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Cowboys Defensive Back Questions Still Need Answers

John Williams

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Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys defense took a step forward in 2017, and in the process they answered several questions. They found a “war daddy” in DeMarcus Lawrence, something that’s been missing since DeMarcus Ware left for the Denver Broncos. Lawrence finished tied for second with Calais Campbell in sacks with 14.5, and made the NFL All-Pro Second Team.

We got to see Jaylon Smith answer questions about his health all season long. Smith appears to be trending in the right direction, both in his health and his performance on the field.

The plan to rebuild the secondary seems to be on the right track as they’ve found a couple of aggressive corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. They have the look of a dynamic duo that will be impact players on this team for a long, long time.

Kavon Frazier has been a revelation. The thumper at the safety position is something that's been missing for the Dallas Cowboys since Roy Williams.

However, questions still remain about a defense that carried this team at times, and looked like the Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin defenses of yesteryear at other times.

To me the biggest questions in the secondary revolve around Byron Jones and Xavier Woods.

Cowboys en Español: Proyectando el Roster de 53 Jugadores 2

Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones (James D. Smith via AP)

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods Fit?

Byron Jones has been a popular whipping boy for Cowboys Nation. Some of that has been accurate, but he's not as bad as social media would have you believe.

He’s been sticky in coverage, especially against tight ends, throughout his career, but in 2017 it seemed like he was shying away from tackling a bit too much. He still has that tremendous athleticism and coverage ability that warranted a first-round pick, but the question remains: What is his best position?

After playing where needed his rookie season, the Cowboys coaching staff moved him to safety for the last couple of years with mixed results.

As stated, he’s been pretty good in coverage and made some incredible plays on the ball, even if he’s lacking the interception numbers. The problem comes, in my opinion, when he’s asked to make tackles in space, which is an important aspect of being a safety.

Many have begun to wonder if Dallas would be best served moving Jones back to corner.

As a cornerback, Jones would be able to use his athleticism and coverage skills against the bigger wide receivers in the league, but not be asked to make as many tackles in the middle of the field against running backs and tight ends.

They can still bring him in against some of the better tight ends in the league. We already know the Cowboys will face Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins, and Evan Engram of the New York Giants for a total of six games in 2018.

Dallas will also face the likes of Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffrey and Marvin Jones, who are bigger more athletic wide receivers who could require a man of Byron's skill.

It will be interesting to see what they do with Byron this offseason.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 3

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB/S Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The same question applies to Xavier Woods, but not because he struggled. He was actually quite good as the slot corner throughout much of his rookie season.

Woods primarily played safety in his time at Louisiana Tech, and showed an ability to be the deep middle safety. Because of injuries to the cornerback group, Woods lined up as the slot corner for a lot of his snaps.

He played well there for Dallas, leaving many to wonder if he hasn’t earned the role of third cornerback. That may be a good fit, but it’s not typical to see a guy who was primarily a safety in college become a corner in the NFL.

I'd rather see him as a full-time safety.

With Woods at safety, Dallas can stay in their base defense when teams go to three wide receiver formations, especially on early downs or in situations where a run is just as likely. He can drop down from the safety spot to play in the slot, if -- and it's a big if -- you trust your single-high safety.

Woods' ability to cover in the slot allows you to stay competitive against the run, which was a struggle for Dallas.

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We’ve seen how the yo-yo game between positions can affect a player's technique and mentality. Chaz Green wasn’t the same player in 2017 when asked to prepare as both a guard and a tackle, as opposed to 2016 when he strictly played tackle.

In my opinion, it would be to the Dallas Cowboys interest to move Byron Jones back to cornerback full-time, and move Woods to safety.

When you decide to go to your nickel package, Chidobe Awuzie and Jones play the outside with Jourdan Lewis moving to the middle. Or you bring Jones in to cover the tight end, leave Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, and drop Woods into the slot and play cover 1.

What do you think?

Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods fit best on this team?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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23 Comments
  • Albert Smith

    I agree with this because I’ve been saying for the past couple of years that BJ should be moved back to corner and a specialist in situations that call for it.

