For the first time since 2009, the Dallas Cowboys secondary will not feature either JJ Wilcox or Barry Church at safety. After both players left Dallas for franchises in Florida, the back-end of the Cowboys defense is looking very barren.
It would appear to the naked eye that Dallas will almost have to draft a safety high in the 2017 NFL Draft. With just three safeties currently on their roster and guys like Washington's Budda Baker and UCONN's Obi Melifonwu who could be worthwhile in round one, the Cowboys' draft direction seems obvious.
The Cowboys don't want to ever feel forced to do anything on draft day, however. They like to bring in replacement-level players, like Damontre Moore and Nolan Carroll, to fill positions of need and allow themselves freedom in the early rounds.
Considering they haven't signed a safety to this point, Dallas might actually feel comfortable with their three current safeties.
Who is left at Safety for the Cowboys?
Let's play general manager for a minute, and evaluate the Cowboys current depth chart. As mentioned, they have three safeties, two of which have had serious game experience to this point.
Byron Jones, Free Safety, Third-Year
Let's get the obvious out of the way first.
A Richard Rodgers season-ending reception clouding the judgement of the masses should not let you doubt Byron Jones' ability. Currently, Jones is the best defensive back on the Cowboys, and this should not scare you.
After a successful rookie season in 2015 where he moved all around the defensive backfield, Jones made his home at safety in 2016 and looked comfortable doing so.
Byron Jones is one of the most reliable, consistent, and steady defensive backs the Cowboys have had in years. Of course, we would all like to see him get his hands on the ball more often, force more turnovers, and come away with some interceptions. Despite this lack of takeaways, Jones has still emerged as a consistent force in the Dallas secondary.
And he will be for a long time.
Jeff Heath, Strong Safety, Fifth-Year
A fan favorite, Jeff Heath has been a hard-working and under-appreciated player for the Cowboys since 2013. Though he started as a special-teamer and fringe player on the roster, Heath is now slated to be the starting strong safety in 2017.
While most of the Cowboys' defensive backs have not been able to turn the ball over, Heath seems to always be in the right place at the right time. Leading the team in interceptions in 2015, Heath continuously made big plays whenever his number was called.
The Cowboys signed Heath to a four-year extension last April, and at just 26 years old, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Cowboys entrust Jeff Heath with a starting role, and envision him as the long-time starter at strong safety.
This doesn't mean he won't have competition for that role, however.
Kavon Frazier, Safety, Second-Year
The sixth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, former Central Michigan stud Kavon Frazier will have a chance to prove he was the steal of that draft as soon as this season.
After the selection of Frazier, I reviewed his game tape and saw the he could be a direct successor of four-year starter Barry Church. Frazier does a great job of coming downhill and making tackles, and showed the ability to utilize angle tackling while in college.
At 6' 217 pounds, Frazier has the build and frame of a starting strong safety. He has great size and strength, and knows how to use it to his advantage. Considering Byron Jones' coverage skills on the back-end, Frazier could serve as the Kam Chancellor to Jones' Earl Thomas, playing in the box and making sure-tackles.
Of course neither Jones nor Frazier are on par with those Seattle safeties just yet, but the mold to build from is definitely there.
No matter how much I like both Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier, there is no question the Cowboys must address the safety position on draft day. It doesn't have to come in round one, but it does need to come at some point, most likely on the first two days.
It certainly would've been nice to keep a team captain and veteran leader in Barry Church around, but not at the price which the Jacksonville Jaguars raised.
Now, the Cowboys must play with who they've got, or add some more talent through the NFL Draft. Either way, there is going to be some inexperience in the back-end of this defense.
Hopefully, it won't come back to bite them.
Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension
An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.
David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.
Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw
However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.
In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.
The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.
It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.
We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.
Dallas Cowboys’ Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks
In every game, whether it's a sporting event or a board game there is a path -- and sometimes more than one -- to victory. For the Dallas Cowboys, it's no different. As they get set to face a Seattle Seahawks team that is 0-2 for the first time since 2015, they'll have to win in several areas to bring home the W.
After starting out 0-2 in 2015, the Seahawks finished the season with a 10-6 record and won their wild card game over the Minnesota Vikings before falling in the divisional round to the Carolina Panthers.
The Seahawks are one of those teams that you can get down, but can never count out. If the Dallas Cowboys want to come out on top in their trip to the Pacific Northwest, they are going to have to come ready to play.
In particular, these are the things that the Dallas Cowboys have to achieve to be the victors on Sunday.
Limit Big Plays
The Seattle Seahawks are a very interesting offensive case study. They have one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but have invested very little in trying to protect their most important asset.
They rely on Russell Wilson's improvisational ability and penchant for big plays.
In 2017, Wilson had a quarterback rating of 100.9 on attempts greater than 20 yards down the field, per Pro Football Focus. He threw the ball "deep" 91 times, completing 31 passes for 1,134 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had the most deep attempts in the league last season and tied with Alex Smith with the most touchdowns on deep attempts. Wilson's yardage was nearly 200 yards more than the next best in the NFL on deep passing.
Wilson's going to take some deep shots. If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears, you noticed that even though Wilson was getting battered, it didn't deter him from taking shots deep down the field. Sometimes into unfavorable coverages.
The secondary has an advantage over the Seattle Seahawks group of wide receivers, but they'll have to stay disciplined and not allow the big pass plays to beat them.
