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Cowboys’ Defense: Is More Blitzes From The Secondary A Possibility?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys' Defense: Will Rod Marinelli Blitz More In 2017?

When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys' defense, there is no denying there will be changes on that side of the ball. The personnel is what will change the most, so get ready to see a lot of new faces in 2017. Two of those faces could dramatically change how the defense performs, hopefully for the better.

Enter Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods.

I'm personally really excited to see how these two players are utilized on the Cowboys' defense and how Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli will incorporate their unique skill set into his defensive scheme.

Both Awuzie and Woods played a variety of positions in college and that versatility could get them on the field early and often on defense. But, it's not just their versatility that will get them on the field. It's their knack as a blitzer, something that can be utilized to help the Cowboys pass rush.

Of course, we all know the NFL is a step up in competition. But, with these two players on board, I could really see Marinelli utilizing the secondary to blitz more often this season. It really puts pressure on the opposing QB and can help the entire defense.

Let's take a look at how Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods' unique skill set can help the Cowboys' defense.

Disrupting the QB

Sometimes disrupting the opposing quarterback is just as effective as getting the sack. Anything to throw the QB off their game is usually beneficial to the defense. Both Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie have proven to be more than capable at accomplishing this when asked to blitz the QB.

Let's take a look at how disrupting the QB can help the Dallas Cowboys' defense.

Awuzie applying QB pressure - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In the clip above, you see the Dallas Cowboys 2017 second round draft pick, CB Chidobe Awuzie, being sent on a blitz. This is an area of his game that should help the Cowboys' defense and something he has a real knack for.

He cleverly walks up as if he is going to cover the slot WR, but at the snap of the ball he explodes around the right side of the offensive line. Washington's right tackle was immediately put in a tough situation and all of this is in clear view of the QB.

Now, he doesn't get the QB sack, but he does force Washington's quarterback to step up in the pocket in order to throw the ball. Because of the pressure applied by Awuzie, the pass was tipped by one of his teammates at the line of scrimmage and almost resulted in a turnover.

Chidobe Awuzie isn't the only Cowboys' rookie that has shown a knack for applying pressure to opposing QBs. Xavier Woods has shown the ability to do this as well.

Woods applying QB pressure - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In this clip, you see Xavier Woods playing around the line of scrimmage as a box safety. This particular play however doesn't look like a designed blitz. Instead, it looks as if his responsibility is covering the running back in the passing game. Upon seeing the RB is going to pass block, he then decides to rush the QB.

Woods is able to push the RB back into the lap of the QB, causing him to step to the side in order to throw the ball down the field. Unfortunately, the QB is able to connect with his receiver for a sizable gain, but he did make the execution of the play more difficult by forcing the QB to throw the ball little off balance.

Not always, but sometimes these kinds of forced disruptions can benefit the defense, hopefully resulting in turnovers. This is something the Cowboys' defense can certainly use more of.

Sacking the QB

Applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks can usually throw them off their game a little bit, but it doesn't always result in a negative play. That is why QB sacks are so important, but unfortunately the Cowboys' defense has really struggled in this area over the past several years.

Fortunately, Cowboys' rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods can help with this and it also allows Rod Marinelli to get creative with his blitz packages if he chooses. Awuzie had four QB sacks in each of his last two seasons (2015 and 2016) of his collegiate career, and nine altogether. Woods had four QB sacks in his career, but three of those came in 2016 as a senior.

Chidobe Awuzie blitzing - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In the clip above, you can clearly see why Chidobe Awuzie accumulated nearly double digit QB sacks as a defensive back in college. A sack/fumble is something that the Dallas Cowboys haven't had a lot of recently and can definitely use a lot more of.

Awuzie's ability to play any position in the secondary and blitz from that position makes him extremely valuable for the Cowboys' defense. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can utilize this versatility to disguises coverages, but also blitz Awuzie from just about anywhere on the field.

These blitzing instincts simply can't be coached. A player is either born with them or not. Awuzie possesses these instincts in spades and that should make opposing QBs around the league a little bit worried.

Of course, he is not the only Cowboys' rookie that has these kind of instincts.

