This is why the Dallas Cowboys need more press coverage

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 25: Defensive back Anthony Brown #30 of the Dallas Cowboys defends against wide receiver Antwan Goodley #14 of the Seattle Seahawks during the preseason game at CenturyLink Field on August 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 25: Defensive back Anthony Brown #30 of the Dallas Cowboys defends against wide receiver Antwan Goodley #14 of the Seattle Seahawks during the preseason game at CenturyLink Field on August 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

With the Dallas Cowboys questions at defensive tackle and a young corps of cornerbacks, press coverage is the right option for 2018.

Before we get into why press coverage is the right option for the Dallas Cowboys, let’s explain press coverage a little more. Press coverage, aka bump and run, refers to how cornerbacks play a wide receiver off of the line.

In press coverage, the cornerback lines up within 5 yards of the wide receiver at the line of scrimmage. The corner will attempt to bump the receiver within the 5 yards to disrupt the route the receiver will run, and thus, disrupting the timing of the entire play. There are some vulnerabilities to playing this style, but it should work for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.

If we look back to the Dallas Cowboys a few seasons ago, we would notice the corners played about 6-8 yards off of the line. This allowed receivers to get into their routes without disruption. The reason the Cowboys played this way, was basically for two reasons:

  1. It was meant to keep the play in front of them.
  2. It was so that the Cowboys could hide their safeties deficiencies in coverage and hopefully not get beat by passes behind the corners.

In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys decided it was time to move to a younger secondary, and by the end of 2017, the secondary was much improved and was playing more press coverage. There are a few issues with this style of play, but it did help the pass rush and looked good by the end of the season.

The issues with press coverage are it can get beat with fades pretty frequently. A fade is where the receiver literally bends his route to the sideline and keeps the defensive back on his inside hip. Unlike an “out” route where the receiver runs a set amount of yards and cuts his route 90 degrees to the sideline, a fade allows for a little more adjustment on the route and can be run at varied angles and depths. Usually, the safety can’t get over fast enough on a fade, and corner can’t jump the route as easily as an out route.

Another issue with press coverage is it relies on the defensive line to run stunts, or twist, and put pressure on the quarterback. There are two types of stunts, one where the defensive lineman drops back and allows a linebacker to rush forward. The other stunt, is where two defensive linemen cross paths kind of like an “X” to confuse the offensive line and create different pass rushing angles.

The last major issue is, you need smart, athletic corners to have it be effective. If you have slower corners or safeties who don’t cover well over the top, the defense will get beat with bigger plays. This is where the Dallas Cowboys excelled in updating their secondary, for the most part.

Moving Byron Jones back to corner helps because it allows him to use his athleticism better than as a safety. Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Marquez White, Donovan Olumba, and Duke Thomas are all young corners with experience, athleticism, speed, and hands to play press coverage. This is also why the Dallas Cowboys signed Kam Kelly and Charvarius Ward as rookies this season. The idea is taller corners, with speed, agility, hands, and strength to play press coverage. The shortest corners on the team are Lewis and Thomas, both at 5’10”, and none of the corners are under 190 pounds.

Basically, the Cowboys kept the size they had and went younger, more athletic, and faster across the board. The idea is the more ability to play press coverage, the better they feel it will help the pass rush. Rod Marinelli has wanted to keep speed and agility on the defensive line. This could be why he is not a huge fan of a traditional one-technique tackle. He wants players who run stunts, not guys who just run straight ahead and eat up blocks.

If the corners can play more press coverage it allows the safeties to roam a little more free, hide their coverage schemes better, and allows them to make plays on the ball instead of the released receiver. The strength of the current Cowboys’s safeties is zone coverage, not man coverage. This should allow them to play more to these strengths. This should also create some confusion pre-snap for quarterbacks.

Press coverage should also help take away some of the quick three step drop, dink and dunk, passes. If the corners are close to the line and disrupt the route, it will take another second or two for the wide receivers to get into their routes or get open. That extra second should help an agile, faster defensive line get to the quarterback.

All of this should also help the defense identify routes quicker, make plays on the ball, and can easily be adjusted throughout the game. If a corner wants to play off, it will be more confusing to be able to line up for a press look, and back off, rather than playing eight yards off before the snap. It really is what the Cowboys need for 2018.

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With training camp this week, I would look for how the corners are playing against the receivers. If they are playing closer to the line, then it should signal for more stunts on the defensive line and more free roaming safeties. It will also allow the linebackers to play sideline to sideline and rush the passer with less prediction and more efficiency. How the corners play, will be a huge sign of how this defense will look this season.

Next: Dallas Cowboys: Why Kavon Frazier could be a starting safety

The hope is the Cowboys have the right guys to play press coverage. If they have done their homework well, and players have developed properly, this defense should be better than people are predicting this year. If it looks strong this year, next season could signal an acquisition of a safety upgrade or more traditional one technique defensive tackle to add to the rotation.