When owner Jerry Jones decided to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and replace him with the experienced (and very old) Monte Kiffin, he was essentially saying it was time to simplify the team's approach on that side of the ball.
Kiffin is the architect of the Tampa-2 defense, which was made famous during his 13 years as defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This scheme helped the Buccaneers to win their first and only Super Bowl back in the 2002-03 season.
The general concept is designed around freeing up the defensive line so it can attack upfield by playing the run on the way to the quarterback. This also means there should be little need to blitz.
In the back end, "Cover 2" is defined by having two deep safeties, each asked to play half the field as deep as the deepest man on offense. The middle of the field is a vulnerable spot but is given some protection by the middle linebacker who is asked to drop almost as far back as a safety once the pass is declared.
Though he isn’t expected to get enough depth to truly cover the middle completely, his drop is designed to put more air on the QB’s delivery, which should give the safeties more time to break on the ball.
The two cornerbacks in a “Tampa 2” are expected to be very physical—both against the receivers and in run support. They're essentially the outside contain player against the run and are not expected to carry the receivers too far up the field. Their primary job is to jam and reroute receivers before settling between eight and 12 yards in order to break on any intermediate routes thrown toward the perimeter.
The middle of field inside the intermediate zone is supposed to be covered by the two outside linebackers. This is about 10 to 12 yards deep and between the numbers.
This Sunday night, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys personnel manage to make the transition from a 3-4 defense to a Tampa-2 concept in just a matter of months.
One player to keep an eye on in particular is pass-rush extraordinaire DeMarcus Ware. This will be his first time lining up at defensive end in the NFL, and he no longer has to worry about dropping into coverage. He should be completely free to treat every down as if it were 3rd-and-long.
This is similar to the assignment Dwight Freeney had during the pinnacle of his career with the Colts.
Middle linebacker Sean Lee will also be a key player to keep an eye on. He will need to demonstrate very quick read-and-react instincts as well as fluidity in the hips to get as deep as he possibly can when the pass declares.
If Ware and Lee are able to adjust to the new defensive scheme in Dallas, this should be an intimidating group for any offense to face as the season progresses.