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Cowboys Nation Position Breakdown – Safety

Bryson Treece

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Since I believe the biggest need this off-season for the Cowboys is at safety, I'm going to offer my breakdown of the players we currently have on the roster.

Roy Williams -
I know, obvious first pick, but Williams is coming off his seventh year in the league and deserves first mention. After all, he has been a safety on the Cowboys roster longer than any other safety here.

Sad to say though, that after Woodson retired, Williams has done little else to warrant first mention, anywhere.

He missed most of 2008 after breaking his forearm not once, but twice, and landed on IR. Many will still agree now, as we did then, that him being injured actually solved the problem of how to limit his liability on the field in coverage.

I think he still has talent, but he doesn't seem to keep his head in a game and loses focus, which leads to mistakes in all aspects of his game. If Campo, having a full season and two off-seasons to get Williams thinking like a football player again, then I say he stays. But he'd have to really wow the coaches and Jerry Jones in order to justify his salary for the year.

If he takes a pay cut, I say he stays here, but only if he takes a pay cut. I don't see him giving up enough money for the Cowboys to keep him. Personally, I'd like to see him take a shot at middle linebacker, especially if Thomas and/or Burnett leave. If his biggest weakness is coverage, then put him in a position with less coverage duties. Might work, worth a shot at least.

But overall, I don't see Roy Williams having a big future on the Dallas defense.

Keith Davis -
What can you say about this guy? He's got heart, and he's about as tough as they come; fighting through a third degree sprain in his knee to at least try to play the season finale. He did get hurt in that game, but it took more than a down or series to bring him out.

Coming back from the Dolphins in 2008, he was immediately named a team captain, a role he had assumed before. His drive exceeds his ability in many ways, but it all seems to level out on the playing field. As a safety he isn't the best we could get, he might not even be the best we have, but on special teams he is a monster and should be retained.

The Cowboys will get Davis resigned, and he should be willing now after seeing how loyal this team is to him.

Ken Hamlin -
In 2007, everyone was ready to dub this guy the next great safety for the Cowboys, and if not for his lacking leadership skills and a couple of missed plays, he might have been. Instead, Jerry gave him the big contract he wanted anyway, and since we haven't seen the same level of play from him.

He's good at getting to the ball, and he isn't easily fooled, of course it's hard to say that after the miss he had in the Baltimore game, but the guy is a good safety when he is playing his best. I don't think age or ability is slowing him down.

He needs to get himself back on track for the 2009 season, to refocus himself on his goals, and the teams goals. If he can get ready to play, I see him making a big impact next year. And if not, there are guys waiting in line behind him for a chance.

Having watched it happen to Williams over two seasons now, he knows that the coaches will make him a two down player if he doesn't improve, and fast.

Tra Battle -
Not a lot of info out there on this guy. He's been signed to practice squads and active rosters a lot, but none of it really stuck.

Thanks to an injury riddled season on defense, we got to see him play and from what I saw, he's got good enough skills to keep him around. I was particularly impressed when he was signed during the week, then on the opening kickoff he makes a very solid tackle on the returner. It caught my eye right away that #35 didn't waste time doing his job.

He looked at times like he could use a little more training, which is why it's good he's in Dallas with Phillips. The system is similar to what he's dealt with at all in his young career, and a full off-season with the team should do him good.

With the issues of depth and performance at safety on this team, I look to see #35 back in blue and silver come training camp.

Pat Watkins -
There isn't much to say about Pat, except that someone needs to show him how to protect himself better. These nagging injuries, while minor, have cost him valuable playing time recently. No doubt a missed opportunity considering the need at safety this year.

He will be back in 2009. He has displayed great upside when healthy, it's just a matter of keeping him healthy for a whole season.

Courtney Brown -
He has also had some injury problems, but nothing too major. He's displayed good quickness when he has played, which has been limited.

Maybe it's because he was a cornerback in college and drafted as such, but the transition to safety hasn't been a smooth one for him. He's a seventh round pick and has offered seventh round production thus far.

Cowboys will likely keep him due to depth concerns at the position, but look mostly to continue grooming him.

