After spending some time looking back at the 2016 season, I re-watched some of the Pittsburgh Steelers game. One thing that was clear was the lack of depth at cornerback. In that game the team was got killed by Eli Rogers and Jesse James in the middle of the field, and by Le'Veon Bell who split out wide several times.
If you'll remember, Bell caught the opening touchdown pass for Pittsburgh when he matched up with J.J. Wilcox on the outside. That's a mismatch any team will take, any day. Wilcox, for all his strengths, should never be relied upon to cover someone with Bell's receiving ability one-on-one.
With the way the NFL is now comprised, you need depth at the cornerback position. Looking at the composition of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, they finally have that.
Between Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White, the Cowboys have six (SIX!!) guys who could contribute in 2017. Five of those guys could all start on the inside or the outside and Awuzie has the flexibility to play some safety.
On the Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule, they will have to face some pretty impressive passing games.
The New York Giants look to have one of the most formidable receiving groups going, especially if Brandon Marshall returns to his 2015 form.
Philadelphia will be no slouch either.
Washington, while not lining up the big names that Philadelphia and New York do, has really good players in Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder. Josh Doctson will be healthy this year and will make the Redskins passing game more lethal.
The Arizona Cardinals — despite an aging Carson Palmer — have several legitimate weapons in the passing game. Larry Fitzgerald has redefined himself as a slot machine as he operates primarily from in the middle of the field these days. In fact, he led the league in receptions from the slot in 2016. RB David Johnson is a dangerous receiving weapon as well.
The Atlanta Falcons use several players — like Mohammed Sanu and Tevin Coleman — who are effective from the slot, not to mention superstar Julio Jones.
Though he had a down year in 2016, Randall Cobb remains one of the more effective weapons in the middle of the field and don't sleep on Ty Montgomery either. He had several games with 10 receptions. Now converted to running back, Montgomery will be split out at times to keep defenses off-balance, and he remains a difficult cover out of the backfield. Davante Adams is emerging and Jordy Nelson will play forever.
The Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders have several players each that can be effective from the slot.
This doesn't even begin to cover the tight ends that Dallas has on the schedule.
Evan Engram, Jordan Reed, and Zach Ertz — twice —, Jake Butt — if healthy — , Martellus Bennett — yes, him –, Marcus Mosher's rookie favorite, George Kittle, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry for the Chargers, Cowboys-killer Jared Cook, and the resurgent Jimmy Graham for Seattle.
The point is, Dallas is going to have to be really good against the pass this year for their defense to show the improvement we hope they will make. In 2017, they have the players to do it.
Starting with Orlando Scandrick, who has been the primary slot corner player over his time in Dallas, they have a strong veteran leader who can play with just about anybody in the middle of the field.
While, Scandrick was out in 2016, Anthony Brown — then a rookie — filled in nicely for several games before being called upon to fill in on the outside. Rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are both viewed as players who can be effective inside or outside cornerbacks.
Nolan Carroll isn't a great player by any stretch, but he carries the reputation of being a solid contributor who can cover and make some plays.
Marquez White has some solid traits that could turn him into a fine cornerback in the league, but needs some time to develop.
We may look at the defensive line and their ability to get pressure as the most important key to the 2017 Cowboys season. With the question marks on the defensive line, I see it a bit differently.
What sustained some frustrating drives at times was the quick passing that teams used pretty effectively against the Cowboys in 2016.
A lot of the NFL is now using the quick passing game to get their team in a rhythm. It will be the Dallas cornerback's job to disrupt that rhythm. If the cornerback group can disrupt the wide receiver for even a half a second, it will help the defensive line get home with more frequency.
The passing games that the Dallas Cowboys will face in 2017 will be tough matchups, no doubt. For the Cowboys to reach their 2017 goals, which hopefully include a trip to the promised land, this cornerback group will have to be equally tough.