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

John Williams

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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.

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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.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts

Sean Martin

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Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts

For the first time since 2003, the Dallas Cowboys were shutout on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Their five game winning streak snapped, the Cowboys also saw their chances at clinching the NFC East dashed before the late kickoffs. Needing both a Redskins and Eagles loss to win the division without the benefit of a win themselves, the Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive with a walk off field goal at the Jaguars.

Washington Quarterback Josh Johnson won his second start since 2013 with 151 yards and one touchdown. The Redskins aren't the only NFC East team playing with a backup QB, as the Eagles must once again rally around Nick Foles against the Rams to extend their shot at the playoffs on Sunday Night Football. 

The Cowboys certainly didn't deserve a celebration of any kind after their performance at the Colts. An emotional letdown after a win streak that featured triumphs over the Eagles twice, Redskins, and Saints, the Cowboys were slowed to a complete stop on offense while struggling fundamentally on defense.

Uncharacteristic missed tackles and lack of pressure on Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck allowed Indianapolis to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into an easy 23-0 win. Defending their home field, the Colts came out like a team still fighting for their playoff lives, while Dallas played like a team knowing two more chances at winning the division are still to come.

Instead of being able to watch and root against the Eagles tonight, the Cowboys can focus on not letting an embarrassing loss define a season that'll still end on a high note should they defeat the Buccaneers or Giants. A week 16 or 17 win automatically seals the division for the Cowboys, even with the Redskins improving to 7-7 moments before the Colts secured their shutout.

It was a masterful performance from Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus, preparing his team against Scott Linehan's offense to disrupt the momentum of one of the league's hottest teams.

Praising the Redskins for defeating a Jaguars team the Cowboys handled 40-7 much earlier in the season is hardly the situation Cowboys Nation wants to be in right now, but the team still has everything in front of them once Sunday's sixth loss is put behind them.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys NFC East Title Put on Hold with Redskins Win, Shutout Loss at Colts" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

IND 23, DAL 0: Cowboys Get Shut Out, Embarrassed by Colts

Jess Haynie

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Is Dak Prescott's Relationship with Scott Linehan Broken?

The Dallas Cowboys must think they've already won the NFC East, because they looked like a team with nothing to play for today. The result was an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Cowboys were shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, which was Jason Witten's rookie year.

Dallas squandered a major time-of-possession advantage in the first half, finishing three drives with a blocked field goal, punt, and a failed 4th-and-1 play near the Colts' goal line. Indianapolis capitalized on their own drives and took a 10-0 lead into halftime.

The Colts got the ball back to start the third quarter and drove down for another touchdown. Down 17-0, Dallas responded with a weak drive and a punt. The game felt out of reach even then, with the Cowboys just looking flat from that point forward.

Ezekiel Elliott had 87 rushing yards 41 receiving for some empty production. Amari Cooper won't be winning any awards this week, held to just four catches for 32 yards.

Dak Prescott completed 62% of his passes for 206 yards. He was sacked three times and threw a late interception; an overthrown ball got tipped by the receiver and picked off on the team's final offensive series.

While the offense was especially bad today, the defense wasn't much better. Dallas surrendered 139 yards rushing yards and two touchdown to Colts RB Marlon Mack, who hadn't had a 100-yard game since October. Andrew Luck wasn't sacked and went virtually untouched the entire day.

The Cowboys could have taken the NFC East with a win, but they didn't come close. Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call with the postseason only a few weeks away.

Other Notes

  • With the Redskins defeating the Jaguars today, Dallas will have to wait until next week to try to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys needed losses by both Washington and Philadelphia if they didn't win themselves. The Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
  • The Cowboys will get some softer competition to finish the year, hosting the Buccaneers next week and then going to play the Giants in Week 17.
  • With the Bears defeating the Packers today and moving to 10-4, they will likely stay the #3 seed in the playoffs. That means Dallas, assuming they do win the NFC East, will almost certainly be hosting the 5th-seeded Seahawks in the first round.
  • Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, but neither he or Leighton Vander Esch were making the big plays that we've grown accustomed to.
  • Xavier Woods had the highlight play on defense, delivering a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Colts TE Eric Ebron and stop a potential big gain.
  • Blake Jarin and Dalton Schultz combined for seven catches for 68 yards; another week of increased TE production from what we've seen must of the year.
  • Fullback Jamize Olawale doesn't get many opportunities on offense, and he may not get more after dropping an open touchdown on the team's second drive of the day.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Trailing Colts 10-0 at Halftime

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott

The Cowboys have had no trouble moving the ball today, but they've failed to finish drives with points. Dallas is thus trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 at halftime.

Dallas has had possession for over 19 minutes compared to just 10 for the Colts. But their three drives have ended with a blocked field goal, a failed 4th-and-1 play near the endzone, and a punt.

Ezekiel Elliott has 64 rushing yards and 23 receiving so far today. Dak Prescott has completed 12-of-19 for 106 yards, but has been sacked twice.

The offensive line continues to suffer from health issues. With Zack Martin already out and Connor Williams starting at right guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game with an eye injury during the second quarter and will not return. Backup Adam Redmond is now playing.

The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win in any of their final three games. They could also clinch today if the Redskins and Eagles lose. Washington is trailing 10-3 in Jacksonville at halftime, and the Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.

Hopefully, Dallas will start showing up on the scoreboard in the second half.



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