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Xavier Woods’ Versatility is an X-Factor in Cowboys Secondary

John Williams



Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As the Dallas Cowboys start training camp this week, a lot of the position questions we've had over the last several months will be answered. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys secondary, Xavier Woods and his ability to play down in the box and in the slot will be huge for the Cowboys this season.

If you've read much of Inside The Star, you've seen us talk a lot about Earl Thomas and what he could bring if added to the secondary. But adding the Seattle Seahawks All-Pro safety doesn't change the importance of Xavier Woods and his role in the secondary.

Xavier Woods in College

While at Louisiana Tech, Xavier Woods totaled 14 interceptions over his last three seasons, averaging a little more than one interception every three games.  In those final three seasons, he also had 16 passes defended.

Going into his second year, Woods could best be described as a ball-hawking safety. He made plays on the ball whether lined up as the deep safety or playing man-to-man in the slot.

In Woods' rookie season, he had one interception and three passes defensed while starting four games and playing in all 16.

Xavier Woods in the NFL

Woods played a little more than 52% of the defensive snaps in 2017. Over the final eight weeks of the season he only played less than 50% of the snaps three times. In those games the Dallas Cowboys were 1-2. In the other five games of the season in which Woods' snap count never dropped below 76%, the team was 4-1.

In the two games in the first half of the season in which Woods played more than 50% of the defensive snaps, the Dallas Cowboys were 2-0. They were 3-2 in the games he played less than 50% of the snaps.

So on the season, when Xavier Woods played more than 50% of the snaps on defense, the Dallas Cowboys were 6-1.

Not sure if we can draw a conclusion from that, but it's an interesting trend to follow in 2018.

Adding Earl Thomas to the secondary shouldn't change your excitement for Xavier Woods, unless it gets you more excited about what Woods can bring to the table.

Think about it.

Woods has already shown a penchant for getting to the football and making plays on it in the air. Creating turnovers is as much about instinct and a natural ability to play the ball as it is about being in the right spot to make a play on the ball.

Woods has that natural ability.

Bringing in Earl Thomas enhances what you can do with Woods.

First, as I mentioned before, adding Thomas would allow you to drop Woods into the box to help with the run or to cover the tight end in what was Byron Jones' role.

Additionally, when the opposition comes onto the field in 11-personnel (3 WR and 1 RB), the Dallas Cowboys can stay in their base 4-3. Now you might be asking yourself, "why would they want to stay in their base 4-3 against a passing formation?" The answer is that teams will run out of 11 personnel on early downs or in obvious running downs. Woods' ability to cover from the slot allows you to stay in a defensive package that can help you defend the run better.

With the NFL playing 11-personnel more than 70% of the time, having the flexibility to stay in base packages is a huge advantage on early downs. Offenses win when they can dictate what personnel groupings you can play, and the Cowboys defense could have an advantage against the run if they can leave three linebackers on the field on first and second down.

We love the potential that Xavier Woods has to offer, and for good reason. So, we should be excited about the opportunity to put Earl Thomas next to Woods in the secondary. Xavier Woods and Earl Thomas in the back-end of an ascending secondary would make life miserable for opposing offenses trying to attack the middle of the field.

That sounds like a super recipe for success.

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

1 Comment
  • Russ_Te

    I think DC wants to look at Woods at FS in camp and preseason games, then deal for Earl Thomas if Woods isn’t ready. If Thomas were signed then Woods probably does get moved around again this year, if not then Woods will most likely anchor at FS. The only other options are to move Jones back there or try someone like Lewis there.

    Doubt seriously he’d play in the box with Thomas at FS. Woods is small and his future is as a deep safety. Also the team has slot corners enough in Lewis and Brown.

    Wood’s NFL dream – from Round 6 – is all right in front of him this year if he can win the FS job. From there the ? marks extend to Jones at CB and Frazier at SS. Much of the next era in the secondary, will get decided in the next month.

Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Dominate Jaguars Top-Ranked Defense

Brian Martin



Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Dominate Jaguars Top-Ranked Defense 1

After watching the Houston Texans defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Week 5, I decided to lower my expectations heading into this week's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, the Cowboys offense has been one of the worst in the league this season and they were going up against the top-ranked Jaguars defense. Boy was I surprised at what took place Sunday afternoon.

I don't know how you started off your football Sunday, but I decided to watch the Texans take on the Buffalo Bills. I didn't have much of a choice since I live in the Houston area and it was the only game on TV, but I still wanted to see how they played after beating my Cowboys in overtime a week prior. I was disgusted at what I saw and unfortunately took it out on my cold beverage.

The Texans looked nothing like the team we saw against the Cowboys. They were pretty much dominated by the Buffalo Bills, which I'm ashamed to say put me in a rather foul mood ahead of kickoff time in Dallas. I was expecting another sloppy performance, but what we all witnessed was anything but that.

The Dallas Cowboys offense pretty much moved the ball at will against the Jacksonville Jaguars top-ranked defense. I don't think anyone could have predicted that, especially considering the Jaguars were the best overall defense in the league and where the top-ranked in the passing game as well. I thought if the Cowboys were going to have any kind of chance it was against their 14th ranked run defense.

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Well, the Cowboys ended up dominating on the offensive side of the ball and completely exploited the Jaguars defense both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, and Wide Receiver Cole Beasley all raised the level of their game and were big contributors to the 40 points the offense put on the board.

Prescott may have thrown for little less than 200 yards, but he was able to connect with Beasley nine times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. With all of the struggles in the passing game for the Cowboys, these two need to continue to connect like this.

