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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.

Star Blog

Should Cowboys Sign This RFA to a Contract Sheet?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Sign This RFA to a Contract Sheet?

Fortune favors the bold. It's a rough translation of an old Latin proverb and the mantra I believe the Dallas Cowboys should indoctrinate this offseason.

I think it's time the Dallas Cowboys start to make a few bold moves. I truly believe they are close to competing for a championship title and one or two offseason moves could increase those odds. One such move would be to sign restricted free agent (RFA) Shaquil Barrett to an offer sheet.

It's expected that the Denver Broncos will place a second-round tender on Barrett and I think the Dallas Cowboys would be wise to explore the possibility of signing him to a contract sheet. If Denver declines to match the offer, the Cowboys would then send them their second round draft pick as compensation.

You on board?

Probably not at this point, but let me try to explain why I believe this is a good move on the Cowboys part, even if it is an uncharacteristic one.

You see, the Cowboys could definitely use someone to play opposite DeMarcus Lawrence and I think Shaquil Barrett could be the solution.

I know it sounds like a lot to give up a second round draft pick, but the Cowboys have been deplorable at drafting players in the second round the past decade. Sean Lee, DeMarcus Lawrence, and possibly Jaylon Smith have really been the only "hits" the Cowboys have found in the second round. That's simply unacceptable!

So, why not use that second rounder to acquire a player who is already a proven commodity in the NFL?

Shaquil Barrett

Denver Broncos OLB Shaq Barrett (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

I know the first thing a lot of you are going to do is to look up Shaquil Barrett's stats to see what he has accomplished in the NFL. But, stats don't always show the big picture.

You see, Barrett has been stuck behind some pretty talented pass rushers in Denver, so his statistics aren't going to jump off the paper. But, when given the opportunity he has proven he deserves a larger role. That's where the Dallas Cowboys come in.

The Broncos probably don't have the money to keep Shaquil Barrett if the Cowboys sign him to a contract sheet. It doesn't necessarily even have to be a big money contract offer. The Broncos simply don't have the salary cap to do much, especially considering they are still looking for a starting quarterback.

I honestly like the idea of the Cowboys going after Barrett. You may have forgotten, but he gave a healthy Tyron Smith fits last season.

With an injured Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett got the start against the Cowboys in 2017 and finished the game with two quarterback hits, six QB pressures, and five stops. No other player found that kind of success against Tyron Smith all season, even when he was banged up.

Unfortunately, when Shane Ray returned, Barrett's usage on defense declined. That's why you can't always judge a players productivity by statistics. You have to judge him more on a per-snap basis, and if you do that you will discover he was very effective as both a pass rusher and run stopper.

I believe Barrett is ready for a full-time role. Yes, he has been used as a standup 3-4 OLB with the Broncos, but he has the required traits to put his hand on the ground and maintain his effectiveness.

The downside to all of this is the Dallas Cowboys would have to give up their second-round draft pick, but draft picks are sometimes overvalued anyways. Shaquil Barrett is probably better than anybody the Cowboys could draft in the second round, so I say pull the trigger.

Should the Cowboys sign Shaquil Barrett to a contract sheet?


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Star Blog

Could a Former Division Rival be Cowboys’ LG Solution?

Brian Martin

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Could Former Division Rival be Cowboys' OG Solution?

When it comes to prioritizing the Dallas Cowboys offseason needs, offensive guard is definitely near the top of the list. Opinions will certainly vary, but for me, solidifying the offensive line with a new starting left guard is the top priority for the Cowboys.

I know many of you will disagree and believe the Dallas Cowboys need to continue to upgrade their defense. But, this teams success or failure will be determined by how their offensive line performs. That's just the way the Cowboys are built, which is why they have invested so heavily putting this unit together.

Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, but there is currently no one on the roster to step into the vacant left guard position unless you want to see the coaching staff give Chaz Green another try.

No, I didn't think so.

With the start of the 2018 free agency just a few weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys have certainly narrowed down some of the potential free agents they would be interested in bringing aboard if the price is right. Remember, they have turned into "bargain shoppers".

There are a few intriguing free agent options who I believe could step in to upgrade the LG position for the Cowboys next season, and not break the bank. One such option is a former division rival of the New York Giants, Justin Pugh.

Justin Pugh

New York Giants OL Justin Pugh

The former 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has spent five years in New York while playing out his rookie contract, but that time has come to an end. The Giants aren't likely to re-sign him, which means he will get his first taste of free agency.