    • John Williams

      While I’m a huge fan of the coaching staff, I think they get a little to creative with their players and love the idea of position flexibility a bit too much.

    • EverybodyTalks

      I agree. You look at Byron and he has the speed (22.1 mph clocked), 6’1″ and a little over 200lbs. He played CB in college. He’s got jumps – this is way to easy. Make him a cornerback and draft a Safety..smh!

      • John Williams

        Yeah man. He has some good matchup ability in man coverage. Hopefully the DC’s will see the need and make it happen.

  • MLV

    The best secondary would be Awuzie,Lewis CB, Jones FS, Frazier SS, Woods nickel!

    • John Williams

      I don’t mind it, because I like Jones’ ability to cover deep, but his best ability has been in man against big athletic pass catchers. I’d rather see them put him where he can excel more frequently.

      • EverybodyTalks

        Agreed. Plus, as a 1st rounder, we can extend him for a 5th year. We did it for Mo and Byron has more upside.

        • John Williams

          No doubt. If he shows out at CB this year, I wouldn’t hesitate. He has some ability at S, but could be much better given his size on the outside. They’re going to have their hands full with the NFC South WRs next year.

        • John Williams

          I think this will be an important season for Byron. I think he’s yet to fully hit his stride.

  • Travis Diggs

    Where these two fit really depends on what they do with Orlando Scandrick and Marquez White in the off season. I believe White should of made the roster early on over Carroll, he’s a big physical corner who played well in preseason. Scandrick being injured showed us what the future looks like without him, he might get cut or they keep him, who knows. The better two safeties out of the four on the roster is Byron Jones and Xavier Woods so it really depends on roster moves they make this spring

    • John Williams

      I think Scandrick is gone. Age and injury have him out the door. White, will have an opportunity to earn a roster spot this offseason. Hard to go into a season like 2017 with approximately 40% of your DB depth chart made up of rookies.

  • Nick Green

    Ive been arguing this all season.
    Heath is more of deep middle (free) than box safety (strong) & Frazier was really good in box late in season… Rotate Woods in both spots with those 2. He looked ok as a slot CB, but I remember Crowder from Redskins & Shepherd from Giants running free thru the secondary when Woods was slot CB. We probably lose that Wash game if Crowder wasn’t fumbling all game.
    BJ is a CB, he moves like one & is best in man converage because he looks lost in zone at times (Jared Cook ring a bell)… Put him & Chido outside with their size & athleticism & put Lewis in the slot. Let AB be primary backup in slot & See if White has improved enough to be 5th CB

    • John Williams

      Shepard and Crowder are two of the better slots in the league. This is why I want to see Woods moved to safety and Jones to Corner. Puts them at their best spots when the team goes to nickel.

  • Letstalk Aboutit

    While Jones hasn’t been bad he definitely need to get better. All of this talk about moving Jones to corner but 1 thing seems to be missing, the name of Scandrick. If we have Jones, Awuzie and Lewis all playing a starting or highly important role, where does that leave Orlando Scandrick. I know I have heard the rumors, however he isn’t gone yet and we Cowboys fans and the majority of the media don’t even mention him. For a player who has given his heart and soul for this team and made some huge plays for us I just felt like he deserved to be mentioned.

    • John Williams

      Scandrick is likely gone, mo. His age and injuries make him unreliable at this point. Even when on the field, he was struggling a bit. Scandrick has been great for this team, but it’s time to move on.

      • Letstalk Aboutit

        In no way do I disagree with you, I just want to give recognition to a man who has done a great job for the Cowboys organization. People act like they can’t even acknowledge him and what he has meant to us as Cowboys fans. I for 1 just wanted to mention him as a way of saying thank you. Orlando Scandrick deserves that.

        • John Williams

          Absolutely. Scan has been a warrior and has far exceeded the fifth round draft choice he was. He’s a Cowboy through and through in the same way that DeMarcus Ware is. His ability to lock down the slot and then push into the starting lineup was awesome. Made moving on from Carr and Claiborne that much easier.