Xavier Woods QB sack - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In this clip, you can see how Rod Marinelli can utilize Xavier Woods as a blitzer for the Cowboys' defense. On this play, it looks as if Woods is lined up as a cornerbacck instead of his traditional safety spot. But, in the end the result is the same.

Woods does a good job blitzing off the edge and getting good depth to ensure the QB doesn't escape the pocket to his side. Often times, you see defensive backs either rushing too flat or too deep, which can sometimes allow the QB to slip through. But, this is either good coaching or good instincts on the Woods' part, possibly both.

Xavier Woods is also another versatile defensive back that can be blitzed from several different places on the field. At Louisiana Tech he played both free and strong safety, and also played in the slot. I'm sure Marinelli can find a way to utilized that versatility.

✭✭✭✭✭

The Dallas Cowboys' defense definitely has the pieces in place in order to incorporate more blitzes from the secondary in 2017. But, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has never really been known for blitzing a lot.

Of course, that could all change in 2017 if the pass rush struggles like it has the past several seasons. With Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods, it wouldn't be all that surprising if Marinelli incorporates their strengths into the Cowboys' defense.

I for one, think this is a very real possibility and something that could become a staple on defense to help provide a spark to the pass rush.

Do you think the Cowboys' secondary will blitz more in 2017?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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3 Comments
  • Donny Cook

    until Dallas’s front 4 can prove they can be true pocket pushers and get home I am all for blitzing a few times a game

    • Brian Martin

      Hopefully, the front four steps of their game. It would really help improve the Cowboys pass rush. Then throw in a few blitzes from the secondary, and we should be looking at an improved defense.

  • dallas1966

    I’m agreeing with you , hopefully, the front four, will bring consistent pressure on the quarterbacks, to make the blitz unpredictable, on the opposition offense.

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Is Confidence Eroding in Cowboys Offensive Centerpieces?

John Williams

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Breaking Down An Outsider's View of Cowboys Training Camp

The Dallas Cowboys dropped to 1-2 on the season after a 24-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. It was a game that many thought the Cowboys could win as the Seahawks looked to be floundering, having started the season 0-2. However, yet again, we sit here with questions about the coaching staff, particularly Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.

As one of the more optimistically minded fans out here in Cowboys Nation, even I am beginning to have doubts that the key offensive pieces aren't going to cut it anymore. Yes, that even includes Quarterback Dak Prescott.

I've held all offseason that we should be looking at Dak Prescott's first 24 games as a sample of the potential franchise quarterback he could be instead of the final eight games of 2017. In six of the eight games in that span, he looked more like a fourth round pick. Yes, the offense wasn't good around him for those eight games, but he hasn't done much in 2018 to show us or the front office he's going to be worth investing in moving forward.

While I get that Dak Prescott isn't a perfect quarterback and am starting to concede that he may not be the long-term answer for the Dallas Cowboys, I still believe he's a quarterback that can win you a lot football games.

Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, however, I'm not so sure anymore.

I've always been a Jason Garrett fan. I know many out there would disagree with me when I say he's a good NFL Head Coach. Is he great? No. However, you're going to be really hard pressed to find a great head coach. It's going to require you taking a chance on someone with no head coaching experience and hoping that guy turns into a great coach.

The biggest strength of Jason Garrett as a head coach has always been his ability to get his team ready to play mentally and get the best out of them. Garrett's teams typically came to play and even when they were bad on defense (2011-2014), the offense kept games close. On the flip side, when the offense was bad in 2015, they still found a way to keep games close with really good play on the defensive side of the football.

They've lost by an average of 9.5 points this season and have a negative point differential.

Though I'm a fan of Garrett, it's getting harder and harder to defend him as the long-term answer for this team at head coach. Loyalty is an admirable quality, and he's not going to throw Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan under the bus, but that loyalty -- or stubbornness -- is going to cost him his job.

Jason Garrett at this point is tied to Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott. For better or worse, Garrett's future hinges on the success of his offensive coordinator and quarterback.

It's hard to argue that Scott Linehan has been good for the Dallas Cowboys this year. The Dallas Cowboys offense is averaging just over 13 points per game in 2017. That ranks 31st in the NFL. The only team worse is the Arizona Cardinals who are averaging less than seven points per game.

