The Dallas Cowboys are one of the premier and historic franchises of the National Football League. They own eight Super Bowl appearances, five Super Bowl victories and had an NFL record 20 consecutive winning seasons in their history.
They line the Hall of Fame and football lure with players like Bob Lilly, Randy White, Roger Staubach, and Emmitt Smith.
Yet, despite all their success and all their accolades, they’ve had a very consistent flaw throughout it all: Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters and Darren Woodson. Do you see what they have in common?
In the 52 years of the Dallas Cowboys, those are the only three elite-caliber safeties the Cowboys have been able to put on the field. Luckily, for most of the Cowboys' success, they’ve also been able to field extremely good cornerbacks to sure up their pass defense.
So what happens when you don’t have extremely good cornerbacks to field?
You end up with what the Cowboys have endured since the retirement of Darren Woodson. In the seven seasons since Woodson left, the Dallas Cowboys have only had a top-10 passing defense one time.
They have never forced more interceptions than touchdowns scored against them. Consequently, they have only one playoff victory to speak of in that time frame.
The bottom line is pretty clear: pass defense is the most important element on your defense.
There is an awful lot of talk about the importance of pass rush. I argue that pass rush is increased with legitimate pass defense. Good pass defenders force the quarterback to stand in the pocket longer, which allows good pass rushers to seize opportunities.
There is hope though.
This 2012 season offers something that Cowboys' fans really haven’t had in a while, an improved pass defense. With a rebuilt cornerback rotation and an added focus on pass defense, the Cowboys have a chance to be elite again.
There are two specific safeties on the Cowboys' roster that I think can emerge in the future as a solid backfield tandem. I thought I’d highlight them and see if I can get you guys as excited as I am.
Church is among the most versatile safeties the Cowboys have had. In a similar mold to that of Roy Williams, Church has the ability to play strong safety or outside linebacker in more exotic schemes.
Church has better coverage skills than that of Roy Williams and has good instincts. Church’s strongest skill is his ability to recognize plays and take proper angles to make tackles for a loss.
Church isn’t the prototypical ball-hawking safety nor is he a “hit-stick” safety. Instead, he is a hybrid who has excellent tackling ability, good coverage skills and scheme versatility. In his senior year of college, Church went for 98 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks and one interception.
According to ESPN, Church has gotten a lot of attention this training camp and might be ready to break out. His disruptiveness is what will make him a solid NFL level safety. His training camp has put this on display as he is all over the field, reading the quarterback, and breaking up passes left and right.
Matt Johnson was a relative unknown who was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
While the initial reaction to his selection was a large sigh of frustration from us Cowboys fans, it really was a great pick. Johnson offers an athletic, intelligent safety that is exceptional at identifying plays. Scouting reports had his combine numbers recorded as more than impressive posting a 4.54 40-yard dash and 18 reps of 225 on the bench press.
Despite suffering a torn bicep in his senior season, Johnson is still considered a player who can contribute in 2012. His most promising outlook is in 2013 where he could easily compete for a starting role at the free safety position.
Johnson isn’t a flawless player as his man-to-man coverage could use work, but his potential to become a ball-hawk is there. His instincts are off the chart and athletically he isn’t far off from the top safeties in last years draft class.
As a Cowboy we haven’t seen much of Matt Johnson. Johnson offers the Cowboys one of those blue-collar safeties that are tough, gritty and have a high football IQ. He had 17 career interceptions in college and is considered a turnover machine.
I expect that once he gets practicing he’ll turn some heads.
Johnson and Church aren’t going to stomp onto the scene right away and wow everyone. However, they both have a skill set that complement each other extremely well and could become elite caliber safeties together.
I’ll be excited to watch this unfurl this year as they are both expected to be contributors. Next year is the season to watch because these guys will truly emerge. The Cowboys have been waiting for a team of safeties that can dominate and I think they might have finally landed them.