Category Archives: Cowboys Jerseys 2020

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FRISCO – A recent Sunday morning TV report about the contractual future of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones sounded strikingly familiar to us … Because it’s the same exact news we broke nine months ago.

The “latest” comes from CBS Sports, which writes, “Sources said it looks increasingly likely (Jones) will be elsewhere in 2020.” This story – which also features a completely inaccurate “scoop” on how Dallas is likely to “lose Amari Cooper” – frankly continues a CBS trend of taking the original work of others and then tacking on its own claim of “additional sources” to steal credit for a story that isn’t really theirs, or, as it likely the case here, simply being ignorant regarding their “new story” actually being a regurgitation of someone else’s reporting.

So what did we write about the Cowboys and Byron Jones last March 13? And what has changed? First, the original reporting:

The Cowboys think Byron Jones “deserves all the credit” for his breakout season at cornerback in 2018. As a result, he deserves all the money, too.

But I do not believe that’s going to happen in Dallas.

“I want nothing other than playing for the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones told the media at the Pro Bowl, where he was a first-time participant. And it’s a remark that is classic Byron: He combines being smart and thoughtful with being an athletic badass, traits that especially paid off for last season when new defensive aide Kris Richard suggested the move from safety to corner for the former first-round pick.

The payoff was immediate, incredible and year-long. Jones proved to be among the NFL corners most difficult to score against, even to complete a pass against. In In 64 career games (entering 2019), Jones has only two interceptions, but that’s really a nitpick given all his positives.

So why won’t it be an automatic, as he enters the final year of his existing deal, for Dallas to pay him like the elite corner he’s proven to be?

Maybe part of it is some reservations, on some level, that he’s truly worthy of Josh Norman ($15 mil a year) or Patrick Peterson ($14 mil a year) money. But bigger than that, I think, is the “You Can’t Pay Everybody” philosophy that drives salary-cap-related decisions.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones met the DFW media on his bus and engaged in a fun parlor game of “Make Your List.” He wouldn’t offer his “priority list,” except to suggest to reporters that his list likely mirrors theirs/ours/yours.

The names on the Cowboys’ list include DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. For a variety of reasons, those three are probably the priorities. Finding a way to do Ezekiel Elliott would figure to be next in the pecking order.

The Cowboys have talked publicly about re-signing Byron, possibly as early as this offseason. But if he knows he can be a $14 million APY guy if he repeats his 2018 season, why should be bow to anywhere near his present salary of $6.2 mil?

And if the Cowboys have to do Tank, Dak, Amari and Zeke, how can Byron possibly leap-from over them in importance?

When Richard said of Jones, “I think the sky is the limit for him,” he might very well be right about the talent and the performance. But when it comes to paying Byron Jones $15 million a year to stay in Dallas? I think the (financial) limit is somewhere south of the sky.

And now today … Dallas of course did sign Tank and Zeke and continues to pledge to sign Dak and Amari. They do not talk of Byron at the same level, because while they view him as a very good corner, there has not been 2019 justification to view him – for a team with available cap funds for 2020 ear-marked very specifically – as a priority.

Meanwhile, the cost of retaining Prescott and Cooper has risen. And that’s yet another reason that barring a Jones willingness to take less than market value to be a “Cowboy for Life,” my March report on him getting “squeezed” is mirrored exactly by what I’m reporting now.

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Preseason expectations have evolved into regular season resentment in regard to Dallas Cowboys cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.

Entering his third season, there was a lot of belief that this was the year that Awuzie would ascend into a lockdown corner. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

From purely a production standpoint, Awuzie has struggled mightily this season, giving up 41 catches on 73 total targets for 634 yards (fourth-most among all DBs), 15.4 per reception, and three touchdowns in 13 games while accumulating seven pass break-ups and an interception, per SIS Data Hub.

For comparison’s sake, in 2018, Awuzie gave up 49 catches on 83 targets for 653 yards, 13.3 yards per reception, and four touchdowns in 15 games while registering 10 pass break-ups and an interception.

This means he’s allowing a slightly lower completion percentage this year, but seeing increases in total yards and yards per reception allowed while allowing a similar number of touchdowns and accumulating a similar amount of pass break-ups – not exactly what the Cowboys wanted from a DB with No. 1 CB expectations.