Though I'm typically able to see the bright side with the Dallas Cowboys, the light is being dimmed by the offense's performance to start the season. Even the most optimistic fan is having a hard time finding the silver lining with this team.

For the center pieces of the Dallas Cowboys offense, Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Dak Prescott, time is running out for them to cement themselves as the future of a Dallas Cowboys team still searching for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.



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Cowboys Bow to Seahawks – Hoping to Tame Lions in Week 4

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Cowboys Bow to Seahawks – Hoping to Tame Lions in Week 4

The Cowboys are now sharing space in the NFC East cellar with the Giants but are hoping to move out next week with a win against the Detroit Lions. Before they can do that, there is quite a bit that needs to be fixed and most of it comes on the offensive side of the ball.

Dak Prescott was 19-of-34 for 168 yards and it was the ninth time over the past 11 games, dating back to last season, that Dallas failed to pass for 200 yards. In a league where 300-yard passing games are not uncommon, and young guns like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes are tossing four touchdowns a game, it's quite concerning that Dallas’s aerial attack is more like a mild affront.

Ezekiel Elliott has done his fair share of the heavy lifting for the offense this season and chewed up 127 yards of real estate in Sunday’s game with an almost eight yards per carry average. But even Elliott is experiencing his share of brain cramps in this offense after he was flagged for stepping out-of-bounds before making what would have been a touchdown reception, and then coughing up the ball in the fourth quarter causing a momentum-killing shift that sealed the deal for the Seahawks.

After three weeks of play, Dak Prescott has just two touchdown passes and both were to Tavon Austin. The offensive line, once regarded as the league’s gold standard, has struggled with rookie Guard Connor Williams, a second-round pick out of Texas, getting schooled more than a few times thus far after making the shift from college tackle to NFL guard.

Center Travis Frederick’s absence is being felt as well but the glimmer of hope is that once he gets back to feeding the ball to Prescott, the offensive line will more closely resemble the impenetrable unit to which we’ve become accustomed.

Dwelling on a bad loss and wringing our hands about a lack of offensive production will only get us so far, therefore, whenever we look ahead to what awaits we check over a review of Bovada one of the most trusted and reliable online sportsbook in the industry. The oddsmakers are already dealing lines on next week’s game with the Lions and despite Detroit’s impressive win over New England and Dallas’s disappointing defeat to the Seahawks, we see that the Boys are 3 ½ point home favorites in the early betting.

That’s an odd number considering the Week 3 results but the Dallas passing attack has to get better because it can’t get much worse.

As long as Zeke can move the chains the Cowboys have a chance, but their offense has become too predictable, as has their play calling. Head Coach Jason Garrett has to get more creative and make his players accountable for bone-head penalties of the variety that Defensive End Randy Gregory took when he shoved Seahawks’ Center Joey Hunt’s head directly in front of the referee’s line of vision. It was a 15-yard flag shortly before the first-half and allowed the Seahawks to tack on another three points instead of punting the ball away.

Garrett had this to say after the game regarding Gregory’s penalty:

"You have to keep your poise regardless of what anybody did to you, said to you. You cannot respond like that. Typically what the officials see is the second thing and obviously that drew the flag. That was a poor play for us prior to the half."

Hopefully the line next week at Bovada is a good omen for the Cowboys. Dallas is back at home and the last time they met the Lions, December of 2016, the Cowboys won in a romp by the score of 42-21. In addition, let’s not forget that Detroit may get caught in a letdown situation after a huge win over the Patriots and a game looming with divisional foe Green Bay after their Week 4 showdown in Dallas.

It’s a good spot for the Cowboys in what is shaping up as a trap game for the Lions. Expect a big bounce back performance from Dallas as they roll over their Motown rivals this Sunday afternoon.



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Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks

Jess Haynie

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Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks
Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News

Over just three weeks of the 2018 season, the NFL's new rule about hitting quarterbacks has stirred up as much controversy and angst as any amount of anthem kneeling ever did. Tyrone Crawford and the Dallas Cowboys can now add themselves to the list of perplexed victims of the league's misguided legislation.

