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.
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.
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?