By Matthew Postins
Among the things I did not like about the 3-4 formation, as coached by both Wade Phillips and Rob Ryan, was that it really didn’t bring the pressure up front.
Too many times I found myself watching a team so reliant on DeMarcus Ware for pressure that it was to the detriment of the entire defense when Ware was constantly double-teamed. It’s actually a testament to his ability that he now has 115 career sacks, good for most in franchise history after passing Harvey Martin on Sunday against St. Louis.
So when Jerry Jones made the decision to bring in defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, I knew what that meant. I covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for four years when Kiffin was there. That meant pressuring the quarterback at every opportunity.
What happened on Sunday against St. Louis was a textbook example of how the Cover 2 should work. Consistent pressure up front times the back seven sitting in coverage equals a difficult day for the opposing quarterback. It’s a pretty simple formula.
After three games the Dallas Cowboys have 13 quarterback sacks. Last year at this time the Cowboys had seven sacks. Now, that’s not a complete barometer of a consistent pass rush. But the Cowboys entered the Rams game tied for second in the NFL with 30 quarterback pressures. That number went into the 40s after throttling the Rams.
These Dallas Cowboys look like the swarming, attacking defenses I saw in Tampa. It’s clear this unit has completely bought into Kiffin’s scheme. What’s kind of crazy to consider is that the Cowboys are doing it without Jay Ratliff or a healthy Anthony Spencer.
Ware has four sacks in three games. But no Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman has benefited more from this scheme than tackle Jason Hatcher, who is playing as if he’s been freed from the shackles of being a space-eating defensive end in a scheme that didn’t fit him.
To be truthful I never saw Hatcher as an indispensable player before this season. I saw him as a cog in the wheel, not gas for the engine. But with Ratliff on the physically unable to perform list and a bunch of young guys surrounding him inside, Hatcher has played like he never has before. Part of it is because he has to play that way with Ratliff out. But part of it, I think, is that the 3-4 just wasn’t a good fit for him.
Think about this – Hatcher has three sacks in three games. The most he had in any single season of his career entering 2013 was 4.5.
To think Ratliff was supposed to be the key to this interior front, playing the three-technique and crashing the quarterback consistently. Instead it’s been Hatcher at the one-technique.
“I agree he’s playing as well as he has ever played,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett told reporters last week. “It’s a different scheme. The previous (scheme) had them two-gapping more. Now we’re more to his strengths where he can get to the edge.”
Kiffin’s scheme is a one-gap scheme, meaning the tackle or end attacks a particular hole and not a particular player. It provides Hatcher and his comrades a bit more of a single-minded purpose.
Hatcher must be feeling the surge of success. Earlier this week Hatcher spoke to the team after a workout. Cowboys who spoke after the game on Sunday told reporters that Hatcher’s speech was misinterpreted. Some reports had Hatcher calling out quarterback Tony Romo and the offense for not running the football enough. Ware, like Romo and Garrett, said otherwise on Sunday.
“The main thing I got from Hatcher’s speech was being consistent, being consistent, not being a roller coaster team, not being up and down, winning a big game and then losing a game,” Ware told reporters. “That’s what we did last week (against Kansas City), losing a game that we should have won — not to talk about the past. Now, how consistent can we be playing week in and week out, that’s one thing that Hatch talked about. Let’s be a consistent team. We can be a great team, but the consistent teams are the ones that are going to win.”
Hatcher’s words couldn’t ring truer, especially for a Dallas Cowboys team whose only consistent trait the last two years has been inconsistency.
This game on Sunday at San Diego is exactly the kind of game the Cowboys have lost the past two years. Coming off a win, going on the road and playing an opponent that the Cowboys are capable of beating. Heck, it happened two weeks ago in Kansas City. In order for these Dallas Cowboys to take the next step forward and be the consistent team both Hatcher and Ware referenced, the Cowboys have to start winning these games. They must string wins together and “stay off the roller coaster,” as Hatcher put it.
Hatcher and Ware underscore the surge we’re seeing up front. George Selvie and Kyle Wilber are joining in. It’s a thin group up front. Getting Ratliff and Spencer back would surely help.
But the pressure we’re seeing is the pressure you want if you’re Garrett, Jones, et al. It’s exactly why Jones hired Kiffin.
And as an unexpected bonus, it’s turned Hatcher into a force to be reckoned with.