A couple of Kiffin disciples (new Dallas defensive line coach Rod Marinelli and new Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley) coordinated those two units, which ranked among the NFL’s top five in scoring defense, total defense and turnovers forced.
Another thing the Chicago and Seattle defenses had in common: They featured tough, playmaking cornerbacks. In fact, those were arguably the best two cornerback combos in the league last season.
Chicago’s Tim Jennings led the NFL with nine interceptions. His counterpart, Charles Tillman, forced a league-high 10 fumbles, recovered two and returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns.
Seattle’s Richard Sherman tied for second behind Jennings with eight picks and tied for second among corners with three forced fumbles. Brandon Browner, the bully who plays opposite of Sherman, also forced three fumbles and had three picks despite missing four games due to a suspension.
See why the Cowboys were so dismissive about the discussion that Kiffin’s scheme didn’t put a premium on cornerbacks?
“They’re aggressive. They’re physical. They’re always attacking the ball,” Carr said. “They’re showing press with Seattle. With Chicago, they’re playing the hard Cover 2 scheme, but they’re up there dictating the flow of the receivers. That’s what we want to do. We want to dictate the flow and not let them attack us. We’re going to attack them.”
The Cowboys didn’t get enough of a return on their investments in the corners last season. After giving Carr a five-year, $50 million deal and packaging their top two picks to move up to sixth overall to select Claiborne, the Cowboys’ starting corners combined for only four interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 2012, when Dallas forced the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC.
That’s one of the primary reasons Rob Ryan no longer reports to work at Valley Ranch. As the defense’s injuries stacked up throughout the course of the season, the corners were assigned to play soft zone coverage more frequently, which caused some behind-the-scenes grumbling.
Despite the Tampa 2 tag, the Cowboys will blend in several other looks with the Cover 2 staples. The corners have been told that they’ll consistently be lined up within breath-smelling distance of receivers.
“This defense kind of caters to Claiborne’s and my abilities out there, our traits, our qualities,” Carr said. “It allows us to go up there and press pretty much the whole game. Whether we play Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, you’ll have to find out after the (snap), but it allows us to be aggressive and go out there and dictate the game.”
Are Carr and Claiborne worth the price the Cowboys paid for them? They’ll have a chance to prove they are in a scheme similar to ones that feature star corners in Chicago and Seattle.