If the Cowboys are going to finish off their 2016 season in Houston for Super Bowl LI, they will have to get past Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack today to earn a date with Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons, all just to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl against either Tom Brady, Alex Smith, or Ben Roethlisberger.
Basically, it goes without saying that the corner backs for Rod Marinelli's defense are going to have to step up as they have all season long. Not only has this unit benefited from some great safety play (which I broke down on Saturday in "Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Safeties"), but they are finally back at full health in time for the playoffs.
Let's take a closer look.
Brandon Carr has once again proved to be an iron man this season in the Dallas Cowboys' secondary, extending his career starts streak through another season. Not only did Carr appear in all 16 games in the silver and blue once again, but he did so at a new position - transitioning to the right corner spot.
Even prior to this move, Carr received plenty of unwarranted criticism from fans that have begged for more out of their high-paid free agent acquisition of 2012. Far from perfect, Brandon Carr consistently does his job and limits big plays in the passing game - a trademark for this 2016 Cowboys' defense.
Opposing offensive coordinators are going to try to throw everything they can at Carr and the rest of these corners in an attempt to out score Dallas, and I expect Brandon - who will be a free agent after the season - to be ready for the challenge.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) January 12, 2017
The reason for Brandon Carr's position change this season is mainly because of the resurgence that Morris Claiborne has had. When on the field, Claiborne has played like a true shutdown corner in every sense of the word, with things beginning to trend upwards for him in 2015.
Unfortunately for Claiborne, his health has been an issue once again this season, as he has been sidelined since a week 8 home game against the Eagles. Ready to go once again, it is unclear what Claiborne's role will be today and throughout the playoffs, easing back into the defense with the luxury of solid depth behind him.
If Morris Claiborne is anywhere close to his early season form though, earning snaps will not be a problem, as he will quickly become one of the Cowboys' biggest keys to success. Claiborne has answered the bell with improved confidence and technique against elite wide receivers like A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, and Odell Beckham Jr., and now he may be in a position to prove himself further (also in a contract year) against the likes of Davante Adams and Julio Jones.
— ✭Cowboys News✭ (@DemBoyz_News) January 5, 2017
Orlando Scandrick has found his form recently for the Cowboys as the shifty cover corner that has been counted on as a reliable veteran presence for years now, and it means great things for the versatility that Dallas can deploy at corner back.
Battling with his own injures, Scandrick has appeared in 12 games, asked to bounce between being a slot and boundary corner in each. His recent streak of excellent play has come out of the slot, with rookie Anthony Brown holding his own on the outside.
Scandrick is the perfect slot corner for the Cowboys this postseason not only because of his experience, but for his ability to use the teammates around him to be successful. With ideal length and short-range quickness, Scandrick redirects routes to other safeties and linebackers with ease, which leads to him being around the ball.
A corner that thrives on his own momentum from stringing together positive plays, Scandrick will be in for a fight with all of the receivers he could see in the playoffs - starting with the Packers' pass catchers today.
Look for not much at all to change with #32 though, and for any team that looks to test the eight year Cowboy too much to pay the price.
Here's a fun question. Who is the third best rookie on the Dallas Cowboys? With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott headlining a stellar 2016 draft class, rookie corner and sixth round pick Anthony Brown has not only been ultra-impressive, but necessary at times to keep the Cowboys secondary formidable - making a strong case for this final podium position behind Prescott and Zeke.
Brown, who was projected as a slot corner by most draft analysts, has been asked to play all over the field, finding a starting role in key spots as an outside corner in the absence of Morris Claiborne.
Known for his speed out of Purdue, Brown's full skill set has translated seamlessly into the NFL thanks to his off-the-charts awareness. Defensive backs that get their hands on passes have unfortunately been a rarity for Cowboys Nation in past years, but now players like Brown have made it a standard - as #30 consistently closes on unsuspecting WRs to contest a throw at the catch point.
Like Carr and Scandrick, teams are going to equally attempt to test Brown simply because of the rookie status associated with his name. Anyone that has watched the Cowboys throughout this season knows however that Brown is already playing like a seasoned veteran, and that the expectation should be for him to continue to do as such.
We made it to game day, Cowboys Nation! Before the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers kickoff, be sure to share your thoughts on the game and this Playoff Primer with a comment below!
You can also catch up on previous editions of this series right here, and find me on Twitter @ShoreSportsNJ to discuss any player breakdowns!
Ezekiel Elliott ‘Excited’ About Dallas Cowboys ‘Promise’ in 2019
There's a lot to look forward to as the team gears up for offseason training activities and minicamp. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys look like a potential contender in the NFC after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs before falling to the NFC representative Los Angeles Rams by a score.
The offseason additions the team has made in addition to the draft have many in Cowboys Nation excited about the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season. That includes Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I'm just excited about the group of guys we have. I'm excited about the talent we have on this team. I'm excited about the leadership group we have. I think we have a lot of the right pieces. I think we have a lot of promise for this season.
I think the Cowboys are right to be optimistic about their team heading into the season. They had one of the top 10 defenses in the NFL and an offense that was trending in the right direction over the last half of 2018.
On both the offensive and defensive side of the football the Dallas Cowboys have gotten better as a team.
The offense sees the return of Travis Frederick to the middle of the offensive line and though Joe Looney was good, he's no Travis Frederick. Frederick's return will improve communication along the offensive line and improve their run blocking up the middle; an area where the Cowboys struggled with consistency in 2018.
Another veteran returning to the Cowboys for 2019 is Tight End Jason Witten. Though he's slowed down some at 38 years old, having his leadership and veteran presence on a team attempting to make a deep playoff run is very important. Witten's as steady a player as has been in the NFL and should still be able to make plays in the run and pass game.
