It’s the Great Nose Tackle Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Look!  There he is!  The Great
Nose Tackle! 

Thank you, Bryan Baker!

For years, I’ve argued that nose tackle Jay Ratliff belongs on the nose and will finish his career on the nose.  See here, here, herehere, here and here.  And every spring and every fall, I’ve heard the argument that a “true” nose tackle, who can magically crack pockets,  and move Ratliff to DE, will save the Cowboys defense.  It rises and lingers, like the myth of the Great Pumpkin.

Bill Parcells, Mike Zimmer, Wade Phillips and Rob Ryan have all left Ratliff on the nose, and still the calls for that great pumpkin of a man leads the true-nose tackle Linuses out into the draft, pumpkin patch every April.

Today, defensive line coach Bryan Baker was asked about Ratliff’s chances of moving to defensive end, and he took the Linuses’ collective blanket away, telling the DMN’s Jon Machota the following:

Can we move past this meme once and for all?  There’s no Great Pumpkin, and there’s no Great Nose Tackle who’s going to move Jay Ratliff outside.  

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

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  • kameleon_o

    I listened to Stephen Jones on Talkin Cowboys and he sounded a lot more agreeable to the idea of Ratliff moving to DE. He made mention of how they wouldn’t mind a bigger NT than Rat and he mentioned the idea that playing NT right now might be shortening his career. Didn’t say he was for it or against it but definitely sounded positive about it. He said they’ve had the debate before about having a guy like a Brockers in there (does that mean they were considering him playing NT??) and having a guy in there that’s hard to move like a Wilfork. He said it brings a dimension that they haven’t had there in awhile in terms of a space eater. He made it sound like they didn’t have a preference, and mentioned that Wade and Rob have said this, that all they needed to know was what type of NT they were going to have so they could scheme accordingly. Stephen said that if the right time ever presented itself and they could get one of those mammoth NT’s because they have a way of getting pressure on the QB and walking those O-linemen back into the QB’s. He said that they have considered moving Ratliff to DE and that there’s some people that have said it would prolong his career but it’s hard to convince Rat to move. 

  • Cameron North

    I just want to say, I learn more in depth stuff about the game from this blog and comment section than I did playing football. Very intelligent bloggers & readers. 

  • Lanceb17

    ratliff is one of my favorite players, guy plays his guts out…  wish we had more like him, spears and hatcher just don’t get it.

  • Montecito Tex

    Tex has that thought. Not so much in regards to Ratliff, but the lack of a space-eater in the middle of a 3-4. 

  • MadMick

    I’ve been sucked a time or two into buying the Ratliff to DE package. But eventually I took the ten or fifteen seconds to consider that if those forefathers of the 3-4 Bill, Wade and Rob see Rat as a pure nose tackle, then by golly that’s what he is.

    Now the way I see it; Rat has the same basic three-year window all the other backbone guys on this team have. The only thing I see possibly happening over that span is the team gradually rotating other guys in more and more to preserve Rat.  

    The big thing to remember here is that the organization has never seriously considered such a move anymore than they’ve ever considered drafting a speedy diminutive waterbug type receiver early. But then again what’s this blog even here for if not to prattle on about stuff like Rat-to-DE?

  • 33

    Rat is turning 31 before the season starts.  I don’t pretend to know his expiration date, but the team has to be realistic.  He is involved in multiple collisions on every play. 

    The team has got to bring in young NT challengers the next couple of years.

    Whether one of those challengers becomes an immediate replacement, or a rotation guy to extend Ratliff, it does not matter. Whether they are 350lb NT prototypes or 315lb hybrids, it does not matter.  Time marches on.

  • M0rton

    But wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with a big 350lb Dontari Poe type at the NT instead of an undersized 290lb one-gapper?

    I think you would be hard pressed to find any 3-4 coach that wouldn’t rather have the 350lb man over the 290-300lb man manning the NT spot.

