Safeties. They're the last line of defense. Bad safeties can get you beat deep, and good safeties take away big plays.
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But great safeties make any defense a nightmare for the opposing quarterback. We're all being treated to some of the great safeties in the game these NFL playoffs.
Three come to mind immediately, and all 3 play for teams that are still alive that beat the Cowboys in that dreadful December.
Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens is scary, in a word. He's an interception machine, and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. In fact, he regularly scores more touchdowns than a lot of offensive players do in a season.
Pittsburgh's Troy Polumalu is a missile in shoulder pads on the field. His trademark long hair can regularly be seen darting across the line of scrimmage on your TV screen, blowing up plays before they even have a chance to develop.
But the guy I noticed the most over the weekend was Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins. The guy epitomizes leadership. Dawkins' objective on every play is to lay somebody out. Period. He's a veteran. He gets his teammates jacked up.
That Eagles' defense that allowed the Cowboys to light up the scoreboard back in September is gone. I think a lot of that has to do with Dawkins. He is the leader of the Eagles, and the troops follow him into battle. He inspires them. He motivates them. His desire to win is visibly unquestioned.
That's why the Eagles embarrassed the Cowboys last month and are now going to the conference title game.
Watching Dawkins and the Eagles on Sunday got me thinking- who is the Cowboys' Brian Dawkins?
For the past two years, we've heard the answers from the Cowboys coaches and players when they're asked about leadership. Sound bytes like, "Not everyone is a vocal leader," and "This team has leaders whether you guys see them or not."
The Cowboys have guys on defense that could take on Dawkins' role. DeMarcus Ware's play on the field is phenomenal, but he's a quiet guy. He leads by example. Any guy that sacks the quarterback like he does gets a pass. That's fine with me.
Another guy who could be that leader is Bradie James. The other players say he is a leader, and for the most part I like the effort and play the Cowboys get from James. But that following Monday after the Philly Flop when asked about the game by reporters, James said that the season was over, that the loss was "old news," and that it was time to talk about safety Keith Davis's birthday party that was going on that evening.
Sounds like he really took the loss and the end to a disappointing season hard, doesn't it?
There's also safety Ken Hamlin. Hamlin's second season with the Cowboys was not as good as his first, and his whiff on two tackles he had to make late in the game against the Ravens cost the Cowboys the game on embarrassingly long runs and made for an awkward last night at Texas Stadium.
Then there is the best player in the Cowboys' secondary, cornerback Terence Newman. T-New is on the verge of becoming a perennial Pro-Bowler, if he can ever stay healthy. But many of his critics say the reason Newman gets injured so often- and usually early in the season- is that he isn't serious about his off-season conditioning and shows up to camp not ready for the grind.
Newman said the week after the Philly game that there was a rat in the Cowboys locker room, and that was the reason why the season went down the drain.
That rat, rumor has it, is Jason Witten. He was, supposedly, the unnamed source, that went to ESPN's Ed Werder when the T.O./Romo/Garrett/WRs drama was going on in December.
As a Cowboys fan, let me the first to say that I love Jason Witten. He is the best tight end in football if you ask me, and I think most Cowboys fans share my affinity for Witten.
But he messed up when he went to the reporter. I certainly understand his frustrations. Who wouldn't be frustrated? Everyone else on the offense crying and creating unnecessary drama while I'm busting my butt, playing through a broken rib?
But Witten- if he was indeed the source- alienated his teammates and broke an unwritten rule that bonds players against those trying to defeat them, whether it's the Giants, the Eagles, or, in this case, the media. He broke that rule, and that's not leadership.
Which leads us to Witten's BFF, Tony Romo. Romo, another one of the Cowboys's so-called leaders, said in Philadelphia after that humiliating loss that "if the worst thing that ever happens to him is losing a football game, then he's led a pretty good life."
That's a great perspective, Tony, and in reality it is just football. But is that what you want to say to the fans less than an hour after being blown out in a game you had to win?
So who is the Cowboys' Brian Dawkins? The answer, in a word, is nobody. The fans seem to care more than any of the players do, and until that changes, I'll expect another December demise in eleven months.
KXII.com Web Editor