It's strange to be heaping so much praise onto a secondary that many of us had questions about heading into the season. However, credit needs to go to all the cogs in this system. The past several years under Jerome Henderson had its ups and downs. In the past two seasons, these defensive backs had trouble making an impact, Brandon Carr hadn't had an interception since 2013 and Morris Claiborne was looking like the biggest bust in recent Cowboys' draft history. Both guys have interceptions to their name six weeks into 2016. Barry Church and Byron Jones have two forced fumbles and two interceptions between them, making them a formidable duo. Even the much-maligned backup safety, J.J. Wilcox, has 18 tackles and a forced fumble.
We saw this secondary in training camp become one of the highlights to watch at practice and it was a sight for sore eyes after the past few seasons. The only things that changed in this offseason with this secondary was a coaching change, promoting Joe Baker to secondary coach and hiring safeties coach Greg Jackson off of Jim Harbaugh's Michigan team. What these two have brought cannot be overstated, they have constantly put their players in the right positions to make plays and they have a swagger we haven't seen in some time. Now, they are about to get one of their best cover guys back to the roster.
Orlando Scandrick has been by far the best defensive back they've had over the last few seasons. He's routinely made the most of his matchups with Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, DeSean Jackson and others. When the secondary was struggling, you at least knew Scandrick would take care of his man for the most part. Though it's easy to forget someone in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, don't sleep on Scandrick.
Scandrick has been a great player for this team, but unfortunate circumstances have snake-bit him over the last two seasons. He was dealing with two sore hamstrings to begin this season and was a shell of himself in those first two games. You could tell that he wasn't right and he's a prideful guy. Kudos to him for being honest and taking himself out to get right for his team. They still need him in their secondary and he'll be a welcomed presence if he's right.
After the bye week, it's looking more like Orlando Scandrick will be ready to roll with a defense that is far exceeding anyone's expectations. So you're telling me they can be better? Yes, I am. Let's give credit to the sixth-round rookie Anthony Brown, who I discussed in my last piece. He's stepped in for Orlando Scandrick in the slot and has been balling out thus far. Still, this is a league where nickel and dime packages are becoming mainstays. They could use the speed of Brown and Scandrick on the field at the same time, and it could be dynamic for the defense.
Dallas understands that their pass rush is a weakness and that they aren't going to be able to fix that easily. So, instead, they look at their secondary and they see a strength for them. They prefer to clog up the passing lanes with the defensive backs and force quarterbacks to take risks and that has played into their hands early in the season. Folks don't want to see Anthony Brown come off the field because he's played so well. Have no fear, you won't see that happen all the much.
You've heard Jerry Jones say so many times and it's been reiterated across the league that 'you can never have too many good defensive backs.' Get ready for Orlando Scandrick to join the rotation with Brown, Claiborne, and Carr. Scandrick is an ace in the hole if he's back and healthy as he can be. His speed and his intelligence for the game is unmatched. In a game against Green Bay, where defensive backs were coming in and out, Jason Garrett said in the post-game locker room speech that Rod Marinelli couldn't call his defense. Well, they did one heck of a job if that's the case.
When you look at Pro Football Focus you see these defensive backs playing at an all-time high level that is impressive. In fact, all three current starting cornerbacks are in the Top-50 in the league and it's well-known that you need at least four solid defensive backs. Right now, the Cowboys only have three and now they get someone of Scandrick's caliber to elevate those performances. What's even more impressive is that the safeties rank as follows: Byron Jones (8th), Barry Church (13th), J.J. Wilcox (30th). All of the safeties average an 81 grade by PFF standards.
The best part of all of this is that we've been here before where the defensive backs have been hyped in the offseason and didn't carry it into the season. Now, we have them all playing at high levels and a difference-maker is about to re-join a winning football club. Orlando Scandrick has to be chomping at the bit ready to be a part of this team that is moving forward to a special season. Scandrick isn't going to take anything away, he's just going add one more dimension to an overachieving defense. Let's not forget that this defense is about willing and able bodies hustling to the ball and making plays. Welcome back, Orlando.