It gets worse when tackling and yards after catch (YAC) are added into the equation. Thus far this season, 12 of Awuzie’s attempted tackles have missed or been broken by opposing ball carriers, which means, given that he has been credited with 63 tackles so far, his tackles are missed or broken by the ball carrier 16% of the time – a huge increase from the 10.5% of last season, per SIS Data Hub. Moreover, Awuzie has allowed 205 total YAC this season – 20th most among all CBs, per Pro Football Focus, which is 55 more YAC than he allowed all of last season (150).

The evidence gets even more damning when advanced statistics are brought into the fold. Football Outsiders has developed a metric (which is used in the SIS Data Hub) called Points Saved, which uses Expected Points Added (EPA) to distribute the value gained or lost on a play to the different players involved based on their impact on the play using the wealth of SIS charting data available. In 2018, Baltimore’s Marlon Humphrey led all defensive backs in total points saved among DBs (51) while Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White leads all DBs this year (40) in the same metric.

Awuzie has been credited with 0 total points saved this season, which is not only the epitome of average and the definition of a replacement-level player, it’s also less than multiple other Cowboys DBs, including Byron Jones (10), Xavier Woods (7), Jeff Heath (6) and Jourdan Lewis (6).

Bottom line from a production standpoint, Awuze is playing like a replacement-level cornerback rather than the potential No. 1 CB the Cowboys were hoping for.

Awuzie’s struggles statistically are confirmed on film; however, before getting into his individual struggles, it’s important to acknowledge that Dallas’ scheme and defensive play-calling play a part in it, too.

Take this reception on 2nd-and-1 versus the Giants in Week 9 as an example:

On this play, the Cowboys are playing their typical Cover 3 defense where Awuzie plays off coverage and is responsible for the deep third zone on his side of the field. While the casual fan may be upset about Awuzie allowing an easy first down reception in a short-yardage situation, the reality is that the coaching staff deserves far more blame than anyone for this easy first down (which is a theme of Dallas’ season so far).

In Cover 3, the box defenders (linebackers plus strong safety) are responsible for all the short-to-intermediate zones while the cornerbacks and free safety are responsible for the deep zones. Moreover, the box defenders have dual run-pass responsibilities, meaning they have to play forward and fit their gap against the run but also retreat to their zone versus the pass.

The positives are that it gets eight defenders in the box to defend the probable run in a short-yardage situation; however, it also makes them susceptible to quick play-action passes from shotgun, which is exactly what happens here.

The box defenders’ dual run-pass responsibilities, especially in a short-yardage situation, cause them to immediately react forward versus any run action in an attempt to clog the gaps and stuff the potential run. This creates huge voids in the short-to-intermediate zones, which are exacerbated by the fact the Dallas blitzed the strong safety (Jeff Heath) off the edge, thus taking away one short-to-intermediate zone defender.

Therefore, no one is in the flats to defend the speed out, creating an easy pitch-and-catch for the first down. While it is true that Awuzie should have triggered forward quicker, the scheme prevented him from having any chance to contest this quick throw more so than his execution.

These types of poor situational defensive play calls are littered through Dallas’ tape this season, especially in short-yardage situations. Nevertheless, Awuzie has done himself no favors outside of that, as intermittent technical lapses have led to most of Awuzie’s struggles this year.

“Lapses” being the key term there because Awuzie provides good coverage a majority of the time, which is why he maintains a relatively low completion percentage when targeted (56.2%) despite his struggles this season. However, much like with offensive linemen, a few lapses or bad snaps per game is enough to override the dozens of other snaps where he executed his job effectively, which signifies the little room for error that NFL CBs have on a game-by-game basis.

Those lapses are especially frustrating because there’s not one thing to hang your hat on in regard to Awuzie’s overall struggles. It’s a bunch of different little things that pop up intermittently. They aren’t always due to the same reasons, but they all have a similar effect in deteriorating Awuzie’s coverage ability on a given snap.

Here’s an example:

On this Week 4 play in New Orleans, Awuzie is aligned in press-man, or bump-and-run, coverage against Saints receiver Michael Thomas. When lining up against one of the top receivers in the NFL, which Thomas certainly is, even the smallest mistakes can create a big enough opening for the receiver to take advantage, which is exactly what happens here.

The casual fan may critique Awuzie for not turning his head around to look for the ball when Thomas did, but that ignores the differences in how a CB is supposed to play when in/out of phase with a receiver.

