Jayron Kearse has found a quality role in Dan Quinn’s defensive system. The seventh-year safety bounced around the league, playing in Minnesota and Detroit, before signing with the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. The signing went without much fanfare, as Kearse was a career special teamer and rotational player. This was also before anyone realized how well Quinn could maximize his skill sets.
In his 2021 breakout season Jayron Kearse tallied 101 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two interceptions, and a sack for the Dallas Cowboys. This came from playing a major percentage of snaps as a hybrid linebacker/safety. At 6’4’’ and 220 lbs, Kearse is large for a safety and slight for a linebacker. Perhaps this contributed to his lack of playing time for other teams, but Quinn has seen it as an opportunity. He can throw his weight around, making big hits and jarring balls loose. He can also cover tight ends and backfield receivers much better than a traditional linebacker. His role also has him “wearing the green dot,” which means Quinn runs the defense through him.
When Jayron Kearse went down with a knee injury in Week 1, it was an under-the-radar blow to the Dallas Cowboys defense. Players like Donovan Wilson have stepped up in his absence. According to NFL NextGen stats, he’s been the second-best safety this season. Regardless, this defense is undoubtedly better with Kearse playing. Fortunately for the coaches and fans alike, his return to action could be as early as this week against the Washington Commanders.
Jayron Kearse (knee) is set to get a full workload in today’s practice to gauge his chances of returning for #Cowboys versus Commanders.
Moving well. pic.twitter.com/AQh4EtWEzU
— Patrik [No C] Walker (@VoiceOfTheStar) September 29, 2022
READ MORE: Dorance Armstrong Comes Up Big
Dallas Cowboys Defense Eagerly Awaits the Return of Jayron Kearse
After another strong showing against the New York Giants, no one is doubting the legitimacy of this Cowboys defense. They lead the league with 13 sacks. They have only allowed two passing touchdowns and one rushing. Superstar quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Joe Burrow have been frazzled. Playmakers at all three levels make this defense extremely difficult to attack effectively.
That bodes well for the Week 4 matchup against Washington. The offense has not been a strength of the Commanders so far this season. Shaky play from both the quarterback and offensive line has the team sitting at 1-2 and last place in early NFC East standings. Under normal circumstances, this game might have the makings of a trap game with tough tilts against the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles on the horizon. But this Dallas Cowboys defense led by the likes of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Jayron Kearse doesn’t overlook games.
Part of what makes a defense effective is when the unit has an edge, and Dallas is playing with one. All three levels have leaders that thrive off making plays, doling out punishment, and reminding doubters who they are. It’s a sneaky crucial element of what makes Kearse’s return so impactful for an already impressive group.
Time to Feast?
Washington has had their fair share of woes on offense. The ability for Carson Wentz to “take command” of the offense hasn’t been quite what fans were hoping for. Thus far, he has posted a decent seven touchdowns to three interceptions with a 63% completion rate. Yet, the eye test still reports many of the same issues that got him bounced from the Eagles and Colts. Wentz was sacked nine times last week, often when holding the ball too long trying to find the big play. He was stripped while trying to scramble around and had numerous errant throws that have become far too routine for Wentz. The offensive line did him no favors, allowing multiple defenders through without much resistance. Through three weeks, the Commanders have allowed 15 sacks—second only to the Cincinnati Bengals.
This is all music to the ears of a league-leading Dallas pass rush. After contributing to the Bengals sack count in Week 2, the Cowboys continued racking them up against the Giants. Lawrence gathered three sacks that afternoon, putting him right behind Micah Parsons (four) for the team lead. Dorance Armstrong also has three sacks of his own. This stout rush attack will be coming after the weaknesses they saw Philadelphia exploit last Sunday. With Parsons now recovered from a Week 3 illness and Lawrence on the ascent, the rush should be formidable.
The Dallas Cowboys are loaded with talent at safety, with Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson all playing major roles. Wilson has filled in nicely during Kearse’s absence, taking on much of the hybrid role with success. His team-leading 24 tackles on the year reflect his ability to be a presence all over the field. When Kearse returns, it will allow Wilson to play a freer role in the scheme. He plays best when given the opportunity to roam and punish opposing players with massive hits—one of Wilson’s favorite pastimes.
COWBOYS GAME REPLAY 🎬: S Donovan Wilson lays out RB Dalvin Cook. ✭ #dallascowboys pic.twitter.com/qlEIKsnW9l
— Dallas Cowboys Network (@TheCowboysNet) May 28, 2021
Dan Quinn will often have all three top safeties on the field at once when Kearse slides into a sub-package linebacker position. Having that much speed on the field is difficult to deal with. It’s made even more so because Wilson and Kearse both hit like linebackers. A ferocious pass rush combined with these complications on the second and third levels are a large part of Quinn’s success in Dallas.
A Strong Advantage
So far, injuries have plagued the offense much more than the defense this season. Once Kearse returns, the unit will be nearly whole again. Tarell Basham suffered a quad injury in Week 1 and is still out for a few weeks at least. Otherwise, this unit is healthy and ready to continue its dominance over offensive lines and quarterbacks this Sunday afternoon. The Dallas defense has shown over last season and these past three weeks that are a unit that can perform week in and week out. If Jayron Kearse does suit up on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys will be even more liable to cause trouble for Wentz and the Commanders when they come through Jerry World. The offense needs to continue holding up its end of the bargain. If so, Dallas has a real shot at a three-game winning streak no one could have predicted.