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

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 12 matchup between the Cowboys and Giants to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

Syndication: The Record Danielle Parhizkaran/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

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


The most asked question for the Cowboys defense is how can it get better against the run? What if the answer to that question is score on offense? Something the Minnesota Vikings game showed is if this team plays from ahead and forces teams to lean on its passing game, then this defense will lock the game down (except in Green Bay).

In last week’s game, Dalvin Cook was getting yards and finding holes to exploit, but once the team had to throw to try and get back into contention, the pressure from so many pass rush players came into its own. Dante Fowler, Dorance Armstrong and Demarcus Lawrence all got their share of sacks. Osa Odighizuwa, Sam Williams and Neville Gallimore all got pressures on Kirk Cousins; whether it’s from edge rushers or the 3-tech position, this team is set up to beat the opposition’s passing game.

In terms of run defense, it’s not out the woods yet. Cook went for 72 yards on only 11 attempts, and with both Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones ready to put yards on the ground, let’s hope the offense puts up points to force the New York Giants to abandon the run, just the same as last week. Keep watch on the practice report, as some players have crept on with illness on the defensive line, and is something the coaches have spoken about this week.

For the Giants trenches on defense, they have Dexter Lawrence, who this year is playing well from the nose tackle position and getting it done. He’s now on six sacks for year, and 37 pressures, while doing a pretty good job on run and pass plays so far this year. Lawrence also leads the defensive line in tackles, with 23, and has a forced fumble under his belt, which he got in Week 2. Leonard Williams does a sufficient job next to Lawrence, and is second in tackles, and he very rarely misses a tackle.

The edge defenders for the Giants, Oshane Ximines and Jihad Ward, both failed to register a sack the last time they faced this Dallas offensive line. And let’s see how Kayvon Thibodeaux gets on, although he hasn’t hit the ground running and his knee injury might still be bothering him. As for run defense, they rank eighth worst, and both Ezekiel Elliott and Tiny Pollard should look to help each other control possession.

Win: Cowboys

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


Crowder/Smith vs Parsons/Vander Esch

Anthony Barr didn’t play last week because of his hamstring injury. In his place came Damone Clark, and in the run game he was pretty good. Coming downhill, shuffling into position, and hitting gaps to block running lanes, he wasn’t a liability. He had three tackles last week, and will look to build off a decent game.

Micah Parsons had nine pressures, two sacks, one forced fumble, and a 31% pressure percentage on his snaps. That’s elite! He did leave the game after having his leg rolled on during a play. He sat out a few snaps and then came back. Mike McCarthy spoke this week and said he will play Thursday, but expect to see his name on the practice report as they let him take time out. Leighton Vander Esch also did a good job last week, and coming downhill he looks better lately.

Tae Crowder leads the Giants linebackers in tackles, and also missed tackles, with a staggering 13 missed tackles this season. We all know Jaylon Smith, what his strengths and weaknesses are. Smith can get exploited with Pollard’s speed.

But until teams stop the “lionbacker”, a headache the Giants offensive line coach is sweating out right now, this battle isn’t close.

Win: Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


Trevon Diggs went against one of the best receivers in the league, and he won the battle. The team asked him to travel with Justin Jefferson for a good part of the game, and the results speak for itself. Versus Jefferson last week, Diggs allowed two catches for 19 yards, and zero touchdowns. Those are elite numbers. Against the level of receiver competition for the Giants, Diggs should have plenty of confidence.

On the other side, Anthony Brown also had a good week. He allowed one reception off five targets, so let’s hope for more of the same. Donovan Wilson had a good game last week. He came down to the line when was needed, did well in coverage, and kept control of his area of the field. Jayron Kearse though, had an amazing game last week. Not only did he get a sneaky sack on a well timed blitz call, his tackling looked better, and he’s flowing in coverage much better than previous weeks.

For the Giants, Julian Love will want to redeem himself from the last meeting he had against Dallas. Although he did well against the run, he got beat pretty easily in pass coverage. Watch for Fabian Moreau this week on the practice report, he could be a game time decision. He’s been dealing with a knee injury, and is questionable to play. As for Adoree Jackson, he has already been ruled out of the game. Xavier McKinney will remain out with his hand injury, and all this doesn’t help a team that’s allowed nearly 500 yards through the air the last two games.

Win: Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports


Brett Maher’s efforts accounted for 22 fantasy points last week. That was nearly as many fantasy points as the Vikings entire team last week. Maher really made a name for himself last week, but not just because he made all his kicks, but he made one at 60 yards. Right now Maher is set for a Pro Bowl appearance, and has shut down every critic from preseason along the way. For New York, Graham Gano was quietly getting it done this season, but last week he went out and missed both extra point attempts.

Bryan Anger keeps the strong special teams’ theme going. His two punts last week pinned the Vikings back inside their own twenty, and almost got a punt recovered off a fumble. Giants punter Jamie Gillan is also doing a good job, and he averages 47.7 yards per punt, which lands him right in the middle at 16th.

KaVontae Turpin keeps doing good things. He’s 7th in average punt return yards. That’s way ahead of the Giants counter part on punt returns, Richie James. His 7.3 yards per punt return, is over five yards on average less than Turpin. And his 22-yard longest return, is 30 yards less than the Cowboys specialist.

Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (327 votes)
  • 2%
    New York Giants
    (7 votes)
334 votes total Vote Now

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