How Will Monte Kiffin's Defense Handle Evolving NFL Offenses?
Monte Kiffin is the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys—a team that will face Robert Griffin III two times a year for, theoretically, the next decade.
The frightening part?
The 72-year-old's USC defense got absolutely gashed by Oregon's read-option attack the past three seasons in Pac 12 play.
In 2012, the Ducks racked up 62 points, 730 total yards and 35 first downs against the Trojans.
The previous year, USC gave up 35 points, 474 yards and 26 first downs.
In 2010, Kiffin's first as Southern Cal's defensive play-caller, Oregon accumulated 599 total yards, scored 52 points and moved the chains 29 times.
Those are NCAA Football-on-freshman-mode numbers.
To make matter worse, the read-option is the trendiest wrinkle popping up in many offenses across the NFL.
Actually, two other teams that have run the read-option with great success in 2012 both reside in the NFC—the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
To keep this from being a complete and utter nightmare for the Cowboys, Chip Kelly won't be taking his ultra efficient offense to the professional ranks, and RG3 will be coming off a devastating knee injury next season.
But that doesn't mean Kiffin won't have to deal with similar offensive principles as Dallas' defensive coordinator.
How will his 4-3 defense counter new-age offenses, especially the pesky read-option?
Well, I'd be foolish and rather arrogant to think that I had the answer to the collegiately-inspired offensive attacks that confused the greatest defensive minds and players in the NFL this year.
(I like to think I'm neither foolish nor arrogant.)
But I do have some suggestions as to what Kiffin should do and some ideas as to what we may see from the Cowboys defense in the future.
The Tampa 2 creator has always placed an emphasis on speed over size and power within his defense. That emphasis could help in defending the read-option.
While Kiffin's presence could alter how Dallas approaches the 2013 draft, he does already have talented and rather speedy defenders at his disposal.
In the 4-3, DeMarcus Ware will be more of a pure pass-rusher than anything else, which should help him to remain viable as he enters the twilight of his career. However, linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will be equally as vital when attempting to limit the read-option.
Luckily for Kiffin, Lee and Carter are young, quick and oozing with upside.
The key to defending the read-option lies within the technique of the attacking edge defender, which, in all likelihood, will be Ware, but could be Carter on many occasions. If the edge defender who's being placed on an island by the offense over-commits to the run, the quarterback will almost always have an easy running lane to the outside.
If the defender keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and attacks the quarterback, the defense will win more often than not.
It is important that the rest of the defensive line tries to beat their blocks and penetrate the backfield just in case the running back does indeed get the ball on a sweep play.
Although Ware won't have to make as many decisions as a 4-3 defensive end and will never drop into coverage, he may be asked to be more disciplined against the read-option. Also, if Kiffin wants to keep it simple for the sack specialist, the quicker Carter or Lee could be placed as the edge defender.
Whichever linebacker doesn't line up on the edge must read his teammate and be ready to make the tackle close to the line.
The Cowboys defense can stay true to many of Kiffin's Tampa 2 principles, but its most accomplished player, DeMarcus Ware, and the club's two young and rangy linebackers, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, must be schooled on the proper technique in which to counter an offense they'll see plenty of in the future.
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