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Position battleground (defense): Cowboys vs. Vikings head-to-head breakdown for defensive positions

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 11 matchup between the Cowboys and Vikings to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming game for the Dallas Cowboys, now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other.


This starts with everyone’s frustration, stopping the run. Over the last two games, the Cowboys defense are allowing an average of 224 rush yards per game. To put that into perspective, the Houston Texans, which are bottom in yards allowed per game against the run, are allowing 181 rush yards per game on the season. The over-aggressive nature of the defense causes defensive linemen to bunch in the middle, or aim for gaps they should not be committing to. Edge defenders coming inside to try to get the ball means the edge gets vulnerable and easy to attack.

Dan Quinn is using stunts and twists at an extraordinary rate. The league average for stunts usage among NFL teams is 21%, the Cowboys are stunting at 42%. In doing so, that means these developing plays at the edge can be attacked quickly, before the stunts can take effect and while the gaps are still uncovered. The running game is always a problem for this style of defense, and with a string of games on the season on tape, offensive coordinators are keying in on this strategy. Let’s see this week how the Cowboys defense, and Dan Quinn, adjust to this exposed weakness. Keep an eye on DeMarcus Lawrence, he has reported problems with both feet, and the Cowboys will need his run-stopping ability against Dalvin Cook.

On the Minnesota Vikings side, they have a quietly decent line going on. Harrison Phillips and Danielle Hunter do a good job at holding their positions and making the stop, but Hunter can be susceptible to miss tackles when faced against elusive running backs. In terms of pass rush, the Vikings have Za’Darius Smith, a player most Cowboys fans wanted to see play with a star on his helmet. The back injury which kept most teams from wanting his services has shown to be a non factor, and right now, Smith is third in pass rush win rate among defensive ends, has the most pressures, and second in the league in sacks, with nine. All this is statistically more than the Cowboys best rusher, Micah Parsons.

Watch out for Hunter on the other side. He enjoys less of the attention due to Smith’s talent, but he can find the quarterback, and for the Vikings is just behind Smith in terms of sack and pressure numbers. Za’Darius Smith has shown up with an injury to his knee, but that looks just to be cautionary. But Dalvin Tomlinson looks as though he could miss this week, a major part of their inside line rotation.

Win: Push (slight edge to Vikings)

Minnesota Vikings v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images


Hicks/Kendricks vs Parsons/LVE

A question brought up most this week was about Jabril Cox and Damone Clark. Cox is the easiest to answer, he’s just not ready. Whether it’s something to do with his injury that still lingers, or a development problem that’s unclear. But for one of those two reasons, we aren’t seeing Cox get to the field.

Clark got less time last week as the Cowboys played Micah Parsons as an off-ball linebacker in hopes of helping the run defense. That didn’t work.

Playing Micah Parsons as a traditional off-ball linebacker almost exclusively should be off the table. Some people complained about his production last week, and he was quiet. But he played virtually all his snaps as an off-ball linebacker, and he didn’t look quite right playing that way. Mixing him up, moving him around, and putting him on the edge at times is the best way to use him. Let’s see him go put pressure on Kirk Cousins this week, who will inevitably throw the ball away when faced with that problem.

Leighton Vander-Esch, who has plenty of critics, actually didn’t look awful in last week’s game. Let’s see if he can build on that momentum and get more consistent.

Both Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are good run stoppers, and are rarely used to rush the passer. Instead, they are asked to do more pass coverage than their Cowboys counter parts. Both these linebackers are getting along in age at close to 31. Hicks is in the top ten among linebackers in tackles against running backs, Kendricks is still very sufficient at it. Both linebackers combined account for 82 targets, showing their demand to defend the pass, and have allowed only one touchdown each.

Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images


We always give Donovan Wilson love here, and rightfully so, he’s had a great year so far. But can someone ask him to stop with the personal foul calls! Malik Hooker will want to scrap last week from his memory banks as well, he didn’t have a great week. Anthony Brown is currently in concussion protocol, and let’s all hope he’s doing good and recovering well. But after the injury to Brown, we saw a heavy does of Kelvin Joseph and DaRon Bland. Bland was getting targeted an awful lot, and the plan was to make him the weak point when Brown left the field.

This week the battle will be Trevon Diggs vs Justin Jefferson. Now Jefferson is on the injury report with a toe issue, so that’s one to watch. But amazing as Jefferson is playing, and let’s be fair he’s arguably the best, the last two times he faced Dallas and Diggs, he’s only managed one touchdown and 107 yards in those two games. A little confidence booster for everyone. Let’s see what the plan will be for Jefferson, and how they utilize Diggs in this game.

For the Vikings, they are quite clever in how they field their defensive backs. They never really deviate from the same look, showing the quarterback the same formation on almost every play. What this does is leave the box light, almost daring oppositions to run against them.

The hero of the hour from last week was Patrick Peterson, and he’s showing there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank at this stage of his career. With Cameron Dantzler on IR, and Akayleb Evans battling concussion, the vacant CB2 spot is up for debate, and a place for the likes of Noah Brown or Michael Gallup to come in and have a productive bounce back. But look for Gallup to go up deep and attack the safeties this week. Combined they have allowed four touchdowns this year and allow a rating of 91.8, so this a nice week to find Gallup where he sets up shop best, deep.

Win: Cowboys (very close contest here)

Dallas Cowboys v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images


Greg Joseph isn’t having a great time this year. So far he’s missed five extra points, and five long field goals. Brett Maher continues to keep up his end of the bargain, and hit all four of his extra points last week.

Both Bryan Anger and Vikings punter Ryan Wright are very closely matched. So the punt battle could be an interesting development during the game, depending on the game script.

The Vikings have a familiar name to Cowboys fans on punt return, Jalen Reagor. KaVontae Turpin, however, is nearly double in every punt return category. Let’s see if Kellen Moore gets some Turpin action as a receiver though, he has the juice to change defensive scheme that can be beaten with speed.

Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (117 votes)
  • 22%
    Minnesota Vikings
    (34 votes)
151 votes total Vote Now

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