And that's it. We head into free agency and the draft with big concerns for the safety positions on this team, concerns that will have to be addresses, especially if Roy Williams is released as many expect.

Anyone have anything to add?



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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12 Comments
  • The Wizard

    You’re right the safety position is one of the most important the Cowboys have to solve this off-season.

    Personally, I would like to see Roy Williams stay. I think the coaches need to find a way to maximize his talents and hide his weaknesses. I believe having him in on 1st, 2nd, and short yardage downs is the best thing. But, they have to keep him around the line of scrimmage. With the secondary playing more man he can do that. They need to make defenses account for where he is on the field and try to find out if he is blitzing, covering the flat, or what.

    I think Hamlin is a good safety as well. But, I think he is playing out of position. He is more of a strong safety rather than a free safety. Still, I think you let him play free when Williams is on the field and then slide him over to strong safety on passing downs/nickel packages and bring in Anthony Henry to play free safety. It may help extend Henry’s career and also keep him healthy.

    I like Keith Davis and Tra Battle but I believe they are best suited to play special teams.

    The wildcard I beleive is Watkins, who should be a great free safety if he allows himself to be. He really needs to work on his game because with his size and speed he could really be the ballhawking free safety this team needs.

  • Bryson

    Good points. Something that’s been nagging at me for a while now is just like you said, Hamlin is better as a strong safety.

    Strikes me as odd that he is playing FS and Williams is playing SS when Williams made a name for himself as a FS next to Woodson.

    Obviously, Roy doesn’t quite fit the mold of free safety, but he makes it work when he’s there. Just seems like the Coaches should be noticing that as well, and regardless of what’s what on paper, they should be seeing how the fit is on the field.

  • The Wizard

    When Williams and Woodson were playing together there really wasn’t a free safety. It just depended on the which side was the strong side of the formation and they adjusted accordingly.

    I just think over the last few years, back to the Parcells days, none of the coaches have done a good job of putting Williams in a position to succeed. Everyone knows he struggles when he is lined up 15 yards away from the ball. Yet, they still put him back there. His obvious strength is in and around the line of scrimmage where he can be force against the run and blitz.

    Now, Williams is not completely innocent either. He needs to get into better shape. I think his conditioning, or lack thereof, has been a part of his problems.

  • Bryson

    This year, after his first arm break, I think it was during the first Redskins game, he looked to be a lot quicker. I was actually surprised at how fast he was getting to the ball. But before that, I agree that he seemed out of shape.

    He has always been good on the line, but I think some of the problem came in when you look at Hamlin, and he isn’t good enough at FS to let Williams get on the line and make a play.

    But we agree that Hamlin is more of SS, and we know that Roy Williams did a good job next to Woodson, it just doesn’t make sense not to switch them around at safety. Williams is good from the FS spot when he has a good SS next to him, and I think with our current personnel, that is the best way to utilize both players.

    I do wonder if Williams would be any good as a middle linebacker though. he’s a bit small, but no more so than Dat was. he is quick when in shape, and he’s good closer to the line, just seems like a logical choice get Williams up to speed as a linebacker, especially if Thomas doesn’t return. You could rotate Williams and Burnett maybe at the weak middle linebacker spot.

    Of course I also think we should move Barber to fullback and Henry, a zone corner, to safety.

  • The Wizard

    I’m not sure about Williams at linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Maybe if the Cowboys went to a 4-3 he could play the weakside. I just think he’d get eaten up by the OL in a 3-4.

    As far as your other moves, I agree with Henry to safety. But, I would leave Barber at running back. I think the Cowboys have the ability to have a great running game next season. If it were up to me, I would use Barber and Choice as my primary runners on 1st and 2nd down. I would continue to have Barber start and then have Choice spell him mostly in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and then have Barber close the show.

    I would use Felix as a 3rd down back and also my kickoff and maybe punt returner. I will also design new packages each week for Felix that we could use 5-10 plays each game where he would be in the game also on 1st and 2nd downs. This would cause DC’s to account for him every time he is on the field. Plus, it would ensure that we found creative ways to get him the ball. Especially in space.