In a game where they were being dominated for more than three quarters, the Seahawks were able to hang around and had a chance at the end because of their penchant for big plays.
Don't get beat deep.
Wrangling Russell Wilson
The Seattle Seahawks have allowed the most sacks in the league through two weeks. They've allowed six in each of their first two games this season. The Dallas Cowboys are going to have opportunities to sack Russell Wilson this week.
They have to take advantage.
Like Cam Newton in week one, Russell Wilson is a very elusive quarterback. Not only is he really good at making plays with his legs, he can be difficult to bring down. The Dallas Cowboys will have to work to keep Wilson in the pocket and finish when they get an opportunity to bring him down. He's not a physical presence like Newton is, but he's slippery and has some of that Tony Romo elusiveness to him.
If the potential tackler doesn't get Wilson down on first contact, it could lead to big plays both through the air and on the ground. Wilson averages 33.6 yards per game on the ground in his career and 5.7 yards per attempt. In order to get off the field on third down, they're going to have to prevent Wilson from using his legs to pick up third downs.
Establishing the Pass to Set Up the Run
At this point in the Dallas Cowboys offensive approach, everyone in the world knows what the Dallas Cowboys want to do on offense. They want to run the ball.
The Dallas Cowboys did a great job using this knowledge to their advantage on the first series of the game against the New York Giants.
On the first play of the game, they used a Run-Pass Option, with a clear out to the flat by Tight End Geoff Swaim, and found Allen Hurns on a slant to set up a second and short. Then after picking up that second and short with a run by Ezekiel Elliott, they used a straight play action out of a two running back, one tight end set, and hit Tavon Austin for the 64 yard touchdown.
Dak's willingness to throw the ball deep on a couple other occasions helped open up the run. The deep ball has to be a threat in order to back defenses off the line of scrimmage and do what you do best: Run the Ball. If they aren't going to back off, then you have to keep throwing it until you hit the deep ball enough that it forces them to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball pretty effectively for the rest of the game, even if they didn't hit a lot of big plays. With the New York Giants interior defensive line, it was going to be tough sledding anyway. Getting things going through the air, helped out immensely.
The Seattle Seahawks are going to try to do what everyone does; put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands. If they're going to win on Sunday, it's going to be because Prescott had another efficient game throwing the ball.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
This game sets up really well for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their record to 2-1 and keep pace with the upper tier teams in the NFC. Every win matters, but these NFC games matter even a bit more. No game in the NFL is a cakewalk and this game is no different. If the Dallas Cowboys aren't able to do the above, it could be a long day for America's Team.
Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While
If there's one thing we've learned in the past, it's that NFL seasons are unpredictable. Unknown factors, injuries and unexpected "breakout" players can shift the way we saw the league just a month ago, when we were still watching preseason games on TV. After two weeks of regular season action, Cowboys Nation might be surprised to see their Dallas Cowboys sitting on top of the NFC East, but that's precisely the case. Not only that, but they could remain division leaders for a while...
Now, let's not get carried away here. While the team might be on top right now, they're not even 2-0 and it's only week 3. The Cowboys' offense played well on week 2, but terribly on week 1. It's way too early to judge how this season will go based on what we've seen.
However, there is no denying that they seem to be in a very good position to remain the NFC East front runners in the coming weeks. The Cowboys had more reasons to celebrate last Sunday besides their victory over the New York Giants. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins suffered losses in their respective games, giving Dallas the opportunity to control their destiny.
As previously mentioned, though, it's only week 3. But the team's next three opponents aren't as scary as they seemed prior to the season's start. Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Cowboys' next three opponents are winless, sharing a combined record of 0-6.
Starting by the Seattle Seahawks, who have been a dominant team in the NFL landscape for a few years now but that simply don't seem like a very threatening opponent right now. The main reason why is their weak offensive line, which I expect the Dallas Cowboys to exploit just like they did with the Panthers and Giants. Russel Wilson is a tougher guy to contain, being one of the best playmakers in the NFL right now, but I trust the defense to handle him. They've done such a good pressuring quarterbacks, I'll trust they will continue to do so.
Next in the calendar will be the Detroit Lions. Through two weeks, they've struggled more than we expected under the reigns of their new head coach, Matt Patricia. On week 1, Matt Stafford threw four interceptions in a game that was in control of the New York Jets all night long. But it's not the Lions' offense that I think the Cowboys will take advantage of, but their poor run defense. They gave up 169 yards on rushing against the Jets on week 1 and 190 last Sunday, when they faced the San Francisco 49ers.
Ezekiel Elliott will have that defense dreaming nightmares before their matchup in week 4.
Finally, on week 5, the Cowboys will face their in-state rival, the Houston Texans. Surprisingly, the Deshaun Watson-led team is 0-2 after facing the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. This might be the team that hands the Cowboys their second loss of the season. They have a balanced offense that will pose no challenge for the Cowboys' defense, but this could be a dangerous game for the offense.
The Cowboys will rely on Ezekiel Elliott for this one as well. On the defensive side of the ball, Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie will have to replicate their success versus Odell Beckham, only this time they will be facing Deandre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Even though the Cowboys were terrible in Carolina when they opened their season, the defense has been looking so good that I don't doubt their ability to carry the team to victories for the time being. If the offense continues to improve, then this team might be able to take full advantage of the unexpected head start it got in the NFC East.
I can't say it enough; it's only week 3... but look out. It could take some time before the Cowboys give up that #1 spot in the division.
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