    • greatwhitenorth

      Hard pressed?  Raf just named FOUR of them, one of whom has Hall of Fame credentials and the other three are highly respected as DCs.  It’s not like they’re just stuck with Ratliff because they can’t find anyone else, either.  They’ve had umpteen chances to go after that 350lb man, in the draft, with UDFAs, with top dollar FAs, and with experienced veteran retreads.  How many times have they even bothered to bring in one of those for a look-see?  ZERO.

      You might be more comfortable with a 350lb man there, and that’s fine.  But as Baker said, the ones that matter to the Cowboys actually like Ratliff there.  Really.  Seriously.  No joke.  Really!  Really?  Really.

  • AustonianAggie

    Dallas was #7 on the run and that includes taking it on the nose VS philly. Rat needs a side kick 5-tech. I’m tired of the Ratlif to DE meme as well, it shows how people haven’t been paying attention. I don’t know, maybe sometime after his 4th Probowl selection? 

    Ratliff wasn’t an effective 5tech, and he’s a very effective nose. Now if we could do something about Marcus Spears getting tossed around


      When Brent got hurt the run defense suffered go look at the numbers. The reason they finished #7 is because for the first part of the year they were like in the top 3. If you think the pro bowl is an indicator of talent you probably like the top 100 that seen Romo drop to 91 after a career year in which he played with n injury far worse the the one that sidelined Vick. Its a popularity contest not a true measuire of how good you are.

  • I’ll admit the Ratliff-to-DE argument has swayed me this offseason. 

    What has been changing my mind
    – Ratliff’s declining sack total 7-6-3-2 over the past 4 years
    – The Ravens doing exactly this with Terrence Cody moving Haloti Ngata moving to DE.  This move improved their interior run defense and Haloti Ngata’s ability to pressure the QB.
    – Undersized NT under contract for the next 7 years?  Perhaps we should slow down the wear and tear on our investment

    • truecowboyfan

      A wise man will adapt to changing facts and circumstances. Its disheartening to see the Boys stick to their guns on this one, despite less than stellar defensive output over the past couple of years.

  • Milkshaker

    If Bryan Baker is still tryin 2 indentify who has that thought, he should watch the latest Talkin’ Cowboys. Stephen Jones very clearly indicates it’s been a topic of discussion and made it sound like Ratliff has resisted the move.

  • Milkshaker

    Said Rob Ryan, upon signing Shaun Rogers in Cleveland…

    “[stuff about Ahtyba Rubin], but there’s only so many Shaun Rogers in this league. To put him in the middle of your defense is something special.”


    “You have a Reggie White lined up at tackle and end and nose tackle. A guy like Shaun, just have him on the field whether at nose, tackle, a shade, a three-technique, an end — doesn’t matter.”

    (…yes, he did just connect Shaun Rogers to Reggie White.)

    While this can be used to explain Ryan’s newly found openness to using a small, quick, high-effort DT at NT — a view he did not hold in previous places of employment — it also puts a missile in any debate that depends on coaches being far above us wee mindless fans of football for 25+ years. 

    We be uncapable of umbderstandin’ wut we sees. We’re just here for the beer commercials. 


    • He didn’t bring Shaun to Dallas, did he?  Because Shaun has always had conditioning issues.  

      Who is Wade using on the nose in Houston?  Shaun Cody, all 300 lbs. of him.   They didn’t have much trouble last year, did they?

      How is Mount Cody doing in Baltimore?  That fat boy can’t get on the field.  

      I’ll say it for the umpteenth time. It’s the size AND the movement. They don’t care for 345 lb. guys who can’t move laterally and can’t stay on the field for more than 20 snaps.

      But that’s what I see far too often in the “true nose tackle” argument, the faith that size cures all.

  • Bluefin

    Stephen Jones was asked the great NT question on Talkin’ Cowboys on Thursday (I believe).

    Jones said it was a very good question and the team always  debates about it. Jay Ratliff, though undersized, gets it done in rund defense with quickness, he’s elite quick twitch and first step coming off the ball and he’s very good in pass rush.

    They’ve had the debate, looking at a guy like Michael Brockers, when you get a guy who’s hard to move (Wilforks of the world), it brings a dimension to your defense we haven’t had in a while in terms of a real space eater in terms of the running game.

