Dallas Cowboys: Chris Conte

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:45
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harrison (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

A Look Back: How the Bears slowed Ware

October, 2, 2012
10/02/12
12:55
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Raise your hand if you thought DeMarcus Ware would be able to make Jay Cutler cuss out his left tackle J'Marcus Webb even more than he did a few weeks ago on Monday?

PODCAST
Cowboys LB Sean Lee discusses the play of the defense, focusing on their mistakes during the bye week and more.

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In this week’s Look Back, Chicago did its best to make sure Ware would be contained.

Of the seven possessions by Chicago (not including the two kneel downs and a three-and-out when the score was 34-10), the Bears made sure they knew where Ware was and mostly made sure Cutler got rid of the ball. The one time he didn’t Ware had his sack and fumble by chasing Cutler down from behind.

Ware has seen a backup tackle (Seattle was without Russell Okung) and a picked-on tackle in Webb and he has only been OK. His sack/fumble of Cutler on Monday was a huge play that gets lost when Tony Romo is intercepted (or fumbled) on the next play and is returned for a touchdown by Lance Briggs

Ware was singled up with Webb or right tackle Gabe Carimi 14 times in his pass rush. Seven times they gave some sort of help to the tackles with either a tight end or running back. Four times Ware was in coverage. He was off the field for one of Cutler’s passes to take a rest.

On Cutler’s long touchdown to Devin Hester, Ware was singled up by Webb but Cutler was throwing away from Ware and drifted away from any pressure. On Brandon Marshall’s big third-down catch on Brandon Carr, Ware was able to pressure up the middle but it was a quick throw. On Marshall’s 31-yard touchdown, Ware got caught in the wash as he looped inside.

For those of you wanting to believe Ware doesn’t make impact sacks, take a peek at how the Bears made sure they took Ware out of the game with shorter drops and quicker throws.

The secondary struggled to say the least against the Bears. A lot of the attention will go on Carr, but the Bears took advantage of the Cowboys’ safety play.

They were able to work the middle of the field against the Cowboys’ zone coverage to near perfection, especially with Marshall but Alshon Jeffery had his moments too. Gerald Sensabaugh might not want to look at the first drive of the third quarter.

Jeffery worked underneath for 14 yards against Sensabaugh. Marshall got him for 10 more a play later. And on Hester’s touchdown, Sensbaugh jumped an underneath receiver when Danny McCray was already apparently in position.

Hester uses a double move to break free from Morris Claiborne, but the rookie corner looks like he is playing outside leverage and expecting help inside to the post. It wasn’t there.

It wasn’t just Sensabaugh either. Mike Jenkins was beaten by Kellen Davis for a 21-yard pickup on third down with the score 24-10. Davis opened up the corner route by taking Jenkins inside for a few steps. Sensabaugh was in position for that but Jenkins lost contact with Davis, giving up the outside throw.

For those of you wanting Rob Ryan to blitz more, witness Marshall’s 31-yard touchdown. The Cowboys sent seven guys at Cutler, including Claiborne off the corner, and could not get home. Carr got caught up with Davis and McCray underneath, giving Marshall the middle of the field for what could have been the easiest touchdown of his career.

As Jean-Jacques Taylor noted this morning, this was another brutal game for the offense.

Jason Garrett was right about one thing: they were able to pick up yards in the passing game. The protection of Tony Romo was not that bad overall but Henry Melton’s forced pick/fumble that led to Briggs touchdown was a back breaker.

Right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau was beaten to his outside shoulder and caught off balance. He tried to push Melton by as Romo climbed the pocket but Melton was able to poke the ball free. I have a feeling this will be called a fumble after an official review of the play by the league and not an interception even as Romo was looking to flip the ball to Jason Witten.

That was a huge play, but the line’s pass protection was good enough. The Bears brought five-man or more pressures nine times and Romo completed 8 of 9 passes.

Romo will want a couple of throws back and we’re not talking about the interceptions in the second half. We’re talking two touchdown throws.

The first came in the second quarter. He missed Dez Bryant on a deep ball down the seam on man-to-man coverage after Felix Jones’ motioned wide to open up the throw. Romo either did not put enough air under the ball or threw it too early.

The second came in the third quarter with the Bears leading, 24-10. It was another deep ball down the seam, this time to Miles Austin. At the snap Austin beat the corner and the safety, Chris Conte, was late to cover up. Again Romo either didn’t put enough air under the ball or threw it too early.

The running game was non-existent and it wasn’t because the Bears were dedicating an extra defender to the box. They had only three eight-man fronts in the first half. The line could not get enough push. Simple as that.

But DeMarco Murray will lament a second-quarter toss play to the left. Jason Witten sealed the edge. Tyron Smith had Lance Briggs under control. Kevin Ogletree had safety Conte blocked and cornerback Charles Tillman took himself out of the play.

If Murray catches the toss from Romo, which was a good one, then he has a big gain. Maybe not a touchdown, but certainly a first down and perhaps his second-longest run of the season.

Making that hurt even more? Romo and Bryant had a miscommunication on the next play that led to Tillman’s pick six.

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