When a CB is in-phase, meaning he can reach out and touch the receiver, then yes, he is supposed to lean into the receiver and turn his head to find the ball.

However, when a CB is out of phase, meaning he can’t touch the receiver, as Awuzie is above, he is taught to not turn his head and look for the ball because if he guesses wrong then it inevitably creates more separation for the receiver while eliminating the CB’s ability to limit YAC once the catch is made. Instead, he is taught to stay locked in on the receiver while playing through the receiver’s hands at the catch point.

Awuzie’s patience and footwork are good but watch his hands as he tries to press Thomas (above clip).

Awuzie’s hands are much too wide and lack assertiveness. This enables Thomas to control the inside position, which prevents Awuzie from landing with his hands and allows Thomas to create initial separation off his release and put Awuzie out-of-phase.

With Awuzie out of phase and playing catch-up, he has no ability to dictate the pace of the route, which prevents him from ‘feeling’ the break point and causes him to overrun Thomas’ stop run. The result is a first-down reception for Thomas.

Had Awuzie been tighter with his hands at the line of scrimmage, he would have been in-phase with Thomas after the release, which would have put him in position to feel the break and blanket Thomas’ stop route.

Even more frustrating is when Awuzie’s tight coverage gets ruined by poor technique contesting the catch point:

On this Week 12 play at New England, Awuzie does a nice job maintaining tight coverage against Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers on a 10-yard out route, which was thwarted by Awuzie swiping at the ball instead of sticking his hand through Meyer’s at the catch point.

The problem with swiping at the ball is that it is a low percentage and inefficient technique, as the defender has only one chance to deflect the ball. If he mistimes his swipe even by the slimmest of margins, the pass is completed, as was the case in the above clip.

Instead, it’s better for a defender to aim to stick his hand(s) through the receiver’s at the catch point, since that where the ball is going to end up if the pass is completed. Attacking the receiver’s hands is much more effective and efficient than attacking the ball in this kind of situation.

Another example of Awuzie’s intermittent technical lapses has to do with his eye discipline from off coverage:

When in off coverage, cornerbacks are taught to read the QB’s initial drop first before keying on the receiver, as the QB’s drop can help the CB ascertain the type of route he’s going to see.

For example, if a QB takes a three-step drop from under center or a one-step drop from shotgun, then the cornerback knows he doesn’t need to worry about deep throws and instead needs to be ready to drive short-breaking routes.

Nonetheless, Awuzie does the opposite in the above clip, as he begins with his eyes on the receiver but then turns his eyes toward the No. 2 receiver, which makes him late to react and drive on the out route, resulting in a nine-yard completion that put Green Bay on the goal line (they scored on the next play).

Given that Dallas was in its typical Cover 3 zone defense, Awuzie was likely getting his eyes on the No. 2 receiver to make sure he wasn’t running a corner route into his deep zone; however, if he had read the QB’s quick drop, he would have known the ball was going to get out quick, giving him a better opportunity to drive and contest the catch point.

Bad eyes made Awuzie late to trigger forward to defend the out route, which cost Dallas valuable yards in the red zone.

Awuzie’s struggles this year are important to understand, as his inability to meet his preseason expectations to become a No. 1-caliber corner this season has a domino effect on the roster construction as a whole.

Entering training camp, the Cowboys had six players with legitimate cases for contract extensions: Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones, Jaylon Smith and La’el Collins.

Jones’ case, in particular, received little attention and seemingly little priority from the Cowboys’ front office, which was partly due to Awuzie’s preseason expectations. Why pay big money to your No. 1 CB if you expect your No. 2 to develop into a legitimate No. 1 within the next season, especially when the team doesn’t have as much depth at the positions of the other players deserving extensions?

This paved the way for Dallas to extend Elliott, Collins and Smith prior to their season opener, leaving Jones at the bottom of the priority list among the three remaining players (along with Prescott and Cooper) worthy of contract extensions.

Now, it is important to also state that there were other factors in Jones not receiving an extension, the biggest of which is the fact that he was coming off a serious hip injury that required surgery and forced him to miss training camp and the preseason. It’s understandable why the front office would be hesitant to give a player coming off major surgery a big-money extension.

But Awuzie’s struggles have left the Cowboys’ front office between a rock and a hard place.