    Wade and Rob have said they can go either way, they just need to know what they have to work with and will scheme accordingly.

    If the right time ever presented itself and we could get one of those mammoth NTs that takes two guys to block in the running game and they have their way of applying pressure in the passing game by walking guys back in the pocket, The Ngatas and Wilforks of the world, they’re a pain in the butt, you can ask Romo. When you get pressure right up the middle, QBs want to climb up in the pocket and can’t, they get pressure in their own ways.

    It’s a great question, it’d be nice to have complimentary, Josh Brent has some good size to him and does some of that, was injured last year, we think he’ll bring some of that to the dance. And then we got Clifton Geathers, who can play up and down the line, and has some things that create issues for teams as he continues to get more seasoned.

    Bryan Broaddus mentioned Sean Lissemore also playing in the middle and Stephen said he’s more out of the Ratliff mode, quick twitch, high motor, come at you every play.

    Broaddus followed with any thought of kicking Rat out to 5 tech DE if a space eating NT is added.

    Stephen: Oh, yeah. There are people who say it’d prolong his career because you aren’t getting banged on by the big guys inside. It’s hard to convince a guy who’s been successful that he may be better in the 5 tech on run downs and still play DT on passing downs.

    He thinks Rat enjoys being quicker than the interior OL, it’s an advantage. The thought would be if you had a guy like Brockers to move Rat to the 5 and still let him rush the passer from the Nose and let Brockers use his length as a rusher from the End.

    It’s certainly been talked about, thought about, but so far the way the chips have fallen…we’ll pretty much be the way we’ve been.

    The NT segment starts at 33:50.

    • Wade actually tried it for a couple of days back in ’08.  He announced it in one of his morning pressers.  

      That day, I asked Ratliff to his face what he thought of moving to DE. He looked at me like I had just told him his mother died.  He froze, got this stricken look and said, “I thought the coaches just said they were trying it out for a day.”  He thought I knew more than he did, and it was clear he didn’t like the idea. 

      On  Brockers, he was going to be the 5, a power 5, which is how Baltimore uses Ngata.  Which has been a point I’ve made all along.  If you’ve got a power guy, who cares if he’s on the 5 or the 1? When you’re rushing 4, that 5 is mashing Gs and working with Ratliff inside.

      Funny thing is, one of the biggest NT partisans around (I’m looking at you, Sturm) hated Brockers, but loved Poe.  

      When the rumor Wednesday was that Brockers could be the guy, there was a lot of fury from the  fan base, which is odd, because I suspect a lot of those angry with Brockers in the 1st would have loved a Ta’amu in the 3rd.  

      • Bluefin

         It sounded like they’d move someone like Brockers around on the line along with Rat and Geathers.

        Leon Lett, who sees himself in the young DL, has been tutoring Geathers (6-7, 320) on playing with leverage and hand usage since last year.

        I’m in total agreement that if a defense has a size/power guy, it doesn’t matter which position he calls home.

        Halot Ngata plays DE in the Ravens 3-4 looks and DT in the Nickel.

        My biggest concern with Rat is decreasing his snap count as he gets worn down by season’s end by playing too much. Josh Brent needs to stay healthy and develop a role on run downs in the middle to facilitate this.

        • Precisely.  They need power bodies period.  Ryan moves all these guys up and down the line.  They play 0, 1, 3, 5 and sometimes 7 in his scheme, and line up over the Cs, Gs and OTs.  All of them.

          Brockers did a lot of 5 and 3 work with a little 1 thrown in from time to time at LSU.  That would have been his role in Dallas, had they stayed at 14 and drafted him.  Geathers has prototype 5 size, and at 320 is Brockers’ size.  If he can power off the LE and you’re getting some crunch from Crawford on the weakside, you’re on the road to getting better.

  • Lee1936

    I have nothing against Ratliff, who’s been one of our top two defense players, with Ware.  But I can see him wearing down late in games, and less effective in late season.  

