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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.

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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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NFL to Study Marijuana Use, Will It Impact Randy Gregory’s Status?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys Headlines - Rubbing Salt In The Wound That Is Randy Gregory

The NFLPA and the NFL have reached an agreement to research alternative pain-management tools for the players. They'll form joint medical committees to study different strategies, among which will be the use of marijuana. It's important to make it clear that said committees will not be exclusively about marijuana, but a lot of different issues related to pain-management in the league. However, it'll likely be one of the most important aspects of their work.

Marijuana continues to be a highly debated topic and it's no different when discussing the NFL. Dallas Cowboys fans should be very familiar with the situation. Earlier this year, David Irving "quit" on football during an Instagram live stream while smoking weed. In the video, Irving talks about how he thinks it's better to be addicted to marijuana rather than certain medications used by NFL teams to treat their players.

Although David Irving is not an authority on substances, that is where all of this debate centers around. Throughout the league, players are given strong medication to deal with injuries and the physical pain of playing pro football. I'm not an expert either, but it's more than fair to say there's a strong argument here. Specially in a country where marijuana has already been legalized in 10 states and the trend points toward legalization continuing.

The current CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) between the NFL and NFLPA will expire after the 2020 season and how the league's drug policy looks like in the new agreement will be a huge factor for reaching a satisfactory CBA for both sides.

Of course, the fact that the NFLPA and the league are working together on such an important task doesn't mean we will see any immediate changes or that the NFL's ban on marijuana will be lifted anytime soon. Many big question marks will have to be answered before we hear about teams implementing this substance as a pain management tool.

For the Dallas Cowboys, this will be a relevant narrative down the line. Pass rusher Randy Gregory was reinstated after serving an indefinite suspension due to substance abuse prior to the 2018 season. After a dominant year, Gregory was suspended again by the NFL and it all points toward him sitting out this upcoming season and perhaps even more.

Even still, the Cowboys are still standing behind their 2015 second round pick. If the league ends up lifting its ban on marijuana, they'll have to decide what they will do with players already serving a suspension for this reason. Guys like Randy Gregory, for instance. If it's decided they'll be reinstated to the NFL, the Cowboys will sure be glad to have supported Gregory all throughout the process.

Last year, the pass rusher proved how effective he could be even with a short period of time training. Hopefully, the Cowboys are able to get him back on the field eventually, where's been consistently dominant. In the meantime, we'll see how recently acquired Robert Quinn does in Dallas.

The NFL won't be lifting its ban anytime soon, but it's good to know they're at least open minded to changing the league's policy and consider alternatives that could benefit the players' health. We'll see how these new medical committees work and keep you updated here at Inside The Star.

Tell me what you think about "NFL to Study Marijuana Use, Will It Impact Randy Gregory’s Status?" 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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Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?

Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.

Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.

A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.

Rob Demovsky on Twitter

Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.

Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.

Josh Jones, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers S Josh Jones

It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.

I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.

Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?

In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.

Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.

Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?



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How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?

Kevin Brady

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Ranking The Dallas Cowboys Rookies Through Week 8
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.

The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.

For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.

The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.

Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.

The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.

Anthony Brown's Resurgence A Great Sign for Cowboys Defense

Nov 30, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (30) returns an interception against the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.

You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.

This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.

In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?



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