IRVING, Texas – Trying to decipher what head coach Jason Garrett meant by going "in a different direction philosophically on defense" after Rob Ryan's departure can be tricky.
The first way to take those comments is he might want to switch from the 3-4 scheme Ryan utilized during his short tenure in Dallas. Moving to a 4-3 might make some sense given the personnel, as well.
Jay Ratliff had been a dominant force at nose tackle, and despite not possessing the gigantic frame of most nose tackles, he managed to play the position and still create pressure. As the injuries pile on, though, a switch to a 4-3 could be helpful for him, not having to play directly on top of the center.
The likelihood of a possible switch could also depend on the team's confidence in signing Anthony Spencer. If Spencer's back, he and DeMarcus Ware are capable of playing as pass-rushing defensive ends. If he doesn't return, the Cowboys will have a few decisions to make about that spot opposite Ware, though that'll be the case regardless of the scheme.
If it's a 4-3, Sean Lee can play middle linebacker and Bruce Carter can play on the outside, while Alex Albright, Kyle Wilber or a new addition could play the other outside linebacker spot. If Spencer's not back and the Cowboys still want to go 4-3, they could try Albright at end. Tyrone Crawford, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore could all get time at defensive tackle, alongside Ratliff.
This is all speculative, of course. It's possible Garrett only meant philosophical changes regarding the members of the coaching staff.
Ryan's already gone, and the status of the defensive position coaches remains in serious question. Linebackers coach Matt Eberflus and defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson both worked with Ryan in Cleveland before coming to Dallas. ESPNDallas reported the defensive coaching staff will need to re-interview with whomever the new defensive coordinator is to keep their jobs, and the position coaches will be allowed to interview for jobs with other teams in the meantime.
Odds are pretty good that the incoming defensive coordinator in Dallas would want to bring at least a few members of his own staff, so this would allow the current position coaches time to find work elsewhere with so many hirings and firings taking place so quickly right now around the NFL.
It's possible Garrett referred to a complete staff overhaul and a scheme change when he made the comments about going a different philosophical direction. High profile defensive coordinators who run the 3-4 are still in the mix, as are those that run the 4-3, including veteran coach Lovie Smith. Right now, it's all speculative until further changes are made. But it's clear with Ryan's firing that a philosophical change likely means a significant overhaul going further than just the release of the defensive coordinator.