As the draft gets closer there is more and more questions as to how the Dallas Cowboys will draft. First everyone was saying there was no way the Dallas Cowboys would get anything other than a D lineman. There has been talk of O lineman, WR, and even CB thrown out there. And lately there has been talk of going QB in the first round, which personally is the biggest question to me with all the other needs on this team, but I will digress. Which brings us to one of the earliest picks that seems to have dropped off the map in safeties.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that the Dallas Cowboys feel they are pretty good at safety. I spoke to how Barry Church was not that bad as a Strong Safety, but the play of Free Safety last season was terrible. Now I know what many are going to say about the injuries and how Jeff Heath was thrown in as a rookie. But even before that J.J Wilcox wasn’t playing the position like this team needs. We can’t even talk about Matt Johnson because he has yet to really see the field due to his injuries since he has been here. We could argue how with improved D line play the safeties will play better, and while this is true, the talent level in the back half of the defense has been rather suspect.
The cover 2 is a defense that relies on their safeties to cover hashmark to hashmark about 15-18 yards from the line of scrimmage (LoS). It is the Middle Linebacker to cover inside the center hashmarks about 10-15 yards from the LoS. The two outside LBs will then cover a flat about 10 yards from the LoS and the CBs will cover sideline to numbers about 10-12 yards from the LoS. This defense then keeps everything in front of it with a bend, don’t break theory. It is up to the D Line to get pressure and have the QB make mistakes to allow the reaction of the defense to jump the ball and make an interception. If the QR catches the ball, then the rest of the defense moves up and makes a play on the ball. This is where we go back and look at the safeties.
Barry Church was the leading tackler last year at 135 tackles. Combined J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath had 98 (good enough for 3rd combined). Oddly, Sean Lee had 99 and was injured part of the year. While at the surface this would make sense as the safeties will come up and make a play on the ball carrier. Here is the problem however, all of the safeties combined had 2 interceptions, one by Church, one by Heath. The play on the ball just wasn’t there. The missed tackles were apparent all over the field all season. While the safeties can tackle, they have little to no ball skills.
So is Matt Johnson the answer at safety? Well, we just don’t know to be honest. The Dallas Cowboys have kept him on the roster despite his injuries, they must see something in him. I can concede that drafting DL in the first and maybe even second round is a great idea. I have to wonder though, why has no one really been interested in a safety? I could see a draft where the targeted D lineman are gone by number 16. If one of the top safeties is there, I say pull the trigger and get line help in the second. Maybe Johnson is better than anyone knows if he ever sees the field, maybe Wilcox will play better with a better pass rush, maybe Heath really can get better in general. This is the curious case of the Dallas Cowboy’s Safeties.