When Rob Ryan was brought in as the defensive coordinator on Jason Garrett’s staff, it showed me that Garrett was willing to think outside the box.
He went in a direction you wouldn't think he would and hired a coach that was not in the image of what you'd expect. But he got a coach that was going to find a way to get his defense off the field on third down.
Ryan is not the spit-and-polish type on the outside, but like Garrett he comes from a football family. They both grew up on NFL practice fields and locker rooms. They tagged along to the office or watched their dads break down film long after mom had gone to sleep. Garrett and Ryan share the same passion for football as their fathers did, which makes this a good fit.
Ryan runs a 3-4 scheme, which is what the Cowboys have run since Bill Parcells convinced Jerry Jones in 2005 that it was easier and cheaper to find linebackers than it was defensive ends. Parcells told Jones that it was difficult to find those wide “9” technique rushers and you were always going to have to overpay for them.
Garrett spoke about his defensive players having to learn the scheme. It’s a scheme that is truly different from what the Cowboys had run under Wade Phillips, who spoke of an aggressive, attack style when he first showed up at Valley Ranch but failed to deliver.
Ryan’s 3-4 is attacking and takes advantage of mismatches across the board. In my film study of the New England and New Orleans games last season -- both wins by the Browns -- Ryan was able to create confusion in the blocking schemes of two of the better offensive lines in the league just by his alignment of his defenders.
In these first two days of practice here in San Antonio, I have seen more corner blitzes, more safety blitzes and more linebacker cross blitzes than I saw in four years with Phillips. Ryan is not afraid to give the quarterback a different look, down after down.
When Romo is shouting “Kill, kill!” before the snap to change plays and protections and it’s just a walkthrough practice, you know that the defensive coordinator is up to no good.
Another area that I have noticed that Ryan is different in his scheme is how he plays his safeties. With Ryan, there doesn’t appear to be a true free or strong safety because either one can be near the line of scrimmage. I would have never thought that I would have seen Akwasi Owusu-Ansah down in the box defending the run, but I did.
There appears to be more disguise or movement in the secondary with his defenders than under Phillips.
I don’t want to give you the impression this is a gimmick defense that Ryan is trying to run for the Cowboys, because it’s not. There have been few big plays by the offense or busts by the defense for a group that had never had a chance to work on this defense before they reported to camp.
In my book, that’s a step in the right direction after what happened in 2010.