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Why a new defensive philosophy sets up Xavier Woods for a breakout year in 2020

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The fourth-year safety may be ready for a breakout season.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have needed a great safety to anchor their defense for a while now. For the past year or so, rumors of Dallas potentially trying to trade for All-Pro safety Jamal Adams have continued to surface. While those rumors have basically been put to rest, the jury still is out on whether or not the Cowboys have enough talent at the safety spot.

While many are searching for an outside presence to upgrade the group, a member of the current roster could be due for a breakout season. That guy is 24-year-old Xavier Woods. The Louisiana Tech graduate is coming off his best season in the NFL to date. In 2019, Woods recorded 77 total tackles, five pass defenses, and hauled in two interceptions for the second season in a row.

The best words to describe Woods as a player is aggressive. It shows in every facet of his game. Unfortunately, this was the exact opposite of what the Cowboys defensive mantra has been since he entered the league. In the three seasons Woods has been in Dallas, their defense has been all about keeping your man in front of you, and wrapping up. Woods is willing to throw his body in there, but overall is not a great tackler. This defensive philosophy has held in check Wood’s best trait of being aggressive to get the football.

Despite the differences, Woods was still able to put up a very solid campaign in 2019. After his Week Nine performance against the New York Giants, Woods was awarded NFC Defensive Play of The Week honors. He finished the game with three tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble.

As you can see in the play above, Woods has excellent closing speed which allows him to make a play on the ball. One week before the Giants game, Woods once again used his aggressive ability to make a play on the ball, picking off Carson Wentz.

Pro Football Focus was also a big fan of Woods’ game in 2019. He received an overall defensive rating of 73.2, a very solid score, and paired that with an even better 78.0 coverage grade. In seven games, Woods recorded a coverage score of 65 or above.

It’s clear that Xavier Woods has a knack for making plays on the ball. In the past two seasons, Woods’s four interceptions are only two less than all the Cowboys’ cornerbacks combined. While his best traits seemed to be kept in check under the last regime, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan may be able to bring out the best in him.

The Dallas defense figures to be much more aggressive this season. Nolan has made it clear they are going to have a “go get the football” mentality. This is a perfect fit for Woods as that is the thing he does best. Despite playing three years in the league, Woods is also just 24 years of age. He still has plenty of time to develop and fine-tune his skills that are already above average at this moment. For all these reasons, it seems reasonable to believe that his production in 2020 will be better than anything we have seen yet.

Dallas changing their coaching staff may have been the best thing to happen in Xavier Wood’s short NFL career. With a new philosophy and staff in town, Woods is a good of a bet as any to breakout for the Cowboys in 2020.