  • Jason Wagner

    I think you did a great job breaking this down and I agree with your conclusions, however this would require drafting another Safety in the top 2-3 picks….which we need to do regardless.

    • EverybodyTalks

      True. Derwin James and Ronnie Harrison in.the 1st. Marcus Allen and Jordan Whitehead in the 2nd. DeShon Elliot and Armani Watts in the 3rd. Just some of the ones that we would welcome into the backfield.

    • John Williams

      Since we need to draft a safety, there are going to be options in the first three rounds to make it happen. Even if we don’t draft a safety, I’d be cool rolling with Woods, Heath, Frazier and a veteran option and putting Jones at CB. Put players in the best position to succeed.

  • Terry Jones

    Exactly why I been saying we don’t need to draft a corner. Jones and awuzie outside Lewis in the slot. Woods in the nickle with Frazier back there thumping

    • John Williams

      Bring it on. I continue to get a sense that a veteran splash could occur if Earl Thomas somehow becomes available.

  • Wayne A Caddell Jr

    John Williams,
    In today’s NFL, you have to have 3 good CBs. Which is why I like the Dallas Cowboys offensive scheme. It’s still old school smash mouth.
    And I am not one of those who believe Jason Garrett is the problem. If people would examine both Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, Landry didn’t even have a .500 winning percentage in 5 years of being HC, and Jimmy Johnson had an Ace in the hole (Herschel Walker) and a gullible team (Minnesota), and how he played it so Dallas could aquire draft picks. Because Minnesota didn’t believe Dallas would cut the players they received in the trade or they would not have made the trade. So JJ played poker, not revealing his true intentions. Jimmy Johnson got extremely lucky. Even after the trade, it took him 3 more years just to make a wildcard game (Detroit, which they lost, Detroit played Washington but lost, Washington goes to the Super Bowl and beats the Buffalo Bills).
    If people really want to know what’s happening here, it’s just like shortly after Jimmy Johnson traded Walker. Dallas went 1-15 in 89, 7-9 in 90, 11-5 in 91. And Jimmy Johnson didn’t have a salary cap in his way either. He could sign and fire every day he wanted without salary cap penalties. When Garrett took over, the offensive line was old, slow and injured prone. He can only do so much in a single draft but he’s done an excellent job because Jerry Jones has been held at bay. After getting Dallas competitive again, DeMarco Murray stabs Dallas in the back after Dallas stuck by him in spite of being injured and not able to play much during his first few years after being drafted. He signs with Philadelphia, Dallas could not match it because of the salary cap that Jerry Jones has screwed up for over a decade. I’ll give you that it’s not been very pretty, but Jason Garrett is not the problem in Dallas. Dallas has to build through the draft because they’re still in Salary Cap Hell. They couldn’t sign a good free agent if they wanted to because they don’t have the cap space to do so. What Garrett and the staff has done a very good job considering what they have to work with. Dallas had to take a step back because alot of experience wasn’t resigned. Again because they couldn’t afford to. And until more salary gets written off the books, hopefully in the next 3 years, then Dallas can be spenders again. Jerry Jones should be out of the picture at this time to be able to screw up anything else. But these rookies showed good fight, potential and you could just tell they hate to lose. I see Doomsday on the rise very soon.

Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.

Cowboys Have a Championship Defense

Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.

The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.

The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.

Offensive Line Woes Are Gone

The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.

Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.

It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?

Dak Prescott Continues To Be Money In Clutch Si

Dak Prescott: Clutch QB

Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.

With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.

Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.

Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense" 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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Player News

Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?

John Williams

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Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim Quietly Exceeding Expectations? 1

Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.

David Helman on Twitter

Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire

In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.

But in reality, is there?

For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.

First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.

The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.

Film Review: What's Up with Allen Hurns?

In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.

Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?

Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.

That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.

Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.



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Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support

Jess Haynie

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Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.

According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.

A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:

“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.

As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:

“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”

While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.

The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.

Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.



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