During the 2018 season, the Cowboys defense played at near elite level. The difference between them and the truly elite defenses was turnovers. Namely, the Cowboys forced very few.
The season got off to a good start as the Cowboys recovered two Giants fumbles last week. But the good luck would run out in Week 2.
On the first defensive play of the game, corner Byron Jones was in perfect position to cover the long Case Keenum pass to Washington receiver Terry McLaurin. In fact, Jones was the only one able to make a play on the ball but he dropped it.
At the NFL draft combine in 2015, Jones set a world record for the broad jump jumping 12 feet and 3 inches breaking the nearly 50 year old record. Jones has insane athleticism but it hasn’t translated into interceptions as he has two in his 66 game NFL career.
With 4:45 left in the second quarter in a 7-7 game, Case Keenum threw a ball that allowed safety Jeff Heath to make a heads up play – or maybe a no look play. Washington was at its 32-yard line facing a third down and Keenum chose to fit the ball into Dallas triple coverage.
Corners Jourdan Lewis and Byron Jones had outside position on Washington receiver Trey Quinn. Heath had inside coverage and was intently watching the receiver.
As Quinn raised his arms to catch the ball, Heath mirrored his movement. The ball came in and hit Heath on the side of his helmet.
In fairness to Heath, he likely wanted to make sure that he didn’t run into Jones. In doing so, he failed to make a play on the ball that likely would have resulted in a pick six.
Safety Xavier Woods made a great read on a Keenum throw with 11:14 left in the fourth quarter. He broke on the ball and had perfect position to make an easy interception.
In fact, Fox announcer Kevin Burkhardt thought that Woods would have had a pick six as only the quarterback was capable of making a play on him. Instead, he juggled the ball and dropped a sure interception.
In a game the Cowboys win by 10 points, the woulda coulda shoulda interceptions didn’t factor much. But the Cowboys defense can’t afford to leave three easy turnovers, two that likely would have been pick sixes, on the field. The ugly 2018 turnover trend can’t creep back in 2019 if the Cowboys defense wants to be difference makers.