The firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was met with much scrutiny, appearing to be an attempt to blame Ryan for yet another disappointing Cowboy's season.
Ryan's defense was decimated by injury, and yet he was able to keep the Cowboys competitive. But Ryan's tenure in Dallas was far from perfect. His defenses showed many of the same problems as past Cowboy defenses: lack of discipline, missed assignments in the secondary, and coming up small in big situations. And even when the Cowboys had all their players healthy they were not forcing turnovers, tying the Kansas City Chiefs for fewest interceptions.
By firing Ryan, Jerry Jones makes a statement that the Cowboy's are going to be a different kind of defense in 2013, likely to a 4-3 defense. Jones has been known to make big moves that he thinks can be the difference in his team's success, and this off-season he may be looking at former Bear's head coach Lovie Smith as the guy who can help his team turn the corner.
Smith, the former linebacker coach of the Tampa Bay Bucanneers, employees a "Tampa 2" defense which was popularized by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay. The "Tampa 2" defense requires extreme speed and aggression from its players especially in its linebackers.
This scheme requires the middle linebacker of the defense to cover deep down the middle of the field, essentially playing with the athleticism of another safety, with the size of a linebacker. In Chicago this position was played exceptionally well by Brian Urlacher, but in Dallas he has a budding star who looks to have to excel in this position in Sean Lee. Lee has excelled in zone coverage in his first 3 years, picking off 7 passes in just 21 NFL starts.
The rest of the Cowboy's defense is filled with fast athletic players, such as Demarcus Ware and Bruce Carter. Though it is possible Jay Ratliff will be let go after an injury-plagued and controversy ladden season, should he return, the Tampa 2 is a much more ideal scheme than the 3-4.
The ideal Tampa 2 defensive tackle is light, quick and rushes the passer well, much more similar to Ratliff's style of play than the ideal 3-4 Nose Guard (the position he has played since '05) who is a massive road-grader who takes up blockers and stops the run. With the pair of Ratliff and Jason Hatcher in the middle and Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on the edge, the Cowboys would have a formidable Tampa 2 defensive line.
Did Ryan deserve to have another chance to coach the Cowboys' defense after a season so plagued by injury? Maybe, but if they can bring in Lovie Smith and transition to a scheme that better suits their personnel, his firing will have been the right decision.