If the Cowboys knew Awuzie was going to struggle, they may have been more diligent in trying to extend Jones’ contract before the season when the Cowboys had a ton of available money. Instead, the Cowboys will be forced to either re-sign Jones or find a replacement with significantly less money available thanks to the Elliott, Collins and Smith extensions along with the money earmarked for Prescott and Cooper’s huge extensions.

In other words, Awuzie’s failure to live up to his preseason expectations has not only hurt the Cowboys on the football field, but it’s also hurt their ability to retain their best defensive back (Jones) in the offseason.

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Dallas lost a valuable piece of linebacker depth Sunday.

Rookie reserve Luke Gifford fractured his left arm on special teams during the first quarter. He will miss the remainder of the season. Linebacker Joe Thomas and reserve cornerback C.J. Goodwin also sustained injuries, sources said.

Gifford signed with Dallas in April as an undrafted free agent from Nebraska.

He impressed this offseason, making the Cowboys’ 53-man roster out of training camp despite a high-ankle sprain sidelining him for the start of the season.

Thomas exited late in the first quarter. Initially, his issue was announced as a knee injury. The ailment, however, appears to be more in his thigh area. An MRI will be conducted Monday.

There is some optimism on Thomas, but nonetheless, seeing both him and Gifford exit was no less a blow for the Cowboys, who are already down Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch missed a fourth straight game to a neck injury.

Goodwin, a valuable flyer in special-teams coverage, fractured a thumb.

He will undergo further evaluation on Monday, and a plan will be made for how to proceed. There is a chance Goodwin could continue this season in a cast; such is possible for certain hand injuries. But it would be premature to forecast how exactly the Cowboys will proceed here until such determinations are made.

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The Dallas Cowboys just added a new member of the team that can compete with quarterback Dak Prescott for being best at playing catch. However, this new competitor has four legs instead of only two. The Cowboys have now added a puppy named Dak as an honorary team member, and he will be serving the role of a service dog in training.

Revealed on Wednesday by tackle Joe Looney, Dak is a young service dog that is training with Canine Companions. His future job will be serving the needs of a military veteran. In order to achieve this goal, Dak will be spending 18 months going through training.

First off, however, the puppy will be spending time with Looney and playing catch on the practice field. Socialization training will be on the horizon but carrying around a Mickey Mouse toy was more important when the video was created.

“All right, Dak, here we go man,” Looney said. “We’ve got a tough week this week, man. I’m gonna need everything from you. We are gonna come out here, we are gonna practice a little catch. I’m gonna need everything from you, we need you this week, bro.”

The Cowboys did not reveal whether or not Dak will be spending time in the team facility as opposed to the Baylor Scott & White Kinkeade Campus, but it is a possibility. Bringing service dogs to professional franchises is becoming more popular in recent months. The NHL, in particular, has 10 teams with service dogs in the building.

The Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are all teams with dogs.

Back in early August, the Lightning introduced Bolt, a yellow lab that was joining to be a team ambassador. The puppy would be spending time with the NHL team prior to becoming a full-time service dog. Bolt joined the team by way of the Southeastern Guide Dogs and is scheduled to be a member of the Lightning for a full year.

Will young Dak remain with the Cowboys and usurp Prescott in his role as a catch specialist? The answer is unknown, but Looney would likely enjoy continued time with the young service dog in training.

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The Cowboys brought wide receiver Cedrick Wilson‘s season to an end on Tuesday.

The team announced that Wilson has been placed on injured reserve. Wilson injured his knee late in last Thursday’s loss to the Bears.

Wilson appeared in six games for the Cowboys this season. He caught five passes for 46 yards, returned two punts for 13 yards and three kickoffs for 64 yards.

He was a sixth-round pick last year and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.

The Cowboys filled the open spot on their roster by promoting tackle Mitch Hyatt from the practice squad. Hyatt signed with the Cowboys after going undrafted out of Clemson and joined the practice squad after failing to make the cut to 53 players at the end of the summer.

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FRISCO — Ventell Bryant had appeared on offense eight times all season. In seven of those plays, he blocked on a running play. The Cowboys wide receiver rotated into last Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Bills late in the fourth quarter and heard the play call.

A pass.

“My eyes just lit up,” Bryant said. “I was like, ‘Yes. I have to make a play or just do my job for the team.’”

The second regular-season route Bryant ran in his NFL career doubled as the first pass on which he was targeted. Prescott trusted a 23-year-old who spent training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals to make a contested catch inside the red zone. Bryant applied a lesson from a college mentor to score a 15-yard touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.

