Richard Paolinelli

Cowboys Hope Return Of 4-3 Brings Back Postseason Glory

Created on Mar. 13, 2013 12:55 PM EST

The Dallas Cowboys have won five of the eight Super Bowls they have played in, and all of their runs for the Lombardi Trophy were fueled by a 4-3 defensive scheme run from day one of 1960—the team’s first season in the NFL. From the Doomsday Defense of the 1970s to the dynasty team of the 1990s, the one constant was the 4-3.

So when then head coach Bill Parcells tossed the 4-3 out of the window at Valley Ranch in 2005, many wondered if the team could make the switch successfully. After eight seasons in the 3-4 set, it appears the answer is a resounding no.

The Cowboys will return to its roots—hoping to return to the Super Bowl as well—in 2013 by switching back to the 4-3, and they are turning to perhaps the best 4-3 mind in the business to do it.

Monte Kiffen, 73, has been brought in to switch the Cowboys back to the 4-3, and Kiffen brings an impressive coaching resume to the task. A two-way lineman for Nebraska, Kiffen got into coaching one year after playing defensive end for Winnipeg in the CFL during the 1965 season. Kiffen’s defenses have won National Championships and Super Bowls, and his Tampa-2 scheme is considered the best 4-3 set ever conceived.

Kiffen will have some nice pieces already in place for the conversion, but he will also have to fill a few holes and rely on some players being able to make the adjustment.

DeMarcus Ware played in the 4-3 in college and should easily be as big a force as he was in the 3-4. Anthony Spencer is coming off an excellent year, and he will benefit from playing opposite Ware on the other end of the line.

The two tackles will need attention after a season of injuries and off-field issues plagued the position. Jay Ratliff was both injured and arrested last year, and his future with the team is uncertain. Marcus Spears might be moved to tackle to compete with Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore for one of the two starting tackle spots.

Dallas could also turn to Brian Price, who played the Tampa-2 with the Bucs. If Price is unable to resume his football career, the Cowboys may have to turn to the draft for a defensive tackle in the second round.

The Cowboys are set at linebacker with Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Victor Butler. Lee, who was injured last year, figures to take the mike position with Carter and Butler on the outside—all three should thrive in Kiffen’s defense.

Dallas’ cornerbacks should mesh well with the new scheme as Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are well suited to Kiffen’s defense, and Mike Jenkins could be a superb nickel corner.

But it is at safety where Kiffen will find his biggest challenge in Dallas. Barry Church is coming off of surgery after missing most of the 2012 season, he and appears to be the leading candidate to fill the “John Lynch” role for Kiffen. And with Gerald Sensabaugh’s departure, Danny McCray is the most experience player left on the depth chart at safety; Dallas will need to sign a free agent or draft a player to shore up the position.

If Kiffen can mold his current roster and mix in a few quality additions, the transition back to the 4-3 should lead to better defensive numbers and a few wins that slipped away under the 3-4. They might even be able to put an end to Dallas’ 17-year absence from the Super Bowl as well.

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