Since we have run our position series on DallasCowboys.com, I have spoken a great deal about position fits in regard to the types of schemes this team will use in 2013. We talked about how Phil Costa at center works in a zone blocking scheme and how Sean Lee or Jay Ratliff are outstanding fits in this 4-3 that Monte Kiffin has brought to Dallas. As those fits are seen as positives, the one that might not go as smoothly early, is with the starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.
It's that I do not feel like Carr and Claiborne cannot handle the assignment, it's just a totally different way in which they play. When as a player you are comfortable in press man coverage then you are asked to play off, it takes some adjustment.
I do not believe that Kiffin and this staff will have Carr and Claiborne playing off the entire game but where this scheme is really effective is dropping into zone and not giving the offense anywhere to throw the ball. It's a four man, pressure rush, with linebackers and defensive backs working together to make sure that the ball is thrown in front or underneath, then as a group, they rally to make the tackle.
Where Carr and Claiborne are at their best is when they can line up across from a receiver, jam with either hand, turn to position themselves in the route and work up the field. When you play off coverage you allow that receiver to get a run on you, then you have to make your adjustment.
Where Carr had some of his biggest struggles in OTA's and mini-camps, were when a guy like Dez Bryant got a running start going on the vertical "9" and then he had to turn and run with Bryant, who was able to gain separation. The physical side of Carr was his equalizer against these receivers. Every cornerback in the league, wants to make a receiver have to start-then-stop, then have to restart again. When you make a receiver do that, then it throws off their timing with the [embedded_ad]
quarterback but it kills their momentum. I don't care who it is in this league, you allow a receiver to build their speed, there are going to be problems.
Another area that will be an adjustment for these corners is how they will be required now to step up and set the edge in this scheme. Cornerbacks that don't step up and are willing to take on ball carriers and funnel the ball back inside tend to struggle. Look at the successful corners that have played in this scheme, guys like Ronde Barber, Charles Tillman, and Antoine Winfield, are all corners that have been outstanding tacklers.
Barber had a four year run where he averaged 83 tackles a season, Tillman has had a five year run where he averaged 72 a season and Winfield like Barber had a three year run where he averaged 83 stops. The most tackles that Carr was able to achieve was in 2008 where he had 70 for the season, while Claiborne in his rookie season was credited with 43. It was Bill Parcells that taught us that if you had a safety that was a bad tackler, it cost you hundreds of yards during the season. I believe that if Parcells were still in the league today, he would modify that statement to include cornerbacks as well.
This scheme that Monte Kiffin runs is a good one but for all the guys that it fits, there are others that will be asked to make big adjustments in their own games to make it work. What will be evident very early is if there is success, it will be because Carr and Claiborne are handling their assignments well but if not, there are the possibilities of some breakdowns.
As important as the defensive line and linebackers are in this scheme, the corners can make or break how it functions. Carr and Claiborne are more than talented enough to do the job but it's not as easy as everyone might think.