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Fitting Jay Ratliff Back Into the Puzzle

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    NEWSLETTERS

    We spend a lot of time talking about problems with the Cowboys around these parts. 

    Most of these problems are of the "Oh my goodness, how can the Cowboys ever expect to win with ______ playing such a prominent role in the lineup?" variety. Every now and then, though, there's a problem that falls into the category of good problems to have. 

    We'll be talking about just such a problem today. 

    It is almost certain that the Cowboys will have Jay Ratliff in the lineup for the first time this season against Baltimore after he missed the first four games with a high ankle sprain picked up in the preseason. Ratliff's return to the defensive line is impossible to spin as a bad thing, but that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be some issues for the Cowboys to iron out. 

    First and foremost, there's the issue of where to play Ratliff. For several years there have been suggestions that Ratliff should move to a defensive end spot and cede the nose tackle role to a player with the more traditional build for the spot. The big problem with making such a move has always been the lack of an obvious choice to play over the center. 

    That's not such a big problem anymore. Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore did a very good job filling in while Ratliff was on the shelf and the team has been strong against the run in all but one of their games so far this season. They haven't generated the same kind of pass rush that Ratliff did, but, honestly, that part of Ratliff's game has dipped a little bit in the last couple of seasons. 

    And Ratliff could still kick back inside on obvious passing downs after helping to set the edge in the base set. Doing so might actually result in a better Ratliff since he won't be fighting all those big bodies on the inside for two downs before trying to rev the motor on third. 

    What's more, the team could use an uptick at the end. Jason Hatcher's done a nice job, but Kenyon Coleman's been hurt and Marcus Spears hasn't done much in his stead. Using Ratliff there opens up the door for all kinds of looks up front, something Rob Ryan can use to keep offenses guessing about where everyone will be and what they'll be doing on any given down. 

    The Cowboys might not want to move too far in that direction with the season underway, but there's a lot of merit to the idea of deploying Ratliff differently after his absence revealed strengths the Cowboys might not have known they have.