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?
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.
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: 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.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
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.
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.
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.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
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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