Richard Paolinelli

Cowboys That Will Shine In The 4-3

Created on May. 13, 2013 10:39 AM EST

For over four decades — starting with the first day of the franchise’s existence — the Dallas Cowboys ran a 4-3 defense that generated five championships in eight Super Bowl appearances and a pair of near-championships before the NFL-AFL merger. Bill Parcells switched the team to a 3-4 in 2005, but after eight seasons, Dallas has brought in an acknowledged master of the 4-3, Monte Kiffin, to get the Cowboys back to their defensive roots.

The big winner of the switch is DeMarcus Ware, who will move from outside linebacker to defensive end in the 4-3. Kiffin wants his players to pressure the quarterback, so Ware’s plays of dropping back into coverage are likely long gone. Ware will have one task: go get the guy — quarterback or running back — with the ball in his hands.

With Anthony Spencer on the opposite side of the line, look for the combo of Ware and Spencer to rival the defensive dominance of Ed “Too-Tall” Jones and Harvey Martin that took Dallas to a win in Super Bowl XII.

Among the linebackers, Bruce Carter looks to be the big winner in the switch. Carter will line up as the weakside linebacker, a position that traditionally does very well in Kiffin’s scheme. If the Cowboys run Kiffin’s defense correctly, the running back is steered in the direction of the weakside linebacker to tackle. Carter should see plenty of chances to pad his stats.

Sean Lee, playing at middle linebacker, will have the most pressure on him going into camp. Lee’s ability to correctly read the play and swiftly react to his reads will determine the defense’s success in 2013.

While the entire backfield will be better with a front seven putting more pressure on the quarterback, meaning they won’t have to cover receivers for extended periods, Barry Church looks to be in the best position. Church appears to be the lead candidate to fill the ‘John Lynch’ role for Kiffin, so much so that Dallas passed on drafting a player to fill the role. Church is coming off an injured Achilles that ended his season just three games in to the 2012 season. If he can step into that role — and he showed flashes of it before his injury — he would see the kind of numbers that put players in the Pro Bowl — and teams into the Super Bowl — on a regular basis.

Ironically, the one player who may benefit the most with the switch back to then 4-3 doesn’t play defense at all. QB Tony Romo could see his best season ever simply by having a defense he can trust to stop the opposition more often than not. Too often in the 3-4 the Cowboys defense could not get off the field by stopping a team on third down, and it was a defense that gave up too many big plays in critical situations. If Romo doesn’t take the field thinking he has to score on every possession, he might cut down on the turnovers — especially when he is clearly forcing the play either trying to win the game or keeping pace in a shootout.

A defense that can get off the field quickly, an offense less turnover prone and players poised to have career seasons are all within the Cowboys’ grasp by simply going back to their roots — as is a return to deep postseason runs and another banner to raise to the top of Cowboys Stadium. 

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