  • Bryson

    That’s what I’m talking about, finding ways to use the best players in ways that free them to perform at their best. I’m not convinced that your idea would work, but at least we each have an idea of what could be done, or attempted. Bugs me that I don’t see the same thing out of the Cowboys, not even when Barber and Jones were healthy.

    I like the idea of having that trick play built into the roster. With your idea, I just see that when certain personnel is called in because of roles, the opposing defense gets an idea of what’s coming just from who lines up. That’s why Barber at fullback works, because you get all the options without tipping off the D right away.

    I seriously doubt, though, that Felix will be a 3rd down back. He just has too much upside to not challenge Barber for the starting job, inexperience and all. But that plan kind of works in that you beat ’em with Barber early, make em run us down with Choice and Jones at random, then sock it to them for the finish. That’s nearly a whole game won with the running game right there, excellent possibilities.

    I tend to think that about Williams as well, but then I just remember back a few years ago when he was playing great football. He didn’t seem to struggle that much with the size up front, even though on paper he most definitely should struggle with big offensive linemen. A good example is McNabb and how Williams used to get to him. I know scheming has a lot to do with it, but when Parcels first switched us to a 3-4, Roy was still doing good and being used at the line more. McNabb is hard to bring down, and while Roy did use his now illegal horse collar technique, he got him down. Roy shouldn’t be able to contest a guy like McNabb as well as he did, but he did.

    I gotta think there’s something to that.

  • Bryson

    That includes one of the best right now, in Westbrook, teams know that even when he lines up at wide out, there’s only a few choices for that play.

  • The Wizard

    I’m not really talking about trick plays per se in the package I’m talking about. One week the package could be to line him up in the slot, another week on the outside with a receiver in the slot. Another week could have him and Barber/Choice in a split back. Their could be weeks where trick plays using him could be built in (reverses, wildcat, etc…) Just something that gives the DC headaches trying to figure out.

    I don’t like the idea of having him as a starting back because I don’t think he can handle the pounding over the season. Plus, I don’t think it plays to his strength. As a third down back, he’ll play more on a spread field, which will enable him to use his speed more effectively. Plus, he is the ideal back to use in that draw play that Garrett loves so much.

    As far as Roy is concerned, we are in total agreement. I think his stock actually went up this past season. Especially, in the Baltimore game. I just don’t see those 2 runs happening with him there. Plus, receivers had no fear of going over the middle. In past years, you could see receivers running over the middle with their heads on a swivel because they didn’t want to end up on SportsCenter.

  • Bryson

    Now that’s funny. I remember some great plays watching the look of fear in the eyes of a receiver as they saw Williams coming. And no, those two runs don’t happen with him there. I’ve seen some people talk about it being the fault of Davis on those two runs, but people forget that Hamlin was lined up strong side for both of those plays. I still think is a keeper, not a full time starter, but he can play safety, and he’s a monster on special teams. I wonder how good he’ll be with DeCamillis in charge this year.

    You’ve got a great point about Jones on third down. Easier to use speed when the D is looking for a pass. If he were to start, it would be in a close tandem with Barber because you need a guy that can pound the line forward.

    That trick play thing wasn’t so much about the plays, just the idea of being able to achieve the same effect on the defense by job title.

    I actually like the idea you bring up a lot. But I don’t have the confidence in Garrett to keep an effective offensive scheme going while finding new ways each week to use the runners right. We saw his inability to even try it with Owens this year. But it doesn’t hurt to dream though.

    It’s a catch 22 … when he plays, it’s easy to find the areas where he sucks, and when he’s injured you see just what he brought to the game. I want Williams here, I just don’t see it happening.

  • The Wizard

    I’m in agreement with you about Garrett, who I truly believe is the biggest problem on the team right now. People can’t point at TO all the want. But, when they were 13-3 and Owens was heavily involved in the offense there were no problems. In fact, he ws being called a model teammate. Now, with Sparano gone and Garrett’s reluctance to use Owens more effectively he was upset.

    But, that is another topic.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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