Such moments would be sweeter in a win. But the play was no less a milestone for Bryant, whose ability in special teams coverage has made him a regular on the Cowboys’ game-day roster.

Bryant ran a seam route vs. Bills cornerback Taron Johnson, who had outside leverage. From the slot, Bryant initially pressed toward Johnson before veering inside to catch a pass that split two defensive backs.

Bryant first learned such route-running nuances from former NFL wide receiver Frisman Jackson, who coached wide receivers at Temple and today does so at Baylor.

“He was an unbelievable coach,” Bryant said. “He really developed me tremendously. After he left, the coaching was just a little different as far as the details. When he was there, he was really strict about certain things. He was like, ‘If you’re running a seam route and a guy is outside of you, don’t just run straight down the middle because he’s going to wash you down to the safety. You have to widen him. You have to stretch him. And if you can’t stretch him, if you can’t get around him, then you slip him. But at least you have the proper landmark.’

“That’s what I did.”

Bryant kept the football and gloves from the touchdown.

He plans to display them in his home someday.

Prescott said he trusted Bryant to make the catch because of “what he does, each and every day in practice.”

“Somebody that’s passionate about what he does, that carries a lot of pride in his everyday work,” Prescott added. “When he messes up, you can tell. It’s like somebody kicked his dog. He hates it because he feels like he let others down. And when he makes a good play, he’s proud himself. That’s just an example of what he’s done, week in and week out at practice, coming in and making plays.”

Said coach Jason Garrett: “Ventell did a really good job making a contested catch. The moment was not too big for him. He’s done a really good job for us on special teams. He’s continued to show up there, and he’s really grown as a player. So, a big moment for him. He handled it really well.”

Briefly: Running back Tony Pollard was added to Tuesday’s injury report, missing practice with an ankle ailment. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck), nose tackle Antwaun Woods (knee), safety Jeff Heath (shoulders) and linebacker Sean Lee (pectoral/non-injury) also didn’t participate. … Soldier Field has not been hospitable to visiting kickers this season. They are 6 for 11 (54.5%), including 0 for 4 from between 40 and 49 yards. Brett Maher is 1 for 4 this season from that range. … The NFL launched its “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign this week. It features players wearing painted cleats to raise awareness about causes of personal importance. Most Cowboys participants won’t wear those cleats Thursday becuase of the grass field. They will sport them instead on Dec. 15 against the Los Angeles Rams at AT&T Stadium.

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Dak Prescott had a season-low 23 attempts, a season-low 15 completions and tied his season low with 212 yards in the victory over the Rams. The Cowboys didn’t need their quarterback to throw, rushing for 263 yards.

Because of that, not much was made of Prescott’s sprained left wrist and injured right index finger. He injured both in the Week 14 loss to the Bears but practiced in full every day last week.

Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, though, reported during the Fox broadcast Sunday that Prescott has a hairline fracture on the index finger.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t “get into the medical part of it” Monday when asked about it but seemed to confirm it when asked about playing with a hairline fracture.

“I’ve never had a hairline fracture in my finger to throw,” Garrett said. “I think a lot of quarterbacks have had jammed fingers, and they’ve dealt with different things. It’s hard obviously. Having the ball in your hand and feeling good is a big part of throwing the ball well. But Dak’s a tough guy. Dak’s a physically tough guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. So whatever he’s dealing with, he doesn’t let a lot of people know about it. He goes out and does his job and he was able to do that again yesterday.”

Prescott began the game with tape on the tip of his finger but removed it in the first quarter.

Garrett said the injury did not affect Prescott.

“He works through it, and he does what he needs to do,” Garrett said.

Garrett said linebacker Luke Gifford has a fractured arm; cornerback C.J. Goodwin will need surgery on his thumb; and linebacker Joe Thomas‘ knee injury is day to day.

UPDATE 6:46 P.M. ET: Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News cited a source who said Prescott does not have a fractured finger. The tip of Prescott’s finger got smashed severely, and he experienced bleeding underneath the skin at the tip of his finger.

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The Dallas Cowboys used a commanding 28-7 lead at the half against the Los Angeles Rams and never looked back, coming out with a 44-21 win and snapped a three-game losing streak.

