make the 53 man roster.

    4. Ola Dagunduro- 6'2, 313, URFA out of Nebraska

    Dagunduro is in the same situation as Ayodele. While his chances of making the 53 man roster are slim, there is a very good chance that either him or Ayodele makes the practice squad. Back up NT is such an area of need.

    Notes to Quote

    Rookie free agent Ola Dagunduro, a 6-2, 313-pound 23-year old from Nebraska and NFL Europa allocation Remi Ayodele - guys just trying to make the team at this point, certainly not players the Cowboys are ready to depend on.

    Dagunduro was a highly-prized signee after the draft who said he fielded interest from virtually every team in the league. So why Dallas?

    "My agent looked into (depth charts) all over the league, and said I would have a great chance to make the squad here," Dagunduro said between the final two workouts of the June mini-camp on Saturday. "So I took it."

  • #2
    im waiting for spears to break out, i dont know if he ever really will as far as a "breakout year" is concerned...but for a guy with so much talent and potential, i really hope Wade gets the most out of him...he shouldnt be getting 1 sack a yr, whether its a 3-4 or 4-3...he was a beast in college, i think he can disrupt alot of plays this year for us, even if the stats dont tell or show his improvements...

    but i will really be focusing in on him alot to see his progression

    Originally posted by Scott Wright
    I guarantee that if someone picks Cam Newton in the Top 5 they will regret it.


    • #3
      Hey guys, its been a long time. I know I said Id break down the film etc from other threads, but honestly I just didnt have the time to do it, I'll try to hit some points right now.

      We all know the differences between the BP 3-4 and WP 3-4 by now. Ive said before, I don't personally view the WP 3-4 as a true 3-4, its more like a 4-3 blitz heavy scheme masked in a 3-4 front. And thats primarily because everyone has one gap. Thats the main difference ultimately between a true 3-4 and a 4-3, the 4-3 has one gap responsibilities, whereas a true 3-4 has 2 gap responsibilities.

      But anyway, no need to beat a dead horse.

      I think the main concern for the Cowboys is the NT, Jason Ferguson. If I read correctly, he's shed weight and is now down to 300 Lbs. That is NOT good. He is not big enough to hold up as a 3-4 NT with that weight. At the end of the day, every 3-4 front lives and dies with its NT. SD had 355 lb Jamal Williams in the middle.

      Is Jason Ferguson realistically gonna give you the same results as a 300 lb NT? I would be very concerned about that.

      Now with his one gapping style, Ferguson's physical short comings can be masked somewhat, because essentially its a 4-3 defense. But quite frankly, I don't think either Spears or Canty can help Ferguson the way Castillo and Olshanksky helped Williams. Let's be honest here, theyre just not as good as Castillo and Olshanksky as a duo, even if Spears does step up this year, because I don't see Canty being better than Olshanksky. I wouldn't be surprised if WP uses alot of 4 downlinemen schemes this year if Ferguson can't hold up inside. Its something I would keep an eye on.

      Quite honestly, I don't believe in Spears. I just don't see it. If he was that good of a penetrator like he claims, why couldn't he get into the starting nickel front as a UT? And what stuck out the most to me was, when he bullrushed the OG on pass rushes, he couldnt get any penetration. If you can't penetrate man up against an OG, thats not the schemes fault.

      I cant wait to analyze WP's scheme in more depth this season. Im looking forward to it.


      • #4
        BBD I'd like to point out that Wade's Scheme stems from the's not a true 3-4 scheme...

        like you said if Furgy has trouble than we could see 4 downlineman. The thing is...where is Dallas the deepest at...LB...why go to arguably the weakest depth position on your team the DL when you have 7-8 LB's that can be above average. Ellis/Ware/Spencer/Carp/AA will all likely be on the LOS over the course of a if you look at it that way it is 4 men on the LOS...I mean hell spencer/Ware/Ellis.Carp/AA were all ends at somepoint of their college careers. I don't think any of them would have a problem putting their hand on the ground...but then that makes picking up a rusher more predictable.

        When talking about the's safe to say that SD had freaks down there. But I think what Phillips saw when he came down here was not enough mobility. Williams is a 355lb freak that can move like he weighs 300lbs. While now Furgy isn't that type of athlete he is required to lose a bit of weight to regain the mobility needed in his defense. If your going to be asking Furgy to slant/twist just move in general...I think 300lb's is much more ideal for him as a player rather than I said he is not that type of freak.

        Spears and Canty are freaks tho. Although they might not have appeared in the same league as Castillo and Olshanksky they really shouldn't have. I knwo everyone here thought last year their was a major coaching problem. Hell you said it last year they didn't understand their assignments and just were unable to read a play at the line. They would constantly just keep their ground...without even trying to penitrate. But the thing is Spears was such a freak in college because he got to be explosive...I'm sure he wasn't asked to sit in his hole and plug all year. The major difference between Parcells and Phillips is this. Parcells built his players around his defense. Phillips builds his defense around his players. I don't have a problem with either way...both work effectively. But both have their hangups aswell. I mean for instance...parcells drafts spears 20th overall...spears is highly invested in...yet is not producing. (Now my opinion was lack of coaching...which I'm sure Parcells tlaked over and over with Zimmer about) but it's not like he could move Spears at all to commited. Now Phillips also has problems. Lets say Furgy fails clogging up the middle and we get pushed up the middle all year. That is Phillips thinking he can use Furgy's quickness to make the defense...when really he needed a different player with bulk and quickness.

        Like I said both systems work...but both can hamper you over the course of a season.

        Honestly looking forward at the upcomming season I don't see us being ran on up the middle. I've posted it before...Phillips defense is all about pushing everything to the outside. If we show weakness in the middle...better believe he'll be slanting middle or bringing Brady/Roy to come up and fill. This will leave whoever is on the outside out to dry...but we have to great tackling corners and a FS that can lay some wood too.

        I'm talking base defense up their. If we want to talk about short yardage situations it's safe to say it will look different. Probably a lot like the 4-6 actually. Phillips is pretty versatile we've seen that with his nickle/dime packages he's been working in this offseason.


        • #5
          Yeah thats why Im so interested in seeing how this defense operates. Its just so different in its methods compared to the BP 3-4, Im really curious to see it operate. I have a decent idea of it, but now I get to see it more often since the Cowboys are on TV so much more than SD is.

          Its really gonna be interesting to see the similarities and differences between the Dallas/NYG/Washington defenses this year. Theyre all running the same principle, but out of different shells and different player personnells.

          I wouldn't be surprised to see Dallas run alot of hybrid schemery. They definately have the personnell for it. It wouldn't be a bad idea to throw some 4-3 packages out there in PS and TC and see how it goes.

          Damn, 2 more months guys. 2 more months. We're almost there.



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