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After further review: Soft coverage makes for a soft defense in the Cowboys 23-19 loss to the Giants

What stands out on the defensive side of the ball for the Cowboys after re-watching the game film?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention after losing to the New York Giants 23-19 on Sunday. It was a frustrating way to go out as we learned how wild throws and missed opportunities doomed the offense in that game, but the disappointment carried over to both sides of the ball.

After scoring just two touchdowns over their previous three games, the Giants offense found the end zone three times in the first half against the Cowboys. The Cowboys defense did settle down as they held the Giants to just 83 yards in the second half that amounted to only three points (and it wouldn’t even have been that if they had thrown the challenge flag). Unfortunately, the damage was done as it was just too much to overcome.

Why was the defense so bad early on? Let’s see what we can learn in this week’s defensive edition of After Further Review.

Lewis did more harm than good

The Cowboys will have some tough decisions to make regarding their 2017 draft class of defensive backs who will hit free agency this upcoming offseason. While Jourdan Lewis has been a fan favorite in recent years, the narrative that the old coaching staff misevaluated his ability appears to be unfounded as he continued to be the low man on the totem pole once everyone was healthy.

Lewis still shows up with plays once in a while, but he’s also shown that he can be quite the liability at times. He struggled to stay with his man and he tried to make up for it by taking unnecessary risks. He, like his fellow teammates, had issues covering Sterling Shepard. Lewis also gave up the biggest play of the game when Daniel Jones found Dante Pettis for a 33-yard touchdown. He just doesn’t have the speed to keep up with him, nor does he have the size to contest the pass.

And while getting beat is part of the game, Lewis’ mistakes weren’t limited to just his physical abilities. He got called for a personal foul penalty when he decided to headbutt Giants tight end Kaden Smith.

Brown was just as bad

The Cowboys defense was giving up too many 10+ plays, allowing the Giants to move the chains despite never having to convert a single third down. A big part of this was that the Cowboys coverage was just too soft, giving up too much separation to the Giants receivers.

Chidobe Awuzie was dealing with hamstring and groin issues coming into this game and played in less than half the defensive snaps on Sunday. This meant more time on the outside for Anthony Brown. While he has proven himself to be a solid slot corner, Brown has had some real problems on the outside. A couple plays stood out that highlights his inability to stay with his man. On back-to-back plays, Brown got beat by Shepard that resulted in giving up 35 quick yards.

First, he got beat off the line of scrimmage and immediately starts chasing Shepard down the sideline, only he’s anticipating a deep pass. Shepard stops, allowing Jones to hit him on his back shoulder. With Brown completely out of position and not even looking for the ball, he has no chance.

On the very next play, Brown tries to overcompensate by sliding out so he can face Jones at all times. With his back turned to the receiver, he’s unable to see Shepard stop, so he keeps running, giving him no chance to make the play. By the time the ball arrives, Brown is still five yards away from him. This type of coverage is not going to get it done.

Not only was the coverage from Brown terrible, but his effort in tackling was pitiful. Brown just didn’t seem to want to engage in contact and did more dancing and hand fighting than squaring up and throwing his body into opponents. On the Giants first touchdown of the game, the Cowboys had Shepard corralled near the five-yard line, but both Brown and Donovan Wilson overran the play, allowing the Giants receiver to cut inside and get a clear lane to the end zone. Both those guys literally didn’t even touch him, leaving poor Xavier Woods as the sole tackler, only it was too little too late.

The future is bright for Diggs

The Cowboys got a great deal when Alabama corner Trevon Diggs was still available when they were on the clock in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While he’s endured the typical growing pains that rookie corners who are thrown into the fire face, the young defender continues to show up on tape.

Against the Giants, he did a great job hanging with their top receiver Darius Slayton. While Shepard had his way with the other corners for a tune of eight catches for 112 yards, Diggs held Slayton to just two catches for 22 yards.

Troy Aikman may have tried to convince you that Slayton was blowing past Diggs, but looking at the tape, the rookie did a great job staying with his man and looking back to make a play on the ball.

Wilson splashing around again

If you want to talk splash plays, then look no further than second-year safety Donovan Wilson. Even though he didn’t start until Week 5 and missed two games later in the year due to injury, Wilson has racked up the big plays as he’s right near the team lead in just about every category:

  • He has two interceptions, trailing only Diggs (3)
  • He has three forced fumbles, trailing only DeMarcus Lawrence (4)
  • He’s third on the team in sacks with 3.5
  • He’s third on the team in tackles with 71

While Wilson’s two big splash plays against the Giants are more attributed to their own mistakes, he took full advantage. Not only did he get a pick off a deflection, but he laid low just enough to sucker the tight end to completely forget about him blitzing off the edge, giving him an easy sack.

With the performances of Diggs and Wilson, the Cowboys have a couple promising young defenders in the secondary.