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Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Safeties

Sean Martin

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Barry Church

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.

Byron Jones, Vikings

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Byron Jones

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

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.

J.J. Wilcox

//insidethestar.com/cowboys-headlines/j-j-wilcox-is-just-breaking-the-surface/

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.

Jeff Heath

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.

Tell us what you think about “Playoff Primer: Dallas Cowboys Safeties” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we’re not how you think we are. Host of “Upon Further Review” on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

DAL 20, OAK 17: Cowboys and Playoff Hopes Survive Wild Game

Jess Haynie

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Jason Witten, Dak Prescott

On a night when almost everything seemed to bounce the Raiders’ way, the final crucial play went in Dallas’ favor. That proved to be all the difference, allowing the Cowboys to improve to 8-6 and keep their playoff hopes alive in a pivotal road game in Oakland.

After a 55-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Jourdan Lewis moved Oakland 15 yards from the endzone, Oakland had a few shots at a game-winning touchdown before they’d attempt a tying field goal. On 3rd-and-3, Derek Carr scrambled and went for the score. He dived along the sideline and stretched the ball out toward the pylon, only to lose control. The ball left his hands, crossed the goal line, and went out the side of the endzone.

Cowboys ball. Cowboys wins.

That fumble was Oakland’s fourth of the night. Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on two of his kick returns but both times the ball rolled out of bounds. Michael Crabtree also fumbled after a catch, but Dallas failed to recover it before the receiver could get back on top of the ball.

Both teams were playing for their playoff lives. When the game was tied 10-10 in the 3rd quarter, Dallas faked a punt from their own 24-yard-line as Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards. The very next play, the Cowboys attempted a flea-flicker to Terrance Williams that was incomplete. It was perhaps the most aggressive series of calls we’ve seen from Dallas all year.

It was a tough, ugly game. There were 21 total penalties, 14 of which surprisingly belonged to the Raiders. Oakland’s offense executed more consistently while the Cowboys still made crucial stops when needed.

In the end, Dallas survived and advanced in their efforts to sneak back into the NFC playoffs.

Other Notes

  • Dak Prescott had a rough night with two interceptions and no passing touchdowns. One of those picks was due to contact on the throw, but he also missed some opportunities with errant throws and bad reads. He did run one in, though, and had 32 rushing yards total for the game.
  • Alfred Morris and Rod Smith combined for a woeful 74 yards on 23 carries. After a few weeks of big production, this was a good reminder of why we’re so happy to have Ezekiel Elliott returning next week.
  • While Dallas was unable to sack Derek Carr tonight, they applied a lot of pressure and forced several bad throws. Carr only completed 55% of his passes thanks to consistent heat from DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, and even Taco Charlton on a few plays.
  • It was another solid night from the Cowboys’ young cornerbacks. Despite the big penalty on Oakland’s final drive, Lewis had a solid night all around along with Chidobe Awuzie. Anthony Brown also showed up, having a few nice deflections in crunch time.
  • The Cowboys will head back to Dallas to reunite to with Ezekiel Elliott and prepare a welcoming party for the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Seattle was humiliated at home today, losing 42-7 to the visiting Rams. With the Cowboys and Seahawks now tied at 8-6, Dallas can bury them next week with a victory.

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Game Notes

Cowboys and Raiders Offer Many Parallels

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Derek Carr

For only the 12th time since their first meeting in 1974, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders will face off tonight in what will likely be a season-ending game for the loser. Two of the NFL’s premiere franchises, the Cowboys and Raiders have lived almost entirely separate lives throughout their history. Despite that, the two organizations in many ways seem like mirror images of each other.

The Raiders are up by one game, 6-5, in the previous 11 games between Dallas and Oakland. The Cowboys have won the last two matchups, both of which were in Dallas. This will be the first they’ve played in the Raiders’ stadium since 2005.

Oakland is one of only a few NFL franchises the Cowboys have a losing record against. Dallas is .500 or better against 26 the 31 other teams in the league. The only other franchises with winning records against the Cowboys are the Baltimore Ravens (4-1), Cleveland Browns (17-14). Denver Broncos (8-5), and the Green Bay Packers (19-17).

Throughout NFL history, perhaps now two owners have challenged the establishment more than the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones and the late Al Davis of the Raiders. Davis sued the NFL in 1980 when his efforts to most the team to Los Angeles were blocked. This year, Jerry Jones threatened litigation against the league for how the commissioner’s contract negotiations were being handled.

in 2017, the Cowboys and Raiders were both Super Bowl contenders who have had disappointing the seasons. They go into this week at 7-6 and 6-7 respectively, nearly even, and with similarly slim hopes of still making the playoffs. Both may be still be able to sneak in if they keep winning, but help from other teams is also needed.

Even their quarterbacks can be compared. Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are two of the top young stars at QB in the game but have had adversity this year.  Carr has been trying to bounce back from a major leg injury last year that cut short his breakout season. Prescott, a rookie sensation in 2016, has had to fight the sophomore slump while also dealing with the loss of offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott.

If that wasn’t enough, both their first names start with a “D” and end with a “K.” Mind-blowing stuff, huh?

All kidding aside, both Dallas and Oakland entered 2017 with championship goals and have had tough blows along the way. Both will be without key players tonight; Dallas still missing Elliott while the Raiders won’t have franchise receiver Amari Cooper. These personnel issues have plagued their seasons and left both on the brink of playoff elimination.

Who stays alive tonight? For two teams that only see each other every four years, this reunion is of incredible importance to both their immediate futures.

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Game Notes

Cowboys, Raiders Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

Tonight’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders features two teams still hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Both will have to try to keep their seasons alive without some key players, according the final injury report for Week 15.

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Brice Butler (foot) – OUT
  • TE James Hanna (knee) – Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (back) – Questionable
  • OT La’el Collins (back) – Questionable
  • DL David Irving (concussion) – OUT
  • DT Maliek Collins (foot) – Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring/back) – Questionable
  • LB Justin Durant (concussion) – OUT
  • CB Orlando Scandrick (back) – OUT

Don’t be worried by any of the key “questionable” players. They’re all dealing with nagging injuries and will likely be on the injury report the rest of the year. There is no indication that Sean Lee, Maliek Collins, or either of the starting offensive tackles will miss the game.

Brice Butler will miss his return game against his former team, which is more sad for him than any real issue for the Cowboys. Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown could see some more usage on offensive as a result.

Missing David Irving will hurt as Dallas needs to get pressure on Derek Carr. Coupled with Orlando Scandrick’s absence, the Raiders could be dangerous with their passing game. Thankfully, some of this is offset by their star receiving also missing the game.

Oakland Raiders

  • WR Amari Cooper (ankle) – OUT
  • TE Clive Walford (concussion/neck) – OUT
  • C/G Jon Feliciano (concussion) – Questionable
  • DL Mario Edwards Jr (ankle) – OUT
  • DL Denico Autry (hand/ankle) – Questionable
  • CB David Amerson (foot) – Questionable
  • S Ofi Melifonwu (hip) – OUT
  • DB Keith McGill (knee) – Questionable

The big news here is obviously Cooper being out. Michael Crabtree can still ball but Cooper is one of the top receivers in the game. Dallas’ young corners can breathe easier now.

The big injury on defense is Edwards, the son of the former Cowboys cornerback. He’s started all 13 games this year for Oakland. They also could be without starting corner David Amerson due to a foot injury. That could help Dak Prescott to keep the momentum going from his statistical breakthrough last week.

The rest of the players on the Raiders’ report are all backups.

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