How Good Is The Cowboys’ Secondary Actually Playing?


It’s quite hard to get a read on the Dallas Cowboys secondary right now, particularly coming off a game where the faced a clearly out of sorts Aaron Rodgers. Did they do a good job of shutting him and the Green Bay Packers passing offense down or did Rodgers do a better job on himself?

On paper the answer has been relatively simple over the course of the season.  The defense is allowing an average of 266.2 yards per game through the air, with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Teams are completing a staggering 66.8 of their passes against Dallas, tied for sixth worst in the NFL so far. The Cowboys have allowed the third most first downs through the air (88) and the front seven has generated just 11 sacks this year.

Two of the interceptions and five of the sacks came over the last two weeks, with one of each generated against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

As bad as Rodgers played on Sunday—and it was brutal—credit has to be given to the secondary though.

They were able to confuse a guy normally unflappable with shifting coverage and different looks, like they did on the interception they forced in the third quarter on Sunday.

On the play, safety Barry Church looked like he was going to help double cover Jordy Nelson, but instead stayed short and undercut Randall Cobb’s crossing route.

“We were in man to man and my tight end blocked, so I kind of become a free man then,” Church told the team website. “I drifted to Jordy (Nelson) because I felt like he was going to come back on a comeback, but once I saw (Randall) Cobb coming on the over, I kind of hid low and hoped (Rodgers) wouldn’t see me and he didn’t.

So as Church puts it, the play was one part scheming, one part blind luck. That’s how it’s gone for the Cowboys secondary this season though, and the turnovers they have generated come from that. The defense has also managed to force ten fumbles, some of them coming from the actions of the secondary. In the entirety of the 2015 season, they had 14.

“We have a lot more people coming to the balls, so that’s why you see more strip attempts and fumbles coming up,” Church said about the increase in turnovers.

Church also mentioned that, five years or so into the defensive scheme, the team should be generating more turnovers and playing better coverage.

Watching the Cowboys shut down Rodgers and the Packers receivers, it’s hard not to think that we are seeing them finally “get” the scheme. The confidence in knowing where you should be and what your responsibilities are give you the ability to be opportunistic and generate plays like Church did on Sunday.

Church picked off the ball against Washington in Week 2 in a very similar fashion, releasing from his initial read, then reading quarterback Kirk Cousins’ eyes and drifting underneath a crossing route run by receiver Pierre Garcon. Like Rodgers, Cousins didn’t see Church and threw the ball directly to the safety. For Washington the mistake was compounded because it took place in the end zone.

Washington was up by three points before the pick but after generating the turnover, the Cowboys drove down the field on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive which ended up being the difference in the game.

Is the Dallas secondary good? It’s hard to say given the struggling quarterbacks they are facing (and rest assured both Rodgers and Andy Dalton are struggling). One thing is for sure, though, they are taking chances and that’s paying off.

About Andrew Garda


Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.