the realization his secondary couldn't hold up in a lot of man coverages if his called blitzes didn't get there?
After all, Ryan's defensive philosophy is dependent on his corners being able to hold up in a whole lot of man coverage, and since they weren't last year, especially when teams spread the Cowboys defense out with three receivers and a pass-catching tight or four receivers, he was forced to play his safeties back in no-man's land and drop his linebackers into deep zones to minimize the vulnerability. That meant too many three- and four-man rushes.
Me thinks not.
Neither, evidently, does Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, because when recently asked about the current Cowboys secondary, he said, "We know we're sounder. We got better and more personnel back there than we had last year. That should allow us to pin our ears back a little more in our pressure, rushing (the quarterback)."
See, there, was then Ryan too, uh, chicken, or just plain logical?
Now then, for example, let's take that final game against the Giants when Manning completed 24 of 33 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns to defeat the Cowboys, 31-14. By my count, the Giants called 42 pass plays. Four times those calls were neutralized by penalties against the Cowboys – one interference and three off-sides. So now we're down to 38 official drop backs.
On those 38 plays, the Cowboys rushed Eli with four men or less 31 times. Manning completed 23 of 27 passes, including his three touchdown passes, was sacked twice and ran out of the pocket for positive yards two times.
Then, only seven times did the Cowboys bring pressure, meaning five or more guys rushing the quarterback. On those seven plays, Manning completed just one of six passes and was forced out of the pocket just once, running for positive yards. Nice right, but not near enough negative results for some reason.
So we'll see if having four quality corners convinces Ryan to reestablish his swashbuckling play-calling ways. We'll see if the pressure he brings up front increases with more confidence in his corners' ability to hold up in man coverage. We'll see if improved coverage convinces him to rush his other outside linebacker, Anthony Spencer, far more times than he did last season. We'll see if improved man-to-man coverage encourages the shrinking big guy to engage his safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
And who knows, if the coverage improves, giving guys more time to get to the quarterback, then maybe the sacks will increase. There was good reason last year during that training camp practice Ryan was seen on the phone recruiting free-agent Nnamdi Asomugha. He could hold up in man coverage.
"If there is one thing in common about what we've done, if you look at the overall skills of those players we've brought in, in the secondary, they know how to go to the ball," Jones said. "They really think the ball is theirs and not the receiver's, and that's important if you are bringing the pressure."
So which is it, pressure provides better coverage?
Or better coverage provides increased faith in calling the dogs and thus increased pressure?
Stay tuned, we are fixin' to find out.
Then after that maybe we can delve into the mysterious issue of why in the world a chicken would ever want to cross the road.