Fortunately, the Cowboys were able to put a week two debacle in Denver behind them this week by regrouping on the road against the Cardinals to earn a gutsy win on Monday Night Football. With so many things going wrong in that 42-17 loss to the Broncos, it is easy for Cowboys Nation to forget that the Dallas defense effectively dealt with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas with two healthy cornerbacks.
This alone was a huge area of improvement against the Cardinals, as Rod Marinelli went from deploying just Jourdan Lewis (in his NFL debut) and Anthony Brown at Mile High to covering with primarily Lewis, Brown, and Orlando Scandrick.
Having these three cornerbacks healthy and playing confident also added serviceable depth at the safety position, where rookie Xavier Woods made his way back to his natural position to make an impact. I believe there is a decent chance that Chidobe Awuzie is also going to end up primarily lining up at safety once he is ready to return to the field off of his hamstring injury.
With so much turnover in the secondary heading into this 2017 season, it almost seems unfathomable that we could be asking if the Cowboys have already found their top three cornerbacks in September. Here we are though, with Carson Palmer dropping back 48 times against Lewis, Brown, and Scandrick last week while completing just 29 of these passes, watching the future of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense come to life.
The top reason these three CBs should see the most playing time together throughout the rest of the season is because of the total versatility of the group. Coming into the season, it was expected that sophomore Anthony Brown would have to emerge as an “alpha-male” in this secondary, but that hasn’t proven to be true.
Brown has been fine in coverage thanks to his speed and athleticism, but there were times against the Cardinals where he was caught with his eyes in the backfield, putting him out of position with his man. Allowing Brown to play off of both Byron Jones and Jeff Heath helped him play up to the level of Lewis and Scandrick – who seamlessly stuck in coverage on the boundary or inside.
The Cowboys did get consistent pressure with three-man fronts designed to first stop the run, and this is something that we can expect to even out as Dallas faces better offensive lines. While this pressure on Palmer naturally helped the back-end of the defense, it was these three cornerbacks’ natural ability to fit Rod Marinelli’s scheme in both tight man, zone, and disguised coverage that made the difference.
Ever since he fell to the third round of this draft and was selected by the Cowboys out of Michigan, the team has not been able to contain their excitement for Jourdan Lewis – despite drafting a CB before Lewis in Awuzie, who remains held back by injury.
It was really Lewis’ contagious confidence that made this Cowboys CB trio work on Monday – as it will again moving forward – making a case for already being this team’s best cover corner, performing as the player he was in Ann Arbor.
Orlando Scandrick is a proven commodity. The Cowboys missed him sorely in week two, and his return for week three was crucial to their success against a Bruce Arians passing concept that stresses defenses in their assignments both across the field and vertically.
Scandrick locking down the slot as he does so well at 30-years old while Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis held up on the outside was more than just how the Dallas Cowboys escaped Arizona at 2-1. These three players paired with a deep rotation of safeties will be how the Cowboys hold up against the pass in 2017, and optimism for the group as a whole should be sky-high.