Cowboys need to explain change

IRVING, Texas -- We have to find out why the Dallas Cowboys switched from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 defense.

The sooner, the better.

Once the answer is revealed, we'll know if a sliver of hope remains for the NFL's most dysfunctional franchise or whether this franchise is doomed to be mired in the muck of mediocrity forever.

And it's a bigger question than just whether Jerry Jones or Jason Garrett made the decision.

Did the Cowboys switch to the 4-3 defense, which uses four defensive linemen and three linebackers, because they can't afford Anthony Spencer and this is a scheme that allows them to survive without him?

That said, it never seems like a good move to let your best defensive player walk without getting anything in return. For the record, Spencer led the Cowboys in tackles last season and finished second with 11 sacks, seven in the fourth quarter.

The reality is the linebacker who plays over the tight end in this scheme is not a guy who makes a lot of highlight reel plays. This scheme is designed for the weakside linebacker, who plays on the side opposite the tight end, and the middle linebacker to be playmakers.

Let's use the Chicago Bears as an example. We know Lance Briggs is the Bears' weakside linebacker and Brian Urlacher is the middle linebacker, but what non-Chicago Bears fan knows the strongside linebacker without turning to Google for help?

Should we assume the Cowboys made this move simply because they no longer believed in Rob Ryan or the 3-4 defense, which uses three defensive linemen and four linebackers?

It seems odd the Cowboys would scrap the scheme after finally acquiring a quartet of linebackers who would easily rank among the best in the league. After all, the 3-4 defense is all about the linebackers.

The 4-3 defense is all about having a collection of playmaking defensive linemen.

The only way this move makes sense is if we assume the Cowboys think Demarcus Ware can be the same playmaker at defensive end that he was at outside linebacker. And if they think Jason Hatcher can be a playmaker at defensive tackle and Jay Ratliff will thrive at defensive tackle instead of nose guard, where he's double-teamed every play.

None of that's a given.

And that's because each of those players will essentially have a new position in a new defensive scheme. To assume each will play well would be a mistake.

As for Ryan, he never distinguished himself during two years in Dallas. He wasn't good. Or bad. He was OK.

The defense rarely generated turnovers, was inconsistent pressuring quarterbacks and never established an identity. And with the owner in desperate need of selling hope, it became pretty obvious that Ryan was going to get fired if Jerry wasn't going to get rid of Garrett or quarterback Tony Romo.

All we can hope is the Cowboys didn't make this shift in defensive philosophy because they wanted to get rid of Ryan and Kiffin is the only coordinator they wanted to hire who wouldn't threaten Garrett the first time the Cowboys lost a couple of games.
Let's hope that didn't happen. Actually, drop to your knees and pray that's not what happened. Say what you will, Kiffin certainly isn't a threat to be the next Cowboys head coach at 72.

The dumbest decision the Cowboys could ever make would be to switch schemes just to fit a coach -- even one as good Kiffin. Don't laugh. Sadly, we never know these days how the Cowboys make decisions.

Jerry has been silent for a week. Garrett, too. We won't get any answers from them. That will probably have to wait until the Senior Bowl next week in Mobile, Ala.

Perhaps then they'll tell us Kiffin isn't an impulse hire. Maybe they'll tell us how this whole thing went down. After all, we didn't have any inkling about dissatisfaction with the scheme during the season. Don't forget, this shift was made eight days after the season ended.

Did Garrett spend a week watching all of the defensive plays from the season and tell Jerry he thought it was time to make a philosophical shift in defense?


It seems like Jerry wanted to make a move in his never-ending quest to sell hope to angry fan base.

Let's hope not. That would be dumb.