The Cowboys defense is still blah, but the safeties have been good.
Starting the season off 1-1 has left Cowboys fans with mixed views on this team. The defense has been very up-and-down through the first two weeks. While they have given up a combined 839 total yards through two games, the turnovers have been at an astronomically high rate for a defense that has struggled to turn the ball over over the last decade.
One of the position groups that has shined through two games is the safety room, which was completely rebuilt over the offseason. Veterans Malik Hooker and Damontae Kazee were brought in to compete for the free safety spot, with Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson to get snaps at the strong safety spot. After two weeks, one in which had both Donovan Wilson OUT and Damontae Kazee a bit banged up, and another with Malik Hooker inactive, the safety group has been very impressive.
As much as we knock this front office for their struggles in free agency, it looks as if they have hit big on three, low-budget, veteran safeties in one offseason and that could be huge for the defense moving forward.
In week one, Damontae Kazee was the best safety on the field for the Cowboys, possessing a PFF grade of 75.6 (10th out of 78 eligible safeties). Against the Buccaneers, Kazee forced a fumble late in the game with Tampa Bay driving, setting the Cowboys offense up with the go-ahead score. Unfortunately, we all know how that one panned out. But in week two against the Chargers, Kazee came up with another huge turnover late in the game that helped win the Cowboys the game. With the Chargers in the redzone, and with points likely coming, Kazee picked off Justin Herbert in the endzone giving the Cowboys offense yet another opportunity to put points on the board late in a close game. Through two weeks, the signing of Damontae Kazee has been a huge win for the Cowboys front office.
While he didn’t get as much action in week one against Tampa Bay, veteran safety Jayron Kearse has earned himself more playing time with his performance against the Chargers. Kearse was all over the field for Dan Quinn’s defense on Sunday and made a difference in every facet of the game. Kearse was good against the run, and made multiple impressive plays in coverage against a talented group of pass catchers for Los Angeles. His best play of the game was unfortunately incorrectly flagged when he tipped a ball thrown his way in coverage to tight end Jared Cook. Kearse was in lockdown coverage, made a great drive on the football, and ended up deflecting the ball up in the air to himself for an interception. The officials flagged Kearse for defensive pass interference, which looked like a really bad call from the officials (what else is new). Kearse also had one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, and one pass deflection as well on the day and looked like another great signing by this front office.
Last but not least, Malik Hooker also deserves a gold star. In his first game action since tearing his Achilles back in 2020, Hooker showed signs of being the player he was drafted to be in the first round out of Ohio State in the 2017 draft. Hooker looked physical in the run game, stepping up and making a tackle for loss in the running game. While he did whiff on another tackle attempt later in the game, Hooker looked in rhythm, healthy, and aggressive both in coverage and as a run defender. For such a late signing, and for as little practice Hooker has had due to rehabbing and getting back into shape, he looked really good against a good quarterback and receiving corps.
With Donovan Wilson hopefully working his way back into the lineup this week, the Cowboys have the best safety room we’ve seen in what feels like 15-20 years. Let’s hope this group stays healthy, continues to develop, and that may be a huge reason this defense continues to get turnovers at the rate their currently on, and help this team win some football games over the rest of the season.