    Suppose after this season, we have a chance in the 1st round to take Dallas’ first-ever true monster NT, who reminds scouts of a young Vince Wilfork.  Would Dallas draft him?  

    Not a chance!  They’d target a TE, RB, WR, or CB instead.   

  • Dominate86

    What about the Stephen Jones’ comments there Baker? Also if we just look at the last half of last year when Brent was hurt and those run D numbers were not very good. Also this whole fantasy about if Ratliff played the 5 tech he would get wore down faster is that its a fantasy. Put him next to Ware and the OT/G wouldnt be able to double him and Ware so how is Ratliff going to wear down is an OC going to leave Ware in single coverage?

  • rabblerousr

    Wait, there’s no Great Pumpkin?

  • truecowboyfan

    Arrogance has been the downfall of many great civilizations. I fear that Baker ‘s response wreaks of arrogance. I truly hope their assessment of the situation is right. We all know they have made some huge miscalculations in the past.

    • Lee1936

      How could anyone expect a new asst coach to take a public stand criticizing his own management’s roster or draft?

  • Jim Vance

    There is a great pumpkin out there, but he’s probably still in Samoa and not presently on the Cowboys.

    Obviously Ratliff can play the nose, for now. He uses his explosive first step, quickness and athleticism in place of mass.

    Ratliffs skills will decline sooner and faster than those of Casey Hampton and Butch Wilfork. When that happens, the Cowboys are likely to still not have that Great Pumpkin.

    I’d like to see them bring bring in a wide body to extend Ratliffs career and keep him fresh and be ready for the inevitable transition.

    The guy can use his considerable skills to play that position but being under-sized (compared to the prototypes) but his longevity will be compromised.

    • Jim,

      I don’t believe they’re looking for a great pumpkin.  I think when they get Rat’s replacement, they’ll want another guy like him, around 310-315 or so, with quickness, long arms and nasty power in his punch.  

      This is a one-gap scheme.  So was Wade’s.  I don’t think the sumo 345 lb. fits what they want to do.

  • JD

    Personally, I’m getting tired of seeing him being herded all the way to one sideline or another by a double team on inside running plays. Good as he is at penetrating the pocket and chasing stuff from behind or the side, he’s just too small to stand up as a true 34 nose tackle.

    Of course no one remotely connected to the organization is going to admit this unless they already have the talent on hand and a plan in place to change it.

    • “he’s just too small to stand up as a true 34 nose tackle.”

      Some memes die hard, I tell you.  Hard.

      • Lee1936

        Maybe there’s a good reason it doesn’t die.  It’s LOGICAL.  Great 3-4 defenses have a great NT, and none of the great 3-4 NTs weigh 285 like Ratliff.  

        Instead, they are RARE and SPECIAL–your own words from a blog a couple months ago, when your topic of the day was Ta’amu and Poe.  

        • Then why has this team never drafted one? It’s going into year 9 of the scheme, and Jerry has brought some of the best 3-4 people around to run it.  

          Maybe it’s not as logical as you make it seem.  

          • truecowboyfan

            1 playoff win in those 9 years tells me that their not doing something right. Perhaps misusing their most talented defensive lineman?

          • AustonionAggie

            you can’t use Jay Ratliff as a “1 play off win in X years” and also use “Tony Romo” or the secondary. You know it what this team is doing wrong? It must be the color of their uniforms.

            I expect when Ratliff retires we’ll go out and get another player like him, or we’ll spend forever looking, ala Darren Woodson

          • truecowboyfan

            Sure I can. Because there isn’t 1 reason that can explain the Cowboys playoff woes in the past 9 years. It’s a combination of things. Im just SUGGESTING that misusing Rat might be one of the reasons.

          • AustonionAggie

             7th in the NFL vs the Rush. Replace him why? He’s the very first guy they have to block.

          • Lee1936

            Why has this team never drafted one?

            Raf, my guess is that GM Jerry never understood that a 3-4 NT is a RARE, SPECIAL guy, ESSENTIAL TO A 3-4 DEFENSE.  We all know how devoted he is to his better players, like Ratliff, and also to his theory about reserving high picks for “skill positions,” and not wasting them on interior OL or interior DL.  