Justin Pugh could step in and be an immediate upgrade over what the Dallas Cowboys employed at the left guard position in 2017. He has exceptional mobility. He reaches the second level with ease and plays with good body control and footwork. He is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys employ.

Pugh is also versatile. He has played both right tackle and offensive guard for the Giants. He of course would be asked to play between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith at LG with the Cowboys, but versatility to play another position is never a bad thing.

Unfortunately, Pugh doesn't come without baggage. He has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons with the Giants, including eight last season due to a back injury. This is definitely a huge red flag, especially for the Cowboys after dealing with the same issue with Tyron Smith.

But, this is why Justin Pugh will likely be in the Cowboys price range. Sportrac currently estimates his contract at 4 years at $23,983,847, which equates to $5,995,968 annually. I personally think that's a little low for someone of Pugh's caliber and versatility, but it certainly understandable when you take into account his recent injury history.

I personally think this is a longshot to happen because  the Cowboys would prefer to go younger and cheaper, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Do you think Justin Pugh makes sense for the Cowboys?


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Star Blog

Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Sadly, we can't wake up on Sundays to NFL football. The Dallas Cowboys are not on TV every week for us to watch them play. To make matters worse, we'll have to wait until September to get real football from our favorite team.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about until then! For the die-hard Cowboys fan, the offseason should be quite entertaining. Free agency will begin in March, and it should be an intense one for Dallas.

They need to handle a tight salary cap while trying to add a bit of help for this football team. Recently, Inside The Star Contributor John Williams wrote an in-depth piece about the Cowboys' cap situation and how they can manage to get things done, despite having little cap space right now.

Last season, I wrote a weekly Cowboys Wishlist about things I wanted to see for each game. Now there are no games, but I decided to write a special edition for this upcoming free agency.

Cowboys en Español: El Futuro de David Irving y DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving, DeMarcus Lawrence (Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports)

Wish #1: Keep The Rushmen

The front office will have one hell of a challenge trying to retain all of its free agents. The two most important ones may be their two defensive linemen. If they can keep them, DL won't be a top need heading to the Draft.

Lawrence is one of the biggest names in free agency this 2018, but the Cowboys should find a way to keep him from ever being available.

If they're able to franchise tag him, that'd be the way to go since he's only had one elite season in his four-year career and they may not want to sign him to a huge long-term deal and risk not seeing the same guy next season.

David Irving is a more polarizing player, with off-the-field issues. However, he's been a very disruptive guy and he has the chance to be a unique player. His talent is really out of this world. Keeping him and Irving would give this franchise a top defensive line for the first time in many years.

Anthony Hitchens 1

Dallas Cowboys LB Anthony Hitchens (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Wish #2: Pay Anthony Hitchens

When healthy, Sean Lee is one of the NFL's top linebackers. He is simply an outstanding player who's always around the ball and seems to know where the ball is going before the opposing coach even calls the play.

The problem is, he has a lot of trouble remaining available. Anthony Hitchens is a guy who's found the way to step up every time the General is out, and he's shown a great progression as a player year after year.

Lee will be 32 by the time the season starts, giving Dallas something to think about. Hitchens is a guy capable of starting and competing in the NFL. If the front office finds a way to keep him, they'll be getting closer to being less "Sean Lee-dependent."

Wish #3: Get Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas

When we talk about a potential big name addition to the Dallas Cowboys, we're usually a bit pessimistic. This team isn't one that makes splashes like this, but Earl Thomas to Dallas makes a ton of sense. Former Seahawks' defensive coordinator is now the Cowboys' defensive backs' coach.

With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis (and maybe Byron Jones moving to CB), this team will have a promising secondary. Add Earl Thomas, and it will go from "promising" to "great" in a heartbeat.

The Cowboys could not only have a top DL, but a top secondary if they're able to get this veteran.

Let's hope the Cowboys listen to Thomas and they go get him.

A Case For Dez Bryant Remaining a Dallas Cowboy in 2018

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Wish #4: Get Dez Bryant to Take a Pay Cut

When I started writing this, I wanted to add a "get this wide receiver in FA"... but I won't. A few weeks ago, I wrote a case in favor and one against Dez Bryant remaining a Cowboy in 2018. Personally, I would be fine with him parting ways with the team.

However, I'm aware of how hard it can be finding a replacement for a guy like #88. The biggest issue with Dez is definitely his cap hit. He hasn't justified the money he's being paid on the field as he should be.

If they can get him to take a pay cut, it may end up being the ideal scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.

It'll be a very interesting offseason, and here at Inside The Star we'll continue to provide you with content about it all.

Tell me what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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