Dallas Cowboys safety neglect still plaguing the defense
By Brad Austin
Despite an impressive Week One victory, the annoying fire alarm continues to blare at the Dallas Cowboys strong safety position.
The Dallas Cowboys opening week victory provided both elation and alarm. The offense will be a force, but the talent abyss at strong safety continues to plague the defense. Without embracing their only solution, short playoff stints will continue.
The hypocrisy shown when consistently bushing off the glaring strong safety weakness has been maddening. Coaches have stated on multiple occasions that the two safety positions in their 4-3 defense are interchangeable.
This claim infers there’s no significant difference in the player attributes required to competently fill either spot. Fans were supposed to ignore Dallas’ three most effective strong safeties this century were ultra physical run dominators.
HYPOCRISY AND CONSEQUENCES
With interchangeable safety mentality in tow, the 2019 NFL draft rolled around last April. Dallas arrived at their first pick (58th overall) only to find one of the top three safeties, Juan Thornhill, there for the taking.
Instead of selecting a starting caliber safety, they opted for a raw defensive tackle with a projected high ceiling. The safety snub excuse was Thornhill is more of a free safety and Dallas already has a rising star in Xavier Woods.
But fans were told the safety positions are interchangeable. The position was aching for an upgraded starter. Tackle already had two set starters and solid free agent signing Christian Covington. Yet Dallas remained more enamored with “blinking red light”, defensive tackle Trysten Hill.
Week One results proved infuriating. Jeff Heath (6-1, 212) once again showed incompetence tracking the runner in the open field. The tight end feasted on exposing his pass coverage. And Dallas’ rookie defensive tackle didn’t even dress.
Thornhill (6-0, 205) collected eight tackles in his first start for the Kansas City Chiefs. The rookie’s opening performance graded out among the top 15 NFL safeties (64 started), while both Dallas safeties clocked in below 35.
OBVIOUS SOLUTION VS. STUBBORN RESISTANCE
All hope is not lost. If the Cowboys eventually shed their fatal, absurd commitment to starting Heath, a promising solution can take its course. Rookie Donovan Wilson (6-0, 204) shined in August and displayed he can be a worthy successor.
Wilson is sidelined with an ankle sprain for at least another game. The hard truth is in his 6th season, Heath is what he is. He’s often exposed in both phases and significantly costs the defense. A flashy play or two per game retains his fanboys.
Even more frustrating is it’s not Heath’s fault. He’s a valuable part of this team and key to its ultimate success. The fantastic special teams player displays his best defense when used properly in a supporting safety role on a limited snap count.
With the Dallas Cowboys offense showing legitimate signs of championship caliber weapons, the strong safety dilemma has to be resolved to raise the playoff ceiling. Donovan Wilson must take over by at least midseason and relegate Jeff Heath to the roles he plays best.