            That would be my attempt to explain the otherwise inexplicable.    

          • Xgonzo22

            I think thats the problem right there. This defense is only in a true 3-4 base set 20% of the time. They do not want a Monster in the middle. It doesn’t fit what they want to do.

          • hardwater

            My sources tell me there will be a baker’s dozen of 345 pound high motor quick-twitch lateral-quickness 3-down play all game with no substitution required can’t miss NT’s in the top of the first round draft picks next year. Seeing this bounty Jerry will trade out of the first round for additional 2nd and 3rd round picks and instead take a couple of TE’s out of loyalty to Ratliff and the remaining years on his contract.

      • CMcClure

        The Cowboys defense hasn’t controlled the line of scrimmage in years.  Granted he’s got garbage on either side of him, but Ratliff doesn’t provide anything close to the anchor or disruption that the much bigger Wilfork and Ngata showed in the playoffs last year.  I don’t think he’s suited to play end in a 3-4, either.  Count me among the group that’s tired of seeing him get walked downfield by double teams.  For all the superstar hype that Ratliff and Ware receive, the Cowboys’ pass rush is pretty poor.  I get the point that better talent around him will help, but neither he nor Ware beat single team blocking as often as people think. 

        • Tdships

          Shouldn’t the ILB’s be making opposing O’s pay the price for double teaming the NT?

  • Rob

    I think what it stems from is the fact that the cowboys haven’t found someone to spell him during games to keep him fresh. We can all admit he tires by the end of the season & most people see that & say oh, we need a true nose. The boys just need someone to step up to handle some of the huge number of plays rat has to play.

    • He plays a ton of snaps, but the rush defense has been top 12 every season but one since 2003.  It’s finished in the top 10 in six of those seasons.  And as I’ve argued before, moving him to DE would wear him out faster, since OTs are much bigger than Cs.

      The need has always been for better DEs who can create pressure in addition to him and to Ware.

      • LT

        They still have a hole at the LDE position. Crawford’s body type and skill set seems more suited for the Jason Hatcher role at RDE, and that’s where he’s been getting the snaps at durin this weekend’s rookie camp. My guess is they are grooming him to take Hatcher’s spot when his contract is up next year. Had they drafted Brockers, they’d have filled the LDE spot, athough I’m glad they traded up for Clairborne instead.

        I’m really interested to see who they going with at LDE. They can’t have much faith in Spears or Coleman, can they? Is Clifton Geathers the darkhorse?

        • 99yard_TD_Run

          I believe I’ve read where the ‘boys are gonna try Lissemore @LDE.

      • nightspook

        Raf is correct.  It is a “system” with “moving parts”.  The other side places focus on our best parts (Rat and Ware).  Once our other parts can take advantage of 1 on 1 and open lane gaps the entire game changes.  It can get ugly (for the other team) in a hurry. We are an insanely better press cover team now.  Lissmore is a year stronger and more expierienced.  We have options for 3rd down now from both the DE and SOLB position. The offense should dominate time of possession and often play from ahead resulting in less time for the D to be on the field and so on. A domino effect and one which we have not had the moving parts to correctly enact.  I am very excited watching this defense grow.

      • truecowboyfan

        I believe a more stout NT is needed and that Rat would be better utilized at the 3tech (when in 4 man line) and 5 tech (in their base 3 – 4). I know u feel otherwise, so I’ll just comment on your current argument.

        1. The run D stats u listed are misleading. First of all, u should only be looking at stats from the past 2 or 3 years, since the big issue with Rat is if he is wearing down in his advancing age. Secondly, good run D stats can be the product of a horrible pass defense, since opponents attack, and accumulate all their yardage, through the air. I think Dallas falls in to this category.

        2. Yes, an OT is bigger than a C. But a C and OG combo is MUCH bigger than an OT. And a NT will almost always get doubled, and in any case, much more than a 5 tech will.