It is finally almost time for 2016 Dallas Cowboys playoff football, as tomorrow the Green Bay Packers will come to AT&T Stadium with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line. You already know by now that they’ll be bringing QB Aaron Rodgers and a dangerous passing attack into this game, so fittingly enough the last two installments of my Playoff Primer series will focus on the Dallas secondary.
Today, we look at the safeties.
In his first full year at free safety and just his second in the NFL, Byron Jones continued to develop into a star with every desirable trait to play his position in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. The two best things the Cowboys defense has done as a team this season is stop the run and not allow big plays, both of which involve Jones.
A physical run stopper, Byron can meet any running back in the hole and stop him in his tracks, while being more than fast enough to play his center field role back at safety as well.
Jones’ impact has been felt since day one with this team, as he was asked to carry a lot of tight ends in coverage as a rookie. Now with an expanded role, the Cowboys have struggled somewhat against opposing tight ends – proving that their first round pick from 2015 can truly do anything asked of him.
While it would be great for Byron Jones to make a big splash on this game with a turnover or something similar, he will undeniably have a big say in the final outcome of every playoff game the Cowboys play with his versatility and all-around awesomeness.
Barry Church is one of the most underrated Dallas defenders. The veteran strong safety playing across from Jones, Church has quietly done his job once again in 2016, battling through injuries to appear in 12 games – making 85 tackles and defending four passes.
As we talk about the Dallas Cowboys secondary, it is important to once again bring up the “Clog and Cover” scheme that has worked so well this season for them. Essentially, the Cowboys are contempt with putting as many sound tacklers on the field as they can at every level and forcing teams to methodically march them down the field.
Church has fit this mold for his entire Cowboys career, with a knack for timely third down stops and big hits that prevent busted plays from turning into touchdowns. If you were to make a list of current Cowboys that are more than deserving of a Super Bowl ring, Barry Church would find his way onto the list, and one of this secondary’s leaders has a chance to help get his team to Houston in a big way.
On a team full of improbable stories, J.J. Wilcox has emerged in 2016 to finally put things together at the safety position. Acting as Dallas’ “enforcer” in a way, Wilcox has laid on big hits all season long, patrolling underneath the deep coverages Rod Marinelli plays.
Wilcox has also earned his snaps by progressing a lot more as a coverage safety, sometimes ask in “Dime” packages to carry receivers out of the slot. While the Packers, and any team the Cowboys will see the rest of the way, will have to be ready for the versatile safety combination of Byron Jones and Barry Church, its best they also understand where #27 in white is at all times.
If not, he is going to continue to come out of nowhere to place his stamp on every game the Cowboys have left.
Regarded by some in Cowboys Nation as the greatest football player of all time, Jeff Heath has found himself playing a bigger role defensively over the past few weeks of the regular season in addition to his job on special teams.
Heath may not be as good at any one thing that Jones, Church, or even Wilcox brings to the table, but he is a solid deep safety that can help in over-the-top coverage. With Barry Church often playing down in the box, Jones ends up as one of the only deep defenders on the field in a lot of packages – except when he has Jeff Heath playing next to him.
The snaps that Heath will get on defense in the playoffs will likely be limited, but even in limited opportunities he’ll have a chance to make a solid impact as a much better option than most third safeties across the NFL.
Tomorrow here at Inside The Star, this Playoff Primer series will come to an end with a look at the corner backs. If you have enjoyed this series in preparation for the Divisional Round, feel free to email me your thoughts at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.