Dallas Cowboys Safety Breakdown
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Top Performer: Barry Church
There were plenty questions coming into the Dallas Cowboys 2013 season of how Barry Church would play coming off the Achilles injury that he suffered in Week 3 of 2012. At this point, Church and his injury appear to be holding up well.
What we fail to realize about Church is despite coming into his fourth season in the league, he had only made three starts at safety and all of those came last season. From what we’ve seen from Church through 10 games in 2013, there has been some hit-and-miss play – something you’d expect from a player who doesn’t have a great deal of experience.
Where Church has always been his best is as that physical player that is fearless when it comes to sticking his nose in there to make a tackle. But with this type of play comes those plays where he is too aggressive and finds himself in trouble when he takes a bad angle on his way to the ball like he did in the Lions game on the long pass to Calvin Johnson.
For Church, each snap has been a learning experience for him in his progression as an NFL safety. There are days where he has looked rough but compared to what has happened this season with the other safeties, he has managed to hold things together.
Need More From: J.J. Wilcox
It’s hard to say that you need more from a player who, at times for a rookie, has played very well, but that is the case of J.J. Wilcox. It has been three games since Wilcox suffered a knee sprain during practice getting ready for the Lions game.
In his absence, Jeff Heath has had to make those starts. Heath has had his share of struggles and the New Orleans game was by far his most disappointing showing, but this is not to say that Wilcox hasn’t had his share of missed tackles on third down as well.
Both of these rookies are trying their best and that is really the main problem — they are still only rookies. The word is that Wilcox should return after the bye in preparation for the Giants and that will allow Heath to go back to work in his role as a core special teamer.
Where this team needs more from Wilcox is in those plays like we saw from him in the Philadelphia game, where he showed range to knock the ball away from DeSean Jackson to save a touchdown, and being in position when the ball gets knocked in the air by Jason Avant for a potential interception.
Wilcox has proven in his young career that he has a knack for the big play around the ball, which is something that defense desperately needs.
Six-Game Forecast: Safeties huge in overall success of this defense
The play of the cornerbacks would be the key for this defense going forward. Let’s believe that will be the case, but how these safeties play in the remaining games will also tell a story.
As far as experience, it is a very young group with Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Danny McCray and Jakar Hamilton. For this club, Darren Woodson is not going to come walking through that door to save the day, so it will be up to this group to find the right combination and make plays when their number is called.
What we have learned about the safety play in this Monte Kiffin scheme is that the safeties are huge in the overall success of the defense. Whether it is Church playing as the eighth man in the box or Wilcox showing range deep, this group has to make plays. There are games ahead where the ball will once again be going down the field. Can these young safeties handle that?
There have been moments this season where they have been up to that challenge, but we’ve also seen some poor play as well, which has cost this defense far too often.
Courtesy: Bryan Broaddus | Football Analyst/Scout
IRVING — The guys at Pro Football Focus analyzed the tape. And in the end, Jeff Heath’s performance in the Dallas Cowboys blowout loss to New Orleans was as ugly as everybody thought it was after witnessing it. In Week 10, Heath turned in the second-worst game among NFL safeties, according to the website.
“I did have a few bad plays,” said Heath, an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State. “I had a couple of good plays as well. Sometimes, when you have bad plays, those good plays go unnoticed by everyone. But I learned a lot from the film.”
As he reviewed the game he saw that he missed four tackles and allowed five of the six passes thrown his way to be completed for 104 yards and three touchdowns. In other words, Drew Brees produced a perfect passer rating while targeting Heath.
“There were some things in that ballgame and other games that he obviously has to get better at,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “Some of those are the result of him not being in those situations before. Hopefully, he’ll learn from them. There have been some plays down the field where he hasn’t made them a few times in the last few weeks. He’s got to do a better job of that.
“He didn’t tackle as well in this game. He’s tackled very well, both as a team’s player and when playing safety. He didn’t tackle quite as well in this ballgame and we’ll look at the reasons why and hopefully he can learn from the experience.”
Heath, though, may not get the chance to redeem himself as a starter. The Cowboys brought in several safeties for a workout, including Irving native Michael Huff.
“It’s never as bad as you think. It’s never as good as you think,” Heath said. “It’s all fixable, coachable things. I’ve just got to work hard and improve in those areas.”
HOMECOMING DEBUT: Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath returning to Lions country with a star on his helmet
IRVING, Texas – Not long after Jeff Heath signed with the Dallas Cowboys, he noticed they were actually playing this season in Detroit, which is located just 39 miles from his hometown of Lake Orion, Mich.
