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

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 13 matchup between the Cowboys and Colts to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

Dallas Cowboys v Indianapolis Colts

Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, 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 Dallas Cowboys made a big roster move this week by waiving defensive end Tarrell Basham. Obviously this is to make room for players getting ready to play (James Washington or Tyron Smith more specifically).

DeMarcus Lawrence is having a great season, and all the work he did in preseason is paying dividends right now. Against the New York Giants last week he was a pressure demon and he’s a force that offensive coordinators need to take into account.

Dorance Armstrong is having the best season of his career, he’s even on eight sacks for the season, that’s the sixth most in the NFL. If only we could get more out of Neville Gallimore, and let’s start getting some consistency on run defense, which is going to be tested this week by Jonathon Taylor. A good game for Jonathan Hankins to get in there.

For the Indianapolis Colts, their front man is Deforest Buckner. He’s managed a healthy six sacks and 33 pressures so far, playing mostly from the inside in the B-gap. Next to him is a familiar name on the edge, Yannick Ngakoue. From that defensive end spot, he can be pretty disruptive, and he’s had a mini-resurgence at the Colts. He’s now on a very impressive eleven sacks this year. And he’s registered a sack in every game since Week 7. Their other defensive end, Kwity Paye, is on the practice report with an ankle injury. That injury has left him out of the last two games, but he looks likely to play this week.

Win: Cowboys

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images


Franklin/Okereke/Speed vs Parsons/LVE/Clