The Cowboys have made a number of moves this offseason that suggest a shift in philosophy. On the defensive side of the ball, it appears as though the ‘Boys are gearing to do one thing and do it to the best of their ability: stop the pass. They moved 246-pound Kyle Wilber to defensive end. Rookie linebackers DeVonte Holloman and Brandon Magee are undersized, as is veteran Ernie Sims.
The shift to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense means that the Cowboys were bound to bring in lighter players, but they’re likely going to field the lightest defense in the entire NFL in 2013. Take a look at the size of the projected starters in 2013:
DT: 6-5, 304 pounds
DE: 6-4, 252 pounds
LB: 6-2, 238 pounds
S: 6-2, 217 pounds
CB: 6-0, 198 pounds
They’re particularly light at defensive end. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer can both play the run, however, so perhaps Kiffin doesn’t have many concerns with starting one of the lightest pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Some will argue that the Cowboys are leaving themselves susceptible to the run. That might be true, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Running is a sub-optimal play-calling strategy in most game situations, so forcing teams to run at times when they could pass—such as first-and-10—is a smart idea. The Cowboys might be vulnerable to the run, but it could end up working out in their favor.
Actually, I think the Cowboys should go as small as possible in almost all situations, daring teams to run. That could mean playing with nickel personnel in base situations. By lining up in nickel when an offense is utilizing base personnel, the Cowboys would be saying “if you want to beat us, you’ll have to continually run the ball down the field.” They say that continually getting run on is demoralizing, but I’d argue giving up an 80-yard touchdown pass is even worse.
If the Cowboys place an extra safety on the field instead of a linebacker in base situations, they’d still have the personnel to match up with offenses. The extra safety would cover either a tight end or running back, which is fine. With a defensive look such as Will Allen and Matt Johnson deep and Barry Church in the box functioning as the “Sam” linebacker, offenses would be very tempted to run to the strong side—right into the arms of Anthony Spencer.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.