Questions linger after defensive shakeup

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
8:00
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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.

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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 that 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 play-making defensive linemen.

The only way this move makes sense is if we assume the Cowboys think Demarcus Ware can be the same play-maker at defensive end that he was at outside linebacker. And if they think Jason Hatcher can be a play-maker 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.

Read the rest here.
Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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