Dissecting The Cowboys 3-4 Defense

In his third year at the reigns of the Cowboys, head coach Bill Parcells is finally taking the plunge into the 3-4 defense. That defensive scheme has proven successful for him in the past, winning two Super Bowls with it while coaching the New York Giants. So what exactly is a 3-4 defense? The 4-3 defense, which the Cowboys ran last year, employs four lineman. Two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. But the 3-4 only employs three lineman. The two tackles become one nose tackle. And, while the 4-3 had three linebackers, the 3-4 has four. And here's the big change. Two of those linebackers play up on or near the line of scrimmage, making them a little smaller, but more athletic then true defensive ends.

"At anytime, you can drop 8 people into coverage," explained Parcells.  "That complicates things for the quarterback. Not many 4 man line teams have the ability to do that."

But, while complicating things for the quarterback, it also complicates things for the guys playing linebacker, especially outside, where they have to be prepared to rush the passer, or drop into coverage. Fortunately for the Cowboys, first round pick DeMarcus Ware has handled the position with ease. Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer says he's a rookie playing like a veteran.

"He's got great explosion off the line of scrimmage," said Zimmer.  "He can turn his shoulder and bend the corner better then anybody I've seen. He's got excellent strength."

While harder for the linebackers, the 3-4 is easier for the defensive lineman. But it also puts more pressure on them to stop the run, especially the nose tackle. That's why the Cowboys invested in former New York Jet Jason Ferguson.

"Jason's real strength is his lower body," said Parcells.  "Very powerful. He's hard to move. He can hold his ground against almost anybody."

Zimmer has said, learning the 3-4 defense is kind of like learning Greek. It's a whole new language and defensive philosophy. But when played correctly, it's dangerously effective. And so far, Parcells doesn't see any reason to doubt his decision to switch.

"The technique that I want is being taught," said Parcells.  "I see evidence of it on the field. Pretty good already."

"I think everybody is buying in now," said Ferguson, "so we just got to go out there and believe in the system and make it work."

Kevin Berns reporting.