Maybe more importantly though, the Cowboys (7-7) looked, felt and played a lot better than the same team that lost four of their last five matchups.
The win sets up NFC East title implications next week at Philadelphia, where the Cowboys and Eagles will clash for the division title. Both teams are tied for first place in the division after Philadelphia outlasted Washington on Sunday (37-27).
The Dak & Zeke Show

Dallas showed a balanced approach throughout the game and picked apart the struggling Rams defense at AT&T Stadium.
Quarterback Dak Prescott did a nice job running the offense for the Cowboys and managing long-sustaining drives. He completed 15-of-23 passes for 212 yards and threw a pair of touchdown passes. He also helped Dallas control time of possession heavily over Los Angeles (36:06-23:54).
Running back Ezekiel Elliot carried the ball 24 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams simply couldn’t stop him.
Oh and how about rookie tailback Tony Pollard? He finished the game leading the Cowboys with 12 carries for 131 rushing yards.
Rams offense fell behind, couldn’t catch up
Sunday was another struggling game for the Rams offense and the run game.
Los Angeles couldn’t get any sort of production on the ground from tailback Todd Gurley II. The Cowboys stifling defense held him to just 20 rushing yards and shut him down.
As for quarterback Jared Goff, he couldn’t get going either. Goff threw a costly interception in the first half and was sacked twice in the game.
The experience
600 ESPN El Paso, 915 Tours and Cowboys Packages teamed up to take SportsTalk on the road for a panel discussion and to document the experience out in Dallas.
And boy, what a trip.
Our tour bus left El Paso Friday night, giving us ample time to rest up and get excited for the weekend.

The Bill Bates tailgate kick-started our day on Sunday, featuring unlimited BBQ and drinks at a massive party setup outside AT&T Stadium. Because of the number of people and the size of the party, the tailgate was something I’ve never seen before.

The trip featured so many activities that you almost forgot about the game itself! Thanks to the team, I was upgraded to field-view seats and got to witness the game up close like never before.

There are still opportunities to watch a game with 915 Tours and Cowboys Packages, when they finish the season at home against the Redskins on Dec. 29.

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Despite starting the season 8-0, the 49ers now find themselves in second place in the NFC West behind their archrival, the Seattle Seahawks.

The two teams had an epic battle on Monday Night Football in Week 10, where quarterback Russell Wilson and company handed San Francisco its first loss of the season.

The 49ers still have a chance to secure the division title, as a rematch looms in Week 17 in Seattle.

NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders was asked which team he’d rather take in the NFC, and “Prime Time” himself still is riding with the 49ers.

“I like the 49ers because of their defense,” Sanders said. “Their defense is one of the best in the NFL, and you can travel anywhere with a defense of that sort.”

Sanders — who won NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 49ers in 1994 while leading San Francisco to a Super Bowl victory the same season — also took an opportunity to tell everyone to pump the brakes on the Seahawks.

“I don’t like Seattle because I don’t like them defensively,” Sanders said. “I like them as a team, but I don’t like them to go the distance, meaning to the Super Bowl.

“Russell [Wilson] is bailing them out. They have a phenomenal offense, but defensively they’re lackluster.”

Looking ahead to Week 17, the 49ers historically have had trouble winning at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, as the vaunted “12th Man” creates a raucous atmosphere for opponents. San Francisco has not won in Seattle since 2011.

[RELATED: Wide receivers don't produce in 49ers' loss to Falcons]

The Hall of Fame defensive back isn’t worried about the noise affecting San Francisco come Dec. 29.

“We get hyped up from the fans, the 12, ain’t nobody playing in the NFL care about no 12,” Sanders explained. “I have never seen a player walk off the field and say, ‘You know what man, that darn crowd really made a difference in the outcome of this game.’”

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Orange Bowl Selection Committee member Wayne Schuchts can still sling it.

University of Virginia fans who were at John Paul Jones Arena for the Cavalier men’s basketball team’s game against the University of North Carolina on Dec. 8 can attest to this.

In Charlottesville to formally invite the UVA football team to his hometown of Miami for the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, the former Cavalier quarterback – clad in an orange sport coat – launched several T-shirts into the stands, including one toss that made it into the upper deck.

“I had it for one throw,” the 58-year-old Schuchts said, laughing. “I don’t think I could have done it a second time.

“With it being [posted] on Twitter, I’ve heard from so many people. It’s been very fun.”