His first thought was how great it’d be if he were on the team and traveling to the game.
But now, it looks like Heath will be doing even better than that. Because of a sprained knee injury to rookie safety J.J. Wilcox, there is a good chance Heath will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Lions, a team whom he grew up following.
And better yet, he’ll have quite a contingent of family and friends there to see him. Heath said this week he’s in the neighborhood of 80 tickets, and that number could grow now with his possibility of starting.
“It’s just a weird coincidence if it happens this week with me going back home,” Heath said. “But you never know when it’s going to be your time and your number gets called. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
While head coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t rule out Wilcox to play, Wilcox himself said it’s unlikely he would play this week and maybe not even next week against the Vikings. Garrett did have some positive things to say about Heath, an undrafted rookie from Saginaw Valley State in Michigan.
“We certainly like him. He’s done a lot of nice things for us,” Garrett said. “He’s a college free agent who came in and said ‘I’m going to make your football team.’ He first showed up on [special] teams but he’s been a solid performer on defense.”
Garrett was asked to name his best attribute but he didn’t come up with just one.
“He has a lot of good traits. Physically, he has a lot of tools,” Garrett said of Heath. “He’s big enough to play the position. He runs well. He has good ball skills. He’s physical. He just finds a way to get away from people and gets to the football.”
Last week, the Cowboys rotated Heath into the game on defense in the first quarter. While it was perceived at first that Wilcox was getting benched, it was simply a way to rotate Heath into the game.
“I think that really helped me and my confidence,” Heath said. “I know if I start this week, I’ll be more prepared for it because of I’ve gotten to play a little more.”
In the Eagles game, Heath was credited with a tackle on defense and another on special teams. He currently has five tackles and ranks second on the team with seven special teams stops.
Last week in Philly, Heath did come out of the game with a sore right forearm, which required an MRI on Monday. He downplayed the injury, though, and said it’s nothing that would keep him out of playing this week.
“I might wear something on it but it won’t be anything major,” Heath said of a possible brace. “It’ll be more like a tight wrap.”
It sounds like it’s going to take a lot more than a bruised forearm to keep Heath out of Sunday’s game, which has a chance to be a homecoming and his first NFL start, rolled into one.
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys rookie safety J.J. Wilcox is arguably coming off the best game of his young career last week in Philadelphia. But it’s unlikely he’ll be able to follow head coach Jason Garrett’s motto and “stack good games together” when the team travels to Detroit.
Wilcox will likely have to miss Sunday’s matchup against the Lions after suffering a sprained right knee, which required an MRI Thursday afternoon. Wilcox said he had a sprained MCL, an injury he suffered on his left knee in college at Georgia Southern.
“It feel better this time than that injury,” Wilcox said. “I’m disappointed, but that’s football. That’s the way it goes.”
Wilcox suffered the injury late in today’s practice during red-zone drills when he came down awkwardly after competing for a pass with tight end Gavin Escobar.
Wilcox agreed he likely wouldn’t be able to play this week against the Detroit Lions and said it’s too early to tell if the Nov. 2 game with Minnesota Vikings is a possibility. But the rookie definitely perked up when asked about a possible return for the Saints game on Nov. 10.
“I don’t know just yet, but I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” Wilcox said. “I just have to work hard to get back soon.”
A third-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilcox has been improving each week, and made a key play in last Sunday’s game against the Eagles.
“I really felt like I was coming on,” Wilcox said. “I’ve always had a lot [of confidence] but I know I’ve gotten better and felt like I was starting to really help the team. So hopefully this won’t be a big setback.”
If Wilcox doesn’t play, the Cowboys will likely start rookie Jeff Heath, who is battling an injury sustained on his right forearm last week. He said the issue won’t keep him out of practice or the game.
“I might wear something on it but it won’t be anything major,” Heath said of possible brace. “It’ll be more like a tight wrap.”
The Cowboys also have Danny McCray, who is one of the team’s better special teams contributors. The club could add a fourth safety – possibly rookie Jakar Hamilton, who is currently on the practice squad.
Wilcox is currently seventh on the team with 28 tackles. He took over as a starter in Week 3 against the Rams and started five straight games, making a career-high nine tackles against Denver.
He won the starting job outright from Will Allen, who was eventually waived. Wilcox had a stellar training camp and preseason despite having to miss nearly a week in the middle of camp to be with his ailing mother, who passed away in August.
Wilcox still returned to play in the last two preseason games and got a few snaps in the first two regular-season games before the coaching staff made him a starter. Wilcox has had two interceptions nullified this year – one by penalty against the Rams and the other by the replay booth last week.