Cowboys continue search for CB help

Jan 8, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trayvon Mullen (37) interferes with Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys continue search for CB help

What was once a strength on the team, cornerback has now become a position of concern as the Cowboys open the playoffs against the most decorated quarterback in NFL history on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

With Tom Brady ready to fire missiles for 60 minutes on Monday night in the NFL’s final game of Super Wild Card Weekend, the Cowboys hope they have the answers to suppress him with one All-Pro and a posse of unproven corners.

“This is a quarterback that is so mentally quick and has seen so many things to deliver the ball to the right spot at the right person to go. … We will have to be at our best,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “It’s gonna take our A game, and I’m certainly counting on us to deliver on that.”

Trevon Diggs, the All-Pro the Cowboys will lean on, has answered the bell in all 17 regular season games, playing 98% of the snaps this season on one side of the defensive backfield.

The opposite side of the same defensive backfield is where the worry begins.

The Cowboys lost starting nickel corner Jourdan Lewis in Week 7 but quickly found his replacement already on the roster in rookie DaRon Bland, who has stepped in and played 566 snaps, while also leading the team in interceptions with five.

Dallas then lost corner Anthony Brown in Week 13 but weren’t so lucky when turning to a group of backups that included Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright to replace him.

“This is what you go through when you have injuries,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “The injury to Anthony Brown … Anthony has been a super consistent player for us since I’ve been here. So, last year and what he has done this year, he played at an extremely consistent level. … This game always comes down to matchups, and I think it will be highlighted more in the playoffs, and that will be part of our thinking going into Tampa.”

Wright, a 2021 third-round pick, has been given 127 snaps since Week 14, with 47 coming in the Cowboys’ win over Tennessee in Week 17.

Joseph, the Cowboys’ second-round pick in 2021, has been in for 79 snaps over the last five games, but only two have come since Week 15.

With neither impressing nor grabbing a stronghold on the starting spot, the Cowboys went looking for outside help.

That led them to signing Trayvon Mullen, Mackensie Alexander, Kendall Sheffield, and Xavier Rhodes, while also promoting safety Tyler Coyle from the practice squad, all for what amounted to an in-game tryout over the final weeks of the regular season.

“It was important to go through the different people, different combinations to have a go,” Quinn said. “There’s nothing like being in the fire a little bit, letting us know what you have. Sometimes you make game plans certainly, but sometimes you wouldn’t to say, ‘I wanna see what this would look like in some of the hardest situations.’ So sometimes you have to create that to give the moment to go.”

While doing that, Quinn was looking for specific criteria – the player’s actions on the field and how he conveys information – that would give him a certain level of comfort needed to start them in the postseason.

“The first one is the movements outside – matching guys and playing them,” Quinn said. “The second piece is the communication. Now, an outside corner communicates less than an inside corner, but that doesn’t mean no communication. So, he has some of the same calls in his past. … He knows most of what the terms are, so for us to feel comfortable – what part of the package, how many plays, how many things could you call based on his technique? The good news about that position, the outside techniques don’t change that much. Put it this way, there are calls that have the same technique even though it could be different calls.”

With that in mind, the Cowboys started dividing up snaps over the final weeks of the season. Along with what Joseph and Wright were getting, the Cowboys fed Alexander 14 snaps in Week 16, while Coyle got in for 21 snaps on Sunday in Washington. Sheffield has not gotten an opportunity in game action.

“We got some answers that will go into game planning. … We will put players (in) who line up and compete against each other,” McCarthy said. “The defensive personnel will be the primary focus on those individuals and how we feel like we match up against Tampa. And then ultimately, the tiebreaker will be made by special teams.”

As for Rhodes, who was only signed four days ago, he has the most experience with 135 games played over a 10-year career with Minnesota, Indianapolis, and Buffalo.

“He’s been in a lot of close games,” Quinn said about Rhodes. “He is a good competitor. I thought (he is) an excellent addition to our team at this point. You’re always looking for a guy that is an excellent teammate, and certainly, that is what we have heard on some of the guys coming in. A guy like (Anthony) Barr, who spent time with him, or (Jayron Kearse). And so, hearing those guys that I trust so much make those kinds of positive comments already led me into what I thought.”

However, Quinn wasn’t ready to divulge what the team has in mind for that final corner spot opposite Diggs and Bland.

“I feel very comfortable with where we’re at,” Quinn said. “I’m certainly not going to disclose that today. … But I do feel like, OK, I do have a handle on how we want to go and play. And so, that was what my goal was three to four weeks ago.”

Whoever earns the start will probably be tested early by quarterback Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense.

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