Cowboys: Morris Claiborne’s Return is Critical for Dallas

Sep 25, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys have been without their top cornerback, Morris Claiborne, since October. His eventual return will be critical to the Cowboys this postseason.

The Dallas Cowboys, like most teams this time of year, are dealing with injuries. Perhaps none more critical of an injury, than the one to starting left cornerback, Morris Claiborne. Sidelined with a significant avulsion fracture, his exact return date remains unknown.

What is known is exactly how important Morris Claiborne is to the Cowboys defense.

In his fifth season, #24 has finally developed into the player the Cowboys thought he’d be when they selected #6 overall. Heralded as “the best CB prospect since Deion Sanders”, Claiborne was running the risk of becoming the Cowboys’ biggest bust in recent memory.

But this season things changed. Morris Claiborne became the confident, aggressive, shutdown player scouts always expected him to be. Healthy for the first time in forever, Mo began to find his confidence. It wasn’t long into the season that he started garnering some pro bowl talk as one of the best CBs in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus, who breaks down and grades players’ game tape, has Morris Claiborne tied for 12th best CB in the NFL this season putting him ahead of notable players like Patrick Peterson (#14), Janoris Jenkins (#15), and Josh Norman (#22).

His newly-found confidence made him aggressive on the field and a threat to any quarterback looking his way. Even with arguably the worst pass-rush since becoming a Cowboy, Mo was undeniably having his best season as a pro.

And then it happened.

On October 30th, in overtime against the Philadelphia Eagles, Morris Claiborne fell to injury once again. In what he calls “bone off the pelvis”, this is far from your typical “growing pull”.

"“I have not gotten another MRI to see if it’s actually healed…, Claiborne said. “I’m doing more than I was expecting to be doing at this time. Hopefully, in a couple weeks I will be back on the field.”"

The Cowboys certainly hope so. Dallas hasn’t had a CB rank in the NFL top-15 in roughly a decade, getting one back before playoffs will be critical to a team with newly developed Super Bowl aspirations. In Claiborne’s absence the Cowboys have plummeted to 29th in the NFL (276.2 passing yards allowed per game). And less than 1 yard separates the Cowboys from the #31st ranked team (New Orleans Saints).

How Good Have the Cornerbacks Been?

The rest of the Cowboys cornerback corps isn’t entirely to blame, though. In fact, individually they’ve been having career years.

More from Dallas Cowboys

Brandon Carr, a bust since joining the Cowboys  in 2012, is enjoying his best season of his career. After taking a pay cut and moving to the right side, Carr removed the lofty expectations of being the #1 CB and started playing with more confidence. PFF ranked Brandon Carr as the 27th best CB in the NFL, just a hair above Richard Sherman at #28.

Joining Carr on the starting unit has been rookie sixth round pick, Anthony Brown.

Brown, despite being thrown to the fire, has performed admirably for the Cowboys. Often a target of opposing QBs, Brown has displayed discipline, savvy, and even some ball skills against some of the NFL’s best receivers.

After being hampered by injury most of this season, Orlando Scandrick appears to be getting better by the day. He and Brown may only be ranked by PFF as the 31st and 66th respectively amongst their peers (which is actually pretty good considering…) but they are trending in a positive direction after last week. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Scandy and Brown only gave up a combined six receptions for 32 yards on 10 targets.

In other words, these aren’t bums in the secondary.

They are performing well in some extremely difficult circumstances. The Cowboys DBs are left with an impossible task – perform without the assistance of a viable pass-rush. Rod Marinelli seems to be mixing things up, altering his game plans, and keeping opponents guessing.

Expect to see more wrinkles from Marinelli

Rod Marinelli has been doing some interesting things on the defensive line as well. Marinelli has mixed up the pressure the past few weeks: blitzing, stunting, and sometimes only sending three rushers. He’s keeping offenses off-balance and helping his secondary in the process.

Finding a consistent pass-rush would be the most optimal solution to the Cowboys’ problems but that remains a tough task, even with the possible return of Randy Gregory (who is very talented but should never be relied upon).

The best chance at improvement lies in Morris Claiborne’s return.

Next: Unpredictability Has Been Key For Dallas Defense

Morris Claiborne has been playing like a shutdown corner for the Cowboys this season and fully intends at picking up right where he left off. Now that he finally found his confidence, most around Frisco seem to think that will indeed be the case when he returns later this month. Reuniting him with solid performing peers will go a long way in helping the Cowboys down the stretch.