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How Rob Ryan's 3-4 Defense Could Result in Cowboys Drafting Pass-Rusher Early | The DC Times

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How Rob Ryan’s 3-4 Defense Could Result in Cowboys Drafting Pass-Rusher Early

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Jonathan Bales

The list of potential first-round targets for the Dallas Cowboys seems to have been narrowed down to a small group.  Rumors and conventional wisdom suggest the team is targeting LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson in a trade up (perhaps to No. 6 with Cleveland), but will likely select between Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara and USC tackle Tyron Smith if they remain in their current draft slot.  In the event that the Cowboys trade down (which is something they apparently want to do quite a bit), they have been rumored to be targeting Wisconsin DT/DE JJ WattCal DT/DE Cameron JordanWisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi and even Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey.

There may be one scenario we are severely overlooking however: the potential for the ‘Boys, with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of most important team statistics last season, to target an elite edge-rusher.  I think a lot of people (myself included, perhaps) have overlooked the fundamental differences between Rob Ryan’s scheme and that of Wade Phillips.  Both run 3-4 defenses, but they are radically different in terms of alignments, blitzes and overall philosophy.  With all of the creative personnel groupings Ryan figures to run in passing situations, the Cowboys will benefit from acquiring another dominant pass-rusher more than they would have when Phillips was still in town.

Now I’ll be the first to argue the Cowboys do not need to place a very high priority on the outside linebacker position.  We all know of DeMarcus Ware’s dominance, but the perception that Anthony Spencer had a horrible 2010 season is just plain wrong.  He failed to live up to extremely high expectations, but I still gave him a solid B (84.6 percent) in my 2010 Outside Linebacker Grades.  Spencer rushes less than most 3-4 outside backers, dropping into coverage on 18.1 percent of all snaps last season (and 29.5 percent of pass plays).  Spencer’s rate of pressures also increased by 33 percent from 2009, meaning the lack of sacks was just a fluke.  Too often, we judge pass-rushers on their sack totals, which is kind of like grading running backs on the amount of fumbles they lose.

Is Aldon Smith a legitimate option for Dallas in the first round?

On top of that, I also have a slight (and by ‘slight,’ I mean ‘massive’) man-crush on Victor Butler.  I ranked Butler as the Cowboys’ third-most efficient player in my 2010 Player Rankings, ahead of Felix Jones, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jay Ratliff, among others (remember, that relates to efficiency, not overall production).  Butler recorded more pressures-per-rush than Ware, and did not miss a tackle all season.  Some may argue that Butler’s success is largely the result of recording a lot of snaps passing downs, but he actually was on the field for a higher percentage of run plays (39.5 percent of his snaps) than either Ware or Spencer.  By the way–I’m tooting my own horn here–you aren’t getting these numbers or analysis anywhere else.

Even if Rob Ryan is as fond of the Cowboys’ outside linebackers as me (which I think is the case), Ryan’s unusual scheme means you cannot rule out the acquisition of another edge-rusher.  As I have written prior, the Cowboys reportedly have a lot of interest in Missouri’s Aldon Smith, viewing him as this year’s Jason Pierre-Paul (who they had ranked pretty highly on their 2010 Big Board (<–actual photos of the board).  He is higher on their board than even UNC’s Robert Quinn.

These are reasons I will have Smith as one of my primary “sleeper” candidates to come to Dallas (I will publish an article with my others tomorrow).  Nonetheless, I would still consider Smith a huge underdog to get drafted by the Cowboys.  More likely is that the ‘Boys will target an outside linebacker (if they even want one) in the second round or later.  I personally like both Akeem Ayers of UCLA and Martez Wilson of Illinois because of their ability to play inside.  What better way to indirectly bolster the outside linebacker group than by drafting a versatile backer to start inside but possibly move outside in the future?

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7 Responses to How Rob Ryan’s 3-4 Defense Could Result in Cowboys Drafting Pass-Rusher Early

  1. Jonny Danger says:

    Dream draft Patrick Peterson,Greg Little,Derek Sherod,Jabaal Sheard ,& Kendrick Ellis!

  2. Jonny Danger says:

    Taking my name again bud. Oh well dang email glitch. I was logged in as Jonathan Bales the other day but out of respect I didn’t post any dumbass/smartass remarks. I regret that now lol

  3. Kris says:

    I love the idea of Wilson in the 2nd. I will also say that drafting an Aldon Smith or Robert Quinn, with some success their rookie year, would allow the cowboys to let Anthony Spencer walk in free agency and avoid paying him a very large extension.

    Jonathon- Can you give us some idea how you found out they have Aldon ranked higher than Quinn? I understand if you have a source or something you have to protect but if not I would love to know.

  4. Knowbody says:

    If we are to get Peterson fine but its not going to help with holes this year my fellow fans. We still have a gaping hold at Starting RT, FS and SS plus we would have a LT a free agent, Starting G is a FA. 2 Backup DE’s. We also need a RB and FB (gradkowsi hurt us BIG TIME).
    So even if we were to get him then all we have is a nice CB group with no one up front to Block for the RB’s , no one to protect Romo (AGAIN) and no Defensive front to stop others from Running on us and creating a pass rush so that the DB’s can cover. Without getting any pressure it WILL NOT matter who you have in the secondarty IMO. I dont care who you have back there. Its ass backwards thinking. This is what has gotten us in to trouble the past few years. We canno win in the trenches on either side of the ball. Until we fix this we WILL NOT make it deep in to the playoffs and forget about the Big Bowl game. Ain’t happening….JJ waste to many picks being enamored on Skill positions and it has gotten us NOWHERE. SORRY but if we had those other spots filled, I’d be all for P.Peterson. But for right now,he is not Mr.Right!

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Knowbody (I like that name btw),
    I think PP could play FS and he’d be very good at it (at least better than ball even as a rookie) – I know everyone seems to shy away from rookie safeties starting (and I really don’t know why) but just look at what Nate Allen and Eric Berry did for their respective teams as FS rookies last year. Simply put, if you can go w/ a rookie QB then a rookie FS shouldn’t be that much of a stretch especially if you have a veteran MLB.

    Even if PP doesn’t pan out at FS, then move him to CB which we all KNOW he’d be good at (and is a whole lot simpler to play).

    Keep in mind, an elite FS can make that much of a difference – look at the Steelers historical record when Polamolu plays and when he doesn’t. Same for Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins and Darren Sharper. Yes, I agree that having a better pash rush will help the secondary but Ball just wasn’t cutting it. He HAS to be replaced IMO.

    As far as the free agents like Kosier, Spears, Bowen, and Hatcher, It’s unrealistic to think the Cowboys won’t be able to sign ANY free agents, especially their own. My bet is on at least re-signing 2 of the 3 FA DEs and Kosier. Since Colombo has to go as well, I’d like to see Dallas get either a FA or draft a RT in the 2nd. My hopes are that Ijalana will be avail at 40.

    That frees up the Boys to trade up to get PP (probably take a 3rd adn 5th round pick to do so). RB isn’t a need (even if MBIII gets cut) as the Boys would still have 3 on the roster. They can pick up Vontae Leach at FB as I heard rumor the Texans aren’t gonna re-sign him (no idea what they’re thinking).

    This years draft class is weak – it simply doesn’t make sense to pick up extra picks this year.

  6. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Strong draft class = trade down and get and go w/ quantity of solid picks over quality of elite picks.

    Weak draft class = trade up and get as many elite (or close to elite) pics as you can. No sense in having MANY draft selections of average to below-average people.

  7. Kris–I forget where that info came from but it was another media source…not someone within organization. Certainly could be misinformation, but I’ve heard it a few times now.

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