Scout's Notebook: Secondary Shuffle, Focusing On 1st Quarter Among Final Thoughts

IRVING, Texas – Another short week has come to a close, and it's time to see where we stand for the Cowboys' Saturday night homestand against the New York Jets.

After a couple weeks of good luck on the injury front (aside from Tony Romo's obvious broken clavicle), the Cowboys look like they'll be dealing with some health problems against New York. On top of that, they'll have to find a way to navigate against one of the best defenses they'll see all season.

Here's my Friday preview of what I'll be watching for in Week 15:

  • It's going to be interesting to see how the Cowboys line up in the secondary on Saturday, given that Morris Claiborne is listed as "doubtful" on the team's injury report. My best guess is that we will see Byron Jones at one of the cornerback spots opposite Brandon Carr, which means that J.J. Wilcox should be back in the starting lineup with Barry Church. We could see Carr travel with Brandon Marshall in this game after the job he was able to do last season against him in Chicago. Coaches could see this as a good matchup.
  • I asked Jason Garrett on Thursday if Kellen Moore had taken any snaps with the first offense this week. Garrett did admit that he had done so, which leads me to believe that if Garrett does feel it's necessary to make a switch at some point in the game, he is comfortable with that.
  • The point to attack on this Jets offensive line, in my opinion, is at right guard where Brian Winters as the starter. This is a similar situation to what the Cowboys faced when they played the Giants and Geoff Schwartz allowed two sacks. Winters is the avenue to putting pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick, so look for Tyrone Crawford and Greg Hardy to get some opportunities there.
  • The defensive coaches wanted physicality at nickel corner and they will get it with Terrance Mitchell. Expect Mitchell to be thrown in the mix and be asked to play in that role. Mitchell has the talent to play inside, but I think he could also help you at safety -- which might allow Jones or Carr to play different in the scheme was well.
  • The Cowboys' offensive line and running backs are going to need to be ready for a ton of movement from this Jets front seven. This is a group that doesn't give you the same look from series to series. When you believe you have an idea where a rusher is going to line up, then two plays later he is at a totally different spot, it makes it critical to be on the screws. Front recognition is going to be a key in this one. If you see free rushers – you will know quickly that there are problems upfront.
  • When throwing the ball in this game, Matt Cassel has to be especially careful. This secondary is a veteran group, and they do an outstanding job of giving one look then rolling into another. Routes that might be open in zone drops are really not. Cassel will need to be decisive and confident that the throw he is making is the right one. Coming back late to receivers against this group will likely result in turnovers.
  • The key for the Jets this season has been fast starts. They have been able to outscore their opponents, 67-23, in the first quarter. The Cowboys will need to weather that storm and take advantage of the problems the Jets have in the second quarter, where opponents have outscored them, 117-81. With the way their defense plays in regard to rushing the passer (32 sacks), any lead they have works in the Jets' favor.
  • With Rolando McClain not playing this week due to his concussion, look for Anthony Hitchens to take his spot at Mike linebacker. The last time Hitchens made a start there was against the New Orleans Saints. I thought Hitchens played better in this role last season, so I will be interested to see if he is able to revert back to those types of games. This defense gives up a great deal without McClain in the middle -- especially in run defense. Hitchens is a better lateral player than a point-of-attack one, so I would expect the Jets to test him.
  • As a Cowboys fan, if you have been disappointed with Morris Claiborne, the Jets fans share your pain with another SEC cornerback in Dee Milliner. Drafted ninth overall out of Alabama in 2013, Milliner was considered the top corner in that draft on many boards and he has been nothing short of disappointing with his play and injuries. All you can do is evaluate the player, draft them and really hope for the best.  
  • My guess at the Cowboys inactives: Tony Romo, Rolando McClain, Chaz Green, Brice Butler, Ronald Leary, Geoff Swaim, Morris Claiborne.
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