Rookie Byron Jones’ playing time has increased, making him a big part of the Cowboys defense.
The first-round pick played 40 of 53 defensive snaps last week against the Giants, all at safety, and made seven tackles and defensed two passes. He subbed for starting safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox on different series during the game, and Jones also received playing time in the nickel and the dime packages.
“Byron’s done a good job,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “So you want to get those guys out there. He played a lot against New England, covering [Rob] Gronkowski and did a good job with that responsibility. He’s an interesting guy because he can play both corner and safety. We just wanted to give him some chances out there, and the way the plan was this week, we felt like rotating him in a series or so each half was the best way to get him out there. And I thought he handled the work well.”
Jones nearly had his first career interception against the Giants. An Eli Manning pass appeared to bounce off Jones’ foot and into his hands in the second quarter. Officials initially ruled it an interception, but the play was overturned on replay, and the Giants ended up getting a field goal out of it.
“It was a close one, real close,” Jones said. “I thought it hit my foot, but the replay it shows that they got the call right.”
The Cowboys have an NFL-low three takeaways, none since Week 2, and rank last in the NFL with a minus-9 turnover ratio.
“It’s coming,” Jones said. “It’s tough. As a defense, we’re not getting a lot of takeaways. We’ve just got to find a way to get the ball out.”
Jones likely plays a big part in the Cowboys’ defensive plan this week.
Jones played a season-high 57 of 59 snaps against the Patriots in Week 5, and handled All-Pro tight end Gronkowski as well as anyone has this season. Gronkowski had four catches for 67 yards, his second-worst production of the year.
“They threw to him five times, and he caught the ball four times,” Jones said. “The biggest thing was getting him on the ground. The one back shoulder fade really hurt. I think we did good minimizing his presence in the game.”
The Cowboys have allowed tight ends only 21 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown this season, but Jones will face another tough test in Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday.
Graham has 31 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns in his first season in Seattle.
“They’ll probably give me a chance to guard him, learning from Gronk,” Jones said. “I think Jimmy Graham is a little different. I think he’s a better route runner, and I think he’s a little more athletic as well. So he’s going to be a challenge.”
For the season, Jones has 26 tackles, tied for fourth on the team, and his five pass breakups ties for the team lead. He has palyed 199 of 381 defensive snaps, or 52.2 percent.
“He’s a good football player, and he’s getting better,” Garrett said.