posted 8 years ago
After signing cornerback CB Adam Jones and drafting first-rounder Mike Jenkins, few believed Dallas would leave any cracks in coverage to be exploited. The team's offseason moves would allow coordinator Brian Stewart the flexibility to use strong safety Roy Williams as a glorified linebacker (where he wouldn't be a liability in coverage) and move cornerback Anthony Henry to free safety. Bottom line: the secondary suddenly had more cover men than you could shake a stick at, the better to match up with opponents' three- and four-receiver sets.
The results haven't been terrible (210.2 passing yards allowed per game), but given the Cowboys' personnel in the secondary and the benefits of a strong pass rush (14 sacks), the back-end coverage has been underwhelming at best. What's really strange is that this attacking 3-4 defense has been more vulnerable to wideouts than backs and tight ends, which generally runs counter to conventional thought.
Communication and timing have been problems, and that stems from a lack of continuity, familiarity and experience. Cornerback Terence Newman (sports hernia) has missed two games; Williams (forearm) has missed three; Jones is new to the team and coming off a year out of rotation due to suspension; and Jenkins, he's a rookie. Missed assignments are bound to occur when a team's defensive backs haven't played together long and are constantly being shuffled.
Jones, an exceptional talent, was believed to be the missing link in the Cowboys' secondary. Paired with Newman, a borderline shutdown corner, the duo were expected to provide excellent matchup capability and give Stewart nearly unlimited flexibility in his schemes. And though Jones has limited big plays and held his own so far in Dallas , even while occasionally covering top wideouts, his timing and reactions aren't ideally sharp after his extended layoff. Is Pacman ready for a starting role, in which he may have to cover for the other guy (Henry) rather than the other way around?
Until Newman returns, the Cowboys will need to get creative and take more risks. Disguise coverages. Play more man-to-man. Get physical with receivers at the line. Dial up more pressures. (Inside linebacker Zach Thomas already has been coming more often.) If the four-man front Dallas uses on passing downs gets pressure, Stewart can use more two-deep coverages to protect the defense on the back end. But without the benefit of the blitz, the Cowboys' secondary often has to cover too long. Whether or not Jones is ready for his close-up, Stewart needs to be more aggressive.