The Dallas Cowboys defensive backs have been much maligned over the past few years. If the performance from Sunday night's game continues to build on the performances at the end of the 2014 season, that narrative might need to be updated sometime in the near future.
When Orlando Scandrick went down with his torn knee ligaments this offseason, there was a lot of gnashing of the teeth in regards to the Cowboys prospects at cornerback. Well, at least from afar. Those that follow the team closely had a subtle amount of hope instilled in them that the cornerback group would be able to survive and thrive for the season. Make no mistake, Scandrick was the team’s best cornerback in 2014; by far. However, if the last set of games is any indication; this team could be developing a corner group that can compete on a high level.
When dissecting the play of the corners last season, it’s easy to point to the abysmal quarterback ratings-against of Brandon Carr (116.6) and Morris Claiborne (121.5) and decide they were inept. This wouldn’t be an inaccurate conclusion. However, with Claiborne out for the season with his leg injury, things settled down for the Cowboys corners as the year progressed. CowboysHQ’s Joey Ickes pointed out over the summer, that Brandon Carr’s late-season performance was worthy of hope for 2015.
Over the final two regular season games, Carr was targeted 7 times and only gave up 2 receptions while registering a pass breakup. He only allowed 21 yards in total against Indianapolis and Washington. Then, in the playoffs, he really put his best foot forward. In the wild card round, Carr drew the assignment of being the primary defender against Calvin Johnson. A year prior, Johnson tallied 201 of his devastating 329 yards while matched up with Carr. The result this time? Megatron was held to just 85 yards on the day.
The following week, Carr drew the assignment of locking down Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson. Nelson hauled in just two passes of 11 yards each on the day. If one were to poll most corners and ask if they’d be happy giving up 107 yards and no scores over two games of covering two of the league’s best six wideouts, most would take that performance in a heartbeat. Carr struggled through the regular season, but down the stretch he was money; which is probably why the Cowboys front office didn’t push the issue on him returning some of what he had coming to him in his contract.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t still plenty to work on. In that same Green Bay game, the tide turned for the Pack when Dallas had absolutely no answer to them moving Randall Cobb all over the field, especially into the backfield. He chimed in with 116 yards, while third wideout Davante Adams added 117 of his own. The game prior, Detroit matched Megatron’s 85 yards with 89 from Golden Tate. The leaks weren’t exactly plugged.
However in the 2015 opener, the Cowboys once again shut down one of the game’s top receivers. Odell Beckham, Jr. averaged just under 110 yards per game on 7.5 catches in 2014. Dallas limited him to just 5 grabs and 44 yards on Sunday night, with no scores and a jarring hit by the steadily improving J.J. Wilcox. This was through a combination of both Carr and Claiborne covering OBJ, as Claiborne seemed to turn in his most impressive performance since coming into the league. Here’s a look at Mo’s play-by-play from Blogging The Boys.
Meanwhile, the biggest improvement might have been from Wilcox himself. Not only did he have the big hit on OBJ, but he also had some slot coverage duties that he handled flawlessly. As the last line of defense, when the opposition has no completions of more than 19 yards on the game, you’ve done your job. The knock on Wilcox coming into the season was that he was an athletic marvel who wasn’t always able to calculate to proper angles in coverage. If he’s corrected that and is able to build on this one solid performance, it could mean something for this team moving forward.
The Eagles don’t boast a wide receiver currently of the pedigree of Johnson, Nelson and Beckham, but Jordan Matthews does command respect. His size as a slot receiver in the Eagles fast-paced offense can create multiple opportunities for him to get the ball in space with room to run. That is the challenge that Dallas faces this week. With the help of Tyler Patmon, Corey White and Byron Jones, Dallas might enter this game with growing confidence their corners are up to the task despite the team still wondering where the pass rush will come from.