Where Prescott was the most impactful against the Jaguars was with his feet. He was really close to being the Cowboys leading rusher with 82 yards and a TD on just 11 carries, but Zeke ended up surpassing him in the end with 106 yards and a TD on 24 carries. Regardless, the Jaguars defense didn't have an answer for Prescott's feet Sunday afternoon.

I have hope once again that this offense is clicking, but I've gone down this road once before. The Dallas Cowboys are still right in the mix of things in the NFC East division and will have a chance to distance themselves next week when they take on the Washington Redskins.

Now, here's the difficult part of all of this. The Cowboys now need to carry over this impressive offensive performance against the Jaguars into next week against the rival Redskins. We've all seen them riding on a high before this season, only to crash back down to earth the following week. They can't afford to do that with a division foe up next on the schedule.

What did you think about the Dallas Cowboys offense against the Jaguars?

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Game Notes

DAL 40, JAX 7: Cowboys Answer The Bell In Dominant Win

Kevin Brady



DAL 40, JAX 7: Cowboys Answer The Bell In Dominant Win

It seems like a pattern is developing here during the 2018 Dallas Cowboys season.

For a team and an offense which has looked absolutely horrid on the road, the Cowboys appear to be one of the better teams in the conference when playing at home.

That trend continued today as the Cowboys dominated the now 3-3 Jacksonville Jaguars from start to finish, en route to a 40-7 home victory over last year's AFC semi-finalist.

Quarterback Dak Prescott had possibly his best game of the season, making up for his poor performance in Houston a week ago. While Prescott only threw for 183 yards on 17 completions, it was his 82 rushing yards on 11 carries which put this offense over the top. Plus, the Cowboys were in "kill the clock" mode for basically the entire second half.

The real story here was the offensive line, however. The o-line which has been heavily criticized by the fan base during the season, and has shouldered a heavy amount of the blame for the poor offensive production, finally stepped up and played to their standards this afternoon. Prescott had great pass protection all day, which was evident in his passing numbers and Cole Beasley's receiving performance.

Dallas is now 3-3 on the season, tied with the defending champ Eagles and a half game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East. Next week the Cowboys have a huge game in Washington with first place on the line.

Other Notes

  • Cole Beasley proved once again why he's worthy of the pay day he'll get (probably somewhere else) this offseason. Beasley caught 9 balls for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, dominating man coverage all game long.
  • These linebackers are legit. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were all over the field today, anchoring a group which was impressive yet again.
  • Brett Maher simply can't miss, going 4 for 4 on field goal attempts including a 55 yarder in the second half.
  • Ezekiel Elliott went over 100 yards rushing again this week, and it was somehow still a quiet day for him in the grand scheme of things.
  • Byron Jones was the best cornerback on either team today, deflecting 3 passes and staying sticky to the Jacksonville wide outs all day. He's been incredible this season and Sunday's game was no different.
  • Oh, and Randy Gregory sack alert! Party!

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Player News

David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys

Sean Martin



David Irving Ready to "Be Put Through Ringer" in First Action with Cowboys
(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

The Dallas Cowboys patience in Defensive Tackle David Irving is set to pay off on Sunday, as Irving will play in his first game of 2018 after being suspended for the first four weeks. Irving was eligible to play last week in the Cowboys overtime loss at the Texans, but did not make the trip to Houston as he dealt with off-field concerns.

The Cowboys defense has performed admirably without Irving, but in a needed game against the Jaguars, it could be up to this defense to win the game for Dallas - something a disruptive player like Irving has the ability to do on any given snap.

While the plan is for the Cowboys to ease Irving into this game, his impact from the DT position might be enough to leave him on the field as much as needed in a tight game.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Irving said the coaches want to play him 10-15 snaps Sunday. "That's what they say now but if it's a close game, I know good and well Marinelli is going to be sending me out there & putting me through the ringer. I'm ready for it.

Like a good left-handed pitcher in baseball or three-point specialist in basketball, the Cowboys have afforded Irving a long leash despite his unreliability thanks to a 6'7" and 290 pound frame that makes him a menace for opposing guards.

The 3T-DT position is a pivotal one in Marinelli's scheme, and one the Cowboys have afforded Irving every opportunity to fill, yielding results whenever the former Chiefs practice squad steal suits up.

Filling in for Irving through the Cowboys first five games of the season has been reliable veteran Tyrone Crawford. Expected to play at defensive end this season, Crawford has recorded 14 tackles and one sack from the 3T position.

With Irving back in the "Hot Boyz" rotation, it will be interesting to see if Crawford once again goes out to right defensive end, where Randy Gregory has struggled to make the most out of his own return from suspension.

Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is not expecting similar struggles from Irving, prepared to put him "through the ringer".

Where Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard calls the Cowboys defense, Marinelli is still one of the most respected coaches at The Star, demanding a lot of his defensive line in particular. It's the pairing of Marinelli's motivation and Irving's intangibles that have the Cowboys defense on the brink of taking another step toward's one of the league's best.

With their own offense set to line up against perhaps the best overall defense in Jacksonville on Sunday, Irving's return is just in time. The NFC East is far from out of reach for the Cowboys, who will be at full strength on defense once Sean Lee returns as early as next week.

The Cowboys have never lost a game in which Lee, Irving, and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence play at least 20% of the team's snaps on defense. Perhaps this stat will have to be adjusted to include rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in short time, but for now the Cowboys are hours away from fighting for a 3-3 start to 2018, doing so with one of their most important defenders back in the lineup.

Tell us what you think about "David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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