Schuchts played for two years at Colgate University before transferring to UVA in 1982, where he went on to establish a single-season record for passing yards (since eclipsed) and led the program to just its third winning season in 31 years. In his two seasons, he threw for 3,124 yards and 27 touchdowns, and triggered the second-longest passing play in Cavalier history, 93 yards to Nick Merrick against Wake Forest in 1982.

“I loved being a student-athlete at UVA,” Schuchts said.

Schuchts went on to sign a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys. In training camp, he was beaten out by Steve Pelluer for the third-string job behind Danny White and Gary Hogeboom.

Subsequently, Schuchts had brief stints with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins before joining his family’s Florida-based real estate business.

Schuchts and his wife, Tara, have a daughter, Brooke, 19, and a son, Jameson, 17.

He said being back at UVA to formally invite the Hoos to the Orange Bowl – 35 years after he played – was “surreal and awesome.”

UVA Today caught up with Schuchts in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl.

Q. Your 1983 team laid the groundwork for the success that UVA went on to have in the 1980s and 1990s, starting with their first-ever bowl appearance the next year in 1984. Do you take a lot of pride in that?

A. Yeah, I do. It all started with George Welsh. In the first practice we had, he led everyone into a huddle and used some [strong language] and said, “Those of you guys who want to play, come out tomorrow, and the rest of you just stay in.” Everyone looked around like, “Is this guy for real?”

And he was. That next day started the George Welsh era. That was the culture that George set.

I think there’s a real parallel with what Bronco’s doing. Just hearing Bronco talk – he talks about “becoming,” “evolving,” “culture.” George talked about those things. I think their focus and intensity are similar. I think they see the bigger picture with the University of Virginia that kids really are student-athletes, but that you can compete at the highest level.

Q. As a senior, you led the Cavaliers to a 6-5 record. Today, that would be good enough to go to a bowl, but back then there weren’t nearly as many games. Does that still sting? Especially since the team had gotten off to a 4-0 start that year?

A. On one hand, it does. I think that most athletes who try and compete at a high level are never entirely satisfied with what they did or accomplished. That’s certainly true with me. I wish I was a better quarterback and we had helped the school win more games.

But on the other hand, I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to play and been a student-athlete at Virginia.

Q. Does one game stick out from your UVA career?

A. The North Carolina win in 1983 when North Carolina was ranked [19th]. The part I remember was the fans coming down on the field. That was a pretty cool experience as a player. The win was a great one for the program and gave us a winning season. It was important to turn that corner.

Q. What did you study at UVA?

A. I was a psychology major, which I use very much to this day. I remember a couple of professors, one of whom was [sports psychologist] Bob Rotella. So much of the visualization and self-talk things started with Bob’s teachings.

Q. You were roommates at UVA with basketball star and current NBA head coach Rick Carlisle. How did a basketball player and football player wind up living together?

A. We transferred in the same year, played pick-up basketball together and just became good buddies. We both kind of had a focus and intensity while playing our sport, but kind of both liked to have fun and get away from it when we weren’t. That lined up great. He had perspectives into my sport and I had some into his that made it fun.

Q. You guys still keep in touch?

A. Oh yeah. His one NBA championship [with the Dallas Mavericks] came in Miami [against the Miami Heat]. We were there and, in fact, I have a ring from the championship. I will tell you that there are kind of levels of rings, right. I’m pretty sure I’m near the bottom [laughing].

Q. You signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys after graduating from UVA. Tom Landry was still the Dallas Cowboys coach, and you had so many star players and big personalities. I’m guessing you have some great stories from your “America’s Team” days?

A. It was bigger than life to be with the Cowboys.

One experience I remember is when you were a rookie you had to get up and sing your song. [Ed] “Too Tall” Jones, who was a monster, gets up and with his sternest face says, “You rookies will be carrying our equipment every day for the next two weeks.” Boom. He drops the mic and you’re like, “Oh man.” You don’t mess with Too Tall Jones.

Later, when I was with the [Miami] Dolphins, I got to play under Don Shula. So I got to learn from Landry and Shula, two guys who were just great leaders and great men.

Q. What’s it been like being on the Orange Bowl committee?

A. It’s been fun because the Orange Bowl is all about giving back to the community, and that’s a real passion. It’s fun because it’s high-quality people. And it’s fun because it’s tied into a sport.

But we do a lot of work. The committee members really give a lot of time and effort to try and positively impact the community.

The whole experience for the fans is going to be great. I hope people from Charlottesville can come down.