On the Seattle Seahawks' first offensive series yesterday, Crawford made what in past years would have been a clean, textbook hit on Russell Wilson just as the ball was released. But out came the flag, claiming that Tyrone didn't make enough effort to avoid putting all his weight into the quarterback as he brought him down.

This flag came on a 3rd-down play with Seattle backed up on their own 12. Instead of punting, and likely giving Dallas excellent field position for their next series, the Seahawks got to continue the drive and eventually punt it from midfield.

That consequence may not sound like a big deal, but it robbed the Cowboys of their earned opportunity to get points on the board early. It changed the tone of the game early, and who knows what ripple effect that had the rest of the way.

The real issue here, though, is that that call can even be made. The NFL has finally taken QB protection too far, to the point that defensive players are left with no logical or physically possible way to do their jobs.

Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks 1

Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews has become the poster boy for the NFL's new hit rule.

Before the Dallas game came on, I watched as the Packers' Clay Matthews got flagged yet again for the same type of call. It was the second time in as many games that Matthews has been given a foul for a clean hit.

Matthews' frustration after he saw that flag was clear. He looked disheartened, and part of me wondered if he might just walk right out of the stadium. In fact, I almost wanted him to pull a Vontae Davis just to help make the point to the league.

The NFL wants the best of both worlds. They want these players to go max effort when the rules allow and then pull it back in very specific, split-second situations. It's more than the human mind and body can do.

You can't ask these defenders to use everything they've got to get through a blocker, and then immediately rein it in once they get their hands on the quarterback.

You can't ask them to avoid going high on the QB, and then always know when the ball has been released. They don't have eyes in the top of their heads.

You can't ask them to come full force on a blitz or rush and then cool their jets within a second or less. Forget mind and body, even the basic laws of inertia don't work that way.

The NFL is asking for the impossible; a safe form of violence. That's like asking for non-toxic poison.

5 NFL Rule Changes That Need to Happen

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

I understand the league's current global dilemma. They are looking down the barrel of rising CTE awareness, lawsuits from former players, and the diminishing participation in youth football. They're trying to save the game from extinction, or at least from falling off the throne as America's modern pastime.

But this rule isn't about that. This is about trying to keep star quarterbacks healthy so that fan engagement and TV ratings don't go down when an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady gets injured.

The NFL is in the entertainment business, so I get their concern. Quarterbacks are the lead actors of the sport. You'd be disappointed if the next Mission Impossible movie was mostly Ving Rhames.

Protecting quarterbacks, given their vulnerability at times on the field, has its place. Some of the rules make sense, even if at times they lead to frustrating penalties.

But now they're messing with the core formula of football. If the Colonel got rid of one of his eleven herbs and spices, KFC chicken might not taste the same anymore. Coca-Cola might suddenly be worse than Pepsi (hard to imagine, I know) if they started changing the syrup.

The NFL isn't tweaking here. They're changing games and putting the burden on defensive players, in the heat of battle, to try to have machine-like precision.

Again, they're asking for the impossible.

Tyrone Crawford

Dallas Cowboys DT Tyrone Crawford

Tyrone Crawford is no Vontaze Burfict. He's not a loose cannon. He's one of the genuine good guys in the NFL, who does everything the right way on and off the field.

You can only imagine his frustration right now, or that of Clay Matthews and anyone else hit with one of these penalties. Imagine what some of these guys, who aren't a Crawford or Matthews, might do if that frustration boils over.

You could hear it even in the commentary yesterday. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck were clearly disgusted by the calls, both in the Cowboys-Seahawks game and what's been happening so far this year. This was FOX's premier broadcast team openly bashing the NFL in a nationally televised game.

And if you think the players and commentators are frustrated, imagine how that translates to fan response.

The league is trying to avoid losing viewers from quarterback injuries. In the process, they may lose a lot more by damaging the game we love.

Playing football is an accepted risk. Players get it. Fans get it.

The NFL has to get it, and soon, before this conversation takes over in a way that past controversies haven't. The anthem kneeling was an overblown, media-driven story that never hit the bottom line they way they wanted you to believe. None of it mattered once the ball was kicked off.

But now the game is being damaged. Football is becoming less fun; a game of rules and penalties rather than action and intensity.

If something doesn't change, the NFL's self-preservation efforts just might lead to its demise.



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