The additions of Randall Cobb and Tony Pollard give the Dallas Cowboys a more versatile group of players for new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to toy with. This versatility will allow them to keep teams off balance. With Randall Cobb, the Cowboys will be able to move Amari Cooper around the formation in order to find favorable matchups in the passing game. Tony Pollard gives the Cowboys a durable gadget option and big-play threat in the run and pass game. Pollard's ability as a returner could help the Cowboys get more favorable field position in 2019.
Ezekiel Elliott himself stands to benefit a great deal from the additions and changes the Cowboys made to the offense. Pollard is an upgrade as a running back to Rod Smith, so the Cowboys can cut Ezekiel Elliott's workload a little and keep him fresh by expanding on the two series a game the coaching staff used to give Smith.
On defense, they added Robert Quinn to a defensive line that already boasts one All-Pro pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence. Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder, and Trysten Hill provide depth to an interior that struggled against the Rams in the playoffs and the Indianapolis Colts during the regular season. The defensive line.
In addition to all that, the Cowboys will get to see what kind of progress their 2018 rookie standouts make in year two.
Leighton Vander Esch was a second-team All-Pro in 2018 and should have won defensive rookie of the year with his play. Connor Williams looks to have gained the necessary size and strength to play left guard in the NFL. A second offseason at guard should help him to improve at his new position. Michael Gallup was a revelation in the third round of the draft last year. After slowly being worked into the lineup over the first half of the season, he emerged as the Dallas Cowboys second wide receiver.
The NFC East and the NFC is a tough place to play. Every year, it's an uphill climb to win enough games to win the division or make the playoffs, but the Cowboys have put themselves in a fantastic position to do just that. Though no team has been a repeat winner of the NFC East since the early 2000s, the Dallas Cowboys have built a team that will be able to compete with any team in the NFL.
From the roster to the coaching staff, the Dallas Cowboys have built a squad that should get anyone excited. Are there questions as the team heads to training camp? Of course. But every team has questions at one position or another. The Cowboys have done an excellent job to minimize those questions through free agency and the draft and have one of the best teams in the NFL on paper.
The excitement that Ezekiel Elliott feels is warranted. The Dallas Cowboys do have a lot of promise as we look ahead. Now as they get ready to start ramping up practices, it's time for Elliott and the rest of the team to go prove it.
And I have a feeling they'll live up to that "promise."
DT Leonard Williams May be Available, Should the Cowboys Explore a Trade?
Per a report by Rich Cimini of ESPN, the New York Jets may be exploring a trade for their star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. With Williams set to hit free agency in 2020, the theory is the Jets may not be interested in locking up Williams long-term after just drafting Quinnen Williams with their top five selection in 2019.
Here's what Cimini had to say in his report:
"There's already talk in league circles that Gase could be looking to move on from Williams, who will be a free agent after the season. He's due to make a guaranteed $14.2 million in the final year of his contract. Gase hasn't said anything about Williams that would spark speculation, but it's not hard to connect the dots when examining the defensive line situation."
Rich Cimini - ESPN.com
Williams has been a really good player for the New York Jets who has played 3-4 defensive end and some defensive tackle for the Jets in his four-year career. A former sixth overall pick has had as many as seven sacks and as few as two sacks a season, but he's played in all 64 games in his career, starting 63. He's stayed healthy and been productive on a Jets defense that hasn't been very good over the last few years.
For the Cowboys defense, he would project as a 3-technique with the ability to be the Cowboys 1-technique in passing situations. Among interior defensive lineman, Leonard Williams finished 21st in run stops per Pro Football Focus and sixth in total pressures with 53. Williams was third among interior players in QB hits with 16 ahead of Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Lineman Chris Jones and Seattle Seahawks Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. For reference, DeMarcus Lawrence had 63 total pressures and 11 QB hits in 2018, while Tyrone Crawford had only 37 total pressures.
The Dallas Cowboys have been working to reinforce their defensive line this offseason after struggling in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams when the Cowboys gave up over 200 yards rushing. Though they like Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins, they obviously weren't satisfied with the going into 2019 with just those two in the Dallas interior.
In free agency, the Cowboys added Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder and then drafted Trysten Hill with their second-round pick. They also added Daniel Wise, a player that was seen as a fourth or fifth rounder in most people's minds as an undrafted free agent and will compete for a roster spot.
As intriguing as Covington, Hyder, Hill, and Wise are in addition to Maliek Collins and Woods, Williams would be an immediate upgrade at 3-tech and the Dallas Cowboys should explore it, even if they don't plan on resigning him beyond 2019.
The Cowboys could swap expiring contracts by sending Maliek Collins to New York and a draft pick. Collins is unlikely to be resigned by the team in the 2020 offseason as they have plans for Hill as their 3-tech of the future.
The Dallas Cowboys showed with the trade for Robert Quinn that they're alright going after the one-year rental player. Leonard Williams would make their defense better for 2019 and while they have high hopes for Trysten Hill, Williams is a known asset right now and wouldn't prevent you from giving Hill snaps at 3-tech.
For a team hoping to make a Super Bowl run, adding a player like Leonard Williams makes a lot of sense. He's another disruptive player that would immediately improve your pass rush and also helps your run defense. The Dallas Cowboys have a team ready to win now, so now's the time to go get players that help you do so.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Could Become Trade Assets
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Cowboys Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise
Player News5 days ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News2 weeks ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
Star Blog6 days ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Way-too-early 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projection
Player News2 weeks ago
Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys All-In on Dak Prescott