Cowboys must improve at safety

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
11:30
AM ET
Upgrading the Dallas Cowboys' defense is the top offseason discussion.

The defensive line is in flux. DeMarcus Ware is mulling a reduction in pay and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher becomes a free agent next week. The team won’t place the franchise tag on Hatcher, and he’s expecting a big money deal from a team. That’s something the Cowboys don’t have plans to do right now.

So where do the Cowboys go to improve on defense?

Secondary was a problem for the Cowboys last season.

According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, the Cowboys have allowed the second-highest completion percentage on passes of 15 or more yards the last four seasons at 47.1 percent.

The Cowboys haven’t finished higher than 24th in a season since 2009. Part of that reason is the inconsistent play at free safety. The cornerback play has improved with free agent signings (such as Brandon Carr) and draft selections (such as Morris Claiborne). Strong safety Barry Church led the Cowboys in tackles last season and proved to be a solid performer.

Last season the Cowboys signed Will Allen as a veteran who could help younger players Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath develop at the position.

Allen was let go two months into the season and Wilcox took over at safety. Wilcox played well at times until a sprained knee cost him three games.

Enter Heath, who struggled in pass coverage with Wilcox out of the lineup. When Wilcox returned from injury, Heath maintained his starting role because the team had more of a comfort level with him.

Each player struggled in coverage, and that’s something that can’t occur again in 2014.

Johnson missed the entire season with injuries and hasn’t gotten on the field in two years. The Cowboys value Johnson’s ability to make plays in the open field, but they haven’t seen it in a game. And while there are options on the roster, the draft could be the place to solve the secondary issues.

The Cowboys played more man-to-man last season in the 4-3 scheme because the corners felt more comfortable doing it. The Cowboys could leave their free safety in a center field position in the base defense while the corners play man and Church, the strong safety, covers a tight end.

If the Cowboys are to solve any problems with their defense, it is critical they find a playmaker at safety.
Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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