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!
Cowboys Will Tag DeMarcus Lawrence; What’s the Plan?
February 20 is an important day for NFL clubs this year. Why? It's the first day in which teams can franchise tag any player. Since 2015, when the Dallas Cowboys tagged Dez Bryant before they were able to work out a long-term deal, Jerry Jones & Co. haven't used the franchise tag. In 2018, though, that will change.
DeMarcus Lawrence just played his best season yet in 2017, and he's looking to get paid big time. Through three years, he had been able to rack up nine sacks, 52 tackles and three forced fumbles. In just 2017, he sacked opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times, had 35 tackles and managed to force four fumbles.
Not only did Lawrence look like an elite pass rusher, but he also improved as a run defender a lot. The Cowboys have been looking for a "War Daddy" for a long, long time and Lawrence seems to be the answer for this football team.
After such a big year, one would expect the Cowboys to sign him to a multi-year enormous contract. But there's a catch. Lawrence failed to remain healthy early in his career and really didn't make as much of an impact until last season.
There's no question that D-Law will be wearing a star come the 2018 NFL season, but will he be doing it under a long-term deal or under a franchise tag?
Cowboys will not place franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence tomorrow as that window opens but will do so by March 6 w/ understanding the goal is to reach a long-term deal. Both sides have until July 16 to make that happen.
For now, according to David Moore from Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence with the objective of getting a deal done in July. The tag however, is not expected to be placed as soon as possible.
In 2015, the Cowboys didn't place the franchise tag on Dez Bryant until the final deadline day. This year's deadline is March 6th, so it may be two weeks before they make it official with DeMarcus Lawrence. #CowboysNation #DallasCowboys
What would franchise tagging DeMarcus Lawrence mean for this team?
First of all, they'd make sure he doesn't hit free agency in March. This gives the front office time to get to work and restructure players' contracts if they have to in order to open up as much cap space as they can before giving him a deal.
It's worth mentioning as well, cap savings from players who are designated as post-June 1 cuts will already be available. If you want to be more familiarized with the Cowboys' cap situation, I highly recommend you read John Williams' deep dive on the matter.
It'll continue to be a very interesting story for this offseason, as handing a franchise tag to a player tends to become a non-friendly situation for both parties. Let's hope that's not the case for the Cowboys and Lawrence this year and that everything works out fine.
Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue updating you and the rest of Cowboys Nation throughout the offseason.
Dallas Cowboys OL Fails To Crack NFL.com’s Top 10
Often considered a top unit in football, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line seemed to take a step back in 2017. Mostly due to injuries and free agent departures on the left side, the Cowboys were unable to form the same solid unit we have seen in years past.
Despite their struggles, most would still consider them a top 5-10 offensive line in the NFL. At least, that's what I'd expect considering they still feature three All-Pro caliber players upfront.
Matt Harmon of NFL.com put together a list of the top 10 offensive lines in football based on performance in the 2017 season. The list was strictly developed through the use of next gen stats, which defined pressure as "pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack." In addition, "yards gained before close" was taken into account. This metric is meant to measure "the amount of rushing yards a running back gains before opposing defenders come within 1 yard of the player."
After compiling all of these stats, the Cowboys offensive line was left off of the list completely. Maybe even more surprising, however, was that the Philadelphia Eagles' line failed to crack the top ten as well. That's two lines with 3-4 Pro Bowl caliber players each missing the cut.
According to Matt Harmon the Cowboys allowed a pressure on 28.6% of Dak Prescott's dropbacks, 12th highest in the league. Dallas also ranked 20th in the league in YGBC in 2017.
While I do have some issues with the methodology of these statistics, the final result is actually hard to argue with. Down the stretch the Cowboys offense was downright pathetic at times. Regardless of how highly we thought of them prior to the year, the offense didn't perform to their standards, or the standards of a top ten unit.
Heading into 2018, however, I do expect this offensive line to begin to regain form. La'el Collins should continue to improve on the right side, and he is already an adequate starting right tackle regardless. I also expect Dallas to address their left guard spot, potentially within the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In the end the success of this line may hinge on the health of Tyron Smith, though. When healthy, Smith is the best left tackle in all of football. But that "when healthy" caveat has certainly hurt the Cowboys offense.
The way the front office handles their offensive line this offseason will play a huge role in the success, or lack thereof, of the Cowboys in 2018.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: CB Bene Benwikere
After playing sparsely for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, veteran cornerback Bene Benwikere is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Could he stay in Dallas, or will he have to find work elsewhere?
Dallas was concerned about its CB depth with heavy reliance on young players and Jourdan Lewis barely participating in the offseason. Therefore, the Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for Benwikere just before Week One.
After a stellar rookie season with the Carolina Panthers in 2014, Bene had suffered a steep fall before landing in Cincy. Injuries and poor play got him cut midway through 2016 by the Panthers, and then Benwikere bounced from Miami to Green Bay before finally signing with the Bengals in the 2017 offseason.
Though a few years removed from being an All-Rookie Team standout, Bene Benwikere is still just 26 and may still draw interest from scouts who remember his better days. He is likely counting on that, because the Cowboys' secondary is starting to fill up.
The Cowboys currently have exciting sophomores Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis expected to start in 2018. Anthony Brown is back for his third season and will be active on game days.
Orlando Scandrick's future is cloudy, but Dallas won't get much cap relief from releasing him this season. They may elect to keep the veteran for one more year, which would all but fill out the CB depth chart.
Even if Scandrick leaves, talk that Dallas may move Byron Jones back to corner from safety would only leave Benwikere in the same disadvantaged position for finding work.
The best chance that Bene Benwikere has to stay with the Cowboys is if new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard remembers him from 2014. Coaches often feel that can get more out of a player than the last guy, and Richard may see potential in Benwikere that his last few teams couldn't unlock.
Four years ago may be too long, though, and especially with a fresh new crop of young players coming into the league. Especially if they keep Scandrick, Dallas may want to use the rest of their roster spots on younger prospects.
As it stands, Bene Benwikere is unlikely to return to the Cowboys. However, given the flashes of potential he once showed in the NFL, you can't be certain that Dallas won't want to give him one more chance.
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