IRVING, Texas — Rob Ryan was the scapegoat for yet another .500 season by the Dallas Cowboys last season.
It’s obvious. No need to dispute it.
The Cowboys are much better off without him. We’ll get to that in a moment.
First, if the Cowboys had made the playoffs, Ryan would still be their defensive coordinator instead of holding the same position with the New Orleans Saints. Jason Garrett said as much in the weeks after the season ended when he said he wasn’t sure the Cowboys would’ve switched schemes had they defeated Washington in the season finale and won the NFC East. Since they didn’t, change was inevitable.
Owner Jerry Jones wasn’t going to fire Garrett, and he wasn’t going to find another quarterback. So he did all he could do: Jerry fired Garrett as his playcaller and Ryan as his defensive coordinator.
It was a messy ordeal, which lets us know it was all about Jerry.
Garrett didn’t even have time to bring Ryan to the club’s Valley Ranch training complex for a man-to-man talk. He had to do it on the phone because Ryan was vacationing.
“The logistics of those decisions can be challenging sometimes, because of the timing and then where everybody is,” Garrett said. “One of the things that we always try to do in our organization is — everyone understands the nature of the business — you try to handle your business the right way. Sometimes, you can’t handle it ideally, exactly the way you want to handle it.”
The reality is the Cowboys scrapped a defensive scheme that had survived Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and the first two seasons of the Garrett era in less than two weeks.
They ditched the 3-4 defense after a decade of collecting players who fit the scheme and after handing out a midseason contract extension to a player such as Sean Lissemore, who didn’t fit the new scheme. They did it after trading up to draft a man-to-man cover cornerback such as Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and signing Brandon Carr, a similar player, to a five-year, $50 million deal.
Ryan’s defense has been beyond outstanding this season.
Last year, New Orleans was easily the NFL’s worst defense. They finished last in total defense (440.1 yards per game) and rush defense (147.6 YPG) and next-to-last in passing (292.6 YPG) and scoring (28.4 points per game) defense.
Through nine games this season, the Saints rank fifth in passing defense (211.9 YPG) and scoring (18.3 PPG) defense and ninth in total defense (331.1 YPG)
No way Ryan would be doing that in Dallas.
The Saints have a prolific offense, so Ryan gets the benefit of playing with a lead most weeks, which suits his scheme. That’s because Ryan specializes in confusing quarterbacks, forcing them into mistakes because he tricked them.
Ryan’s scheme is good because it provides a solution for everything an offense can do on a particular play. If the offense starts with three receivers, then the defense starts with a certain call. If a receiver goes in motion, changing the formation, then the defensive call changes. If a running back follows with a shift, then the defensive call changes again.
It’s a complex scheme, which requires time to master. That’s not a positive in today’s NFL, where managing attrition has evolved into a huge part of the game.
Monte Kiffin’s scheme is much easier to learn, which is why defensive end Everette Brown can sign a contract on Tuesday, play 30 snaps against Minnesota and contribute a sack and a key pressure.
Kiffin’s scheme and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli’s insistence on total effort from every player every play is among the reasons the Cowboys have forced 20 turnovers in nine games. They had just 16 all of last season.
Ryan, for whatever reason, never coaxed turnovers out of this group. And Jason Hatcher didn’t emerge as a dominant player until Kiffin and this scheme arrived.
Ryan didn’t deserve to be fired after last season. We all know this.
But the NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” league. Occasionally, there’s collateral damage.
You know Ryan will be ready with some weird looks in hopes of confusing Tony Romo. You know Ryan has been waiting for this game since the schedule came out.
No matter how Ryan fares, the Cowboys remain better off without him.