Dallas Cowboys: Is Rob Ryan Truly the Answer for the Dallas Defense?
By Del Kerby
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Last year’s result of being the overall No. 31 defense in the league—giving up over 27 points a game—means that Ryan’s fortunes can only go up.
The Raiders were ranked No. 31 that year in total defense, Ryan’s first year with the team. Let’s look at his level of success during the past seven years.
When looking at the defenses Ryan has coached over the years, just based on results, he’s an average coordinator at best.
I will agree that he hasn’t been coaching with the best available talent on the field. Working in Oakland and Cleveland the past seven years would expose even the best of coordinators to the possibility of failure.
Under Ryan’s tenure from 2004-2008, the Raiders could do no better than an No. 18 overall finish on defense in 2006 averaging just under 21 points per game.
The cause for this was obvious—the Raider offense could not stay on the field to maintain drives and averaged just 10.5 points per game.
Unfortunately for Rob Ryan, he was the coordinator for a highly dysfunctional team and even more dysfunctional owner in his time with the Raiders.
In 2009, Ryan made the move to Cleveland becoming their defensive coordinator. For Ryan, this must have been like going to the train station.
He crossed the tracks to change trains, only to find that the Cleveland Browns Express had the same destination—the basement in the NFL.
The Browns’ defense was ranked respectably in 2010 at No. 14 overall giving up just under 21 points per game. While not stellar this was an improvement from the previous years finish of No. 22.
So now, in 2011, the Rob Ryan era begins in Dallas.
The issues in Dallas are not those of Oakland and Cleveland. These teams had poor offenses and really no direction from the top down.
Dallas has a quality offense having finished eighth overall in 2010 averaging 24.6 points a game. This is the kind of offensive support Ryan has not experienced in the last seven years.
Ryan’s job is to return the defense to their 2009 form when they finished second overall at 15.6 points per game.
The downside to 2009 was the Dallas pass defense, ranked No. 20—giving up 225 yards per game, resulting in 19 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
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While these numbers aren’t terrible, it was the pass rush with 42 sacks that saved the defense’s bacon—as the team gave up a touchdown a game via the pass.
The reason for the success in the 2009 season was the ability to pressure the quarterback; thus keeping other teams out of the end zone. Something that they couldn’t accomplish last year as was evident in their first 8 games.
There were 33 touchdowns via the pass in 2010. When a team gives up more than 14 points per game in the air, that becomes the 900 pound gorilla in the room and needs to be corrected.
So Ryan has been brought in to turn the ship around and set sail for the playoffs. On paper, he has many of the tools he needs to be successful. The big question is what style of defense will the Cowboys run.
Ryan has been effective with both the 3-4 and the 4-3 schemes. From observing him in Oakland for five years, it was obvious he preferred a 4-3 defense.
Dallas currently doesn’t have the players to stay with the current 3-4 defense—with Jay Ratliff undersized at nose tackle, and an aging middle linebacker in Keith Brookings not helping the team.
The play from Igor Olshansky leaves much to be desired at defensive end. He’s only serviceable in the run game and is almost invisible in the pass rush.
In a 4-3 defense, Olshansky could be moved inside to the tackle position. This would take some of the pressure off of Ratliff, and Dallas could draft a quality defensive end for the pass rush.
The team needs to be able to stuff the run game and has been unable to do so between the tackles. By moving to a 4-3, this gives them the best chance in this area given the personnel on the current roster.
Additionally, this will give them a four man front to bring pressure on first and second down when opponents opt to pass.
The bigger issue for Ryan is what to do in the secondary, where the Cowboys have been leaking like a sieve for a few years now. The play at safety has been horrendous to say the least.
Roy Williams, in his prime, was an average coverage guy, but could run with most of the tight ends in the league. As a strong safety his strengths were in the run game and discouraging receivers in coming over middle.
With Hamlin and now Ball, the spiral at safety has continued into the abyss. Last year on multiple occasions Ball was out of position or late arriving in coverage.
At the corner position Terrence Newman has lost a step and has been prone to injury. This is a liability that needs addressing as well.
So, with that in mind, when can we expect to see a change in the defensive philosophy for the Cowboys? Will Ryan change schemes?
Will he have the freedom to do so with Jerry Jones as the owner and general manager? Will Jerry go out and fill the glaring needs of his defense—safety, defensive end and corner?
We fans will have to wait and see. I think we’ll get our first inkling with the NFL Draft. Good luck to Rob Ryan, he’s going to need it. He’ll need to achieve early success in “Big D” if he wants any longevity in his future.