Since the earliest days of the National Football League, teams have long relied on the availability of game film from their opponents’ past games to establish trends and shape their own game plans going into the weekend action.
So what happens then when a team is facing an opponent that has a new coordinator and has completely revamped the philosophy from years past?
That’s what the New York Giants are about to find out on Sunday night when they face the Dallas Cowboys. Under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who returns to the NFL after four years at the college ranks, the Cowboys have switched from their longtime 3-4 defensive philosophy to a 4-3 base.
While the pro game has evolved during Kiffin’s absence from the NFL, his basic philosophies have pretty much remained the same, which is why several Giants don’t think it’s going to be too difficult to figure out how the Dallas defense might attack them this Sunday night.
“It’s a little difficult but not impossible,” said tight end/fullback Bear Pascoe of the challenges of anticipating what Kiffin might do given his personnel.
“We go back and watch old film from Kiffin’s earlier days like at Tampa Bay and USC and stuff like that, and I think we don’t really need to study the individuals as much as we do the personnel formations and the defenses they’ve played in certain situations.”
“I think he’s got much more mixing, but is more inclined to be coverage,” said Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride of what he’s been able to learn about Kiffin’s defensive philosophies. “Not necessarily the two deep for which he’s famous for, but he’ll mix in single high, but it’s a one funnel. Lot of mixture of a one man dog or that type of thing.”
Kiffin’s defenses—which place a premium on speed—have also historically limited personnel substitutions in order to create confusion for opposing offenses. In addition, they have placed a heavy focus on creating turnovers.
Offensive lineman Kevin Boothe believes that the Cowboys’ personnel is probably better suited for the 4-3 defense, and that it will make things a lot easier for them.
“They have a lot of outstanding players that fit the 4-3,” Boothe said. “I think for a guy like (defensive end) DeMarcus Ware, it almost makes his job easier because now he’s a defensive end that doesn’t have to worry about walking out and covering guys, and instead can play to his strengths, which is rushing the passer.”
That’s why Boothe doesn’t think that Dallas loses much in the conversion. In fact, he believes that the Cowboys have a bit of an advantage in making the switch considering they showed some 4-3 looks last year under Rob Ryan.
“Even though they were a 3-4 on paper, they mixed and matched,” he said. “Rob Ryan had a bunch of different defenses, similar to what the Jets had, where you’re going to see every front known to man.”
So is there an advantage for an offense to go against a 4-3?
“Well, with a 4-3, you know where they’re going to be but the hard part is executing,” Boothe said. “Their scheme isn’t difficult, but they’re extremely well coached, and you have a lot of great players that can make it difficult.”
That’s why the Giants have dug into their historical archives to find hints of what to expect from Kiffin’s defense on Sunday night.
“We have a lot of historical data, so we can call on that to see what Monte Kiffin has done in years past and his general philosophy,” said Boothe. “So that’s how we get a base line—we played against him in years past when he was in Tampa."
“We don’t need to study the guys per se,” added Pascoe. “We kind of know what DeMarcus Ware can do, what Sean Lee can do, those guys and their techniques. The personnel formations for each situation, that’s something that you can look at the data and pick up trends to work with, so in that regard, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
“I think it’s going to be one heck of a game either way no matter what defense they play,” he added.