Dallas Cowboys: Secondary now playing at peak level

Jeff Heath #38 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Jeff Heath #38 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Eleven games into the season the Dallas Cowboys find their secondary playing at peak level, just in time for their biggest test.

The Dallas Cowboys own the youngest defense in the NFL and with that youth comes the inevitable growing pains. Each week we’re seeing these budding young stars realize more and more of their potential, exciting the fanbase and strengthening the team.

Against the Washington Redskins, we saw one defensive unit, in particular, take a step forward in their development and provide their best performance of the season. That unit is the Dallas secondary.

The cornerbacks

The Dallas Cowboys secondary, comprised of cornerbacks Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown, was nothing short of brilliant on Thanksgiving.

Byron Jones continues to look like one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL. On Thursday the Dallas Cowboys deployed him to cover Jordan Reed, their always-dangerous tight end. Covering TEs was something Jones did often last season, and it now appears the Cowboys are comfortable using him in that capacity situationally going forward.

Jones has the speed, length, and tackling ability to shut down one side of the field. The trickle-down effect positively impacts the rest of the secondary and allows the coaching staff to focus elsewhere in their schemes.

Awuzie hasn’t yielded the statistical results at RCB many of us were hoping he would this season. Opponents have been shying away from Jones and Awuzie has been the target by default. Despite consistently strong coverage this season from #24, he’s been giving opposing passers 100+ point ratings when targeting him.

But according to Pro Football Focus, on Thursday Awuzie only allowed two receptions for 24 yards. Not too shabby especially considering he was targeted six times.

Anthony Brown, Dallas’ nickel corner, had arguably his best game of the season on Thursday. He had four solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one QB hit, one pass defection and one interception. He’s been strong all season long but he’s never looked better than he does right now.

The safeties

The Dallas Cowboys opened the season rotating their top three safeties on and off the field. But as the season progressed, we’ve seen considerably less Kavon Frazier and considerably more Xavier Woods. On Thursday both Woods and Frazier logged every snap at safety (63). And considering how well they’re playing, that probably won’t stop any time soon.

The increase in playing time is directly related to Xavier Woods’ quality of play on the field. Woods has always been a strong coverman inside in man defense, but lately he’s been thriving as a centerfielder in Marinelli’s Cover 3 (aka single high).

Not only are we seeing Woods break up plays in that deep safety role, but we’re seeing him make interceptions and execute open field tackles (the latter being something he has struggled with at times).  According to Pro Football Focus, Woods leads all safeties with five pass breakups. Thursday, arguably the best game of his pro career, Woods tallied two breakups to go with his interception.  For the day, Woods only allowed one 11-yard reception on three total targets.

It’s safe to say the 23-year-old second year safety is playing at a career high level.

As the OG of the Dallas Cowboys secondary, Jeff Heath has been seen as the cornerstone of the group. Whether you believe he’s the goat or a bum, you have to appreciate what he did against Washington. Heath collected eight solo tackles, one pass deflection, two tackles for loss, and forced fumble.

Biggest test ahead

This coming Thursday the Dallas Cowboys face off against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. The hottest team in the NFL boasts a well balanced offense and will force Dallas to play them honestly, offering little to no extra help to their secondary.

Brees has been the best QB in the NFL this season and he’s dropping dimes and scoring points despite perfect coverage. The Dallas Cowboys secondary cannot do this on their own. They’ll need help from the pass-rush and a little luck to best this opponent.

Next. Why the Cowboys shouldn't abandon the TE and go spread offense. dark

The good news is they’ve never been playing better as a unit and if there ever was a time to face this Super Bowl favorite, the time is now.

  • Published on 11/25/2018 at 14:01 PM
  • Last updated at 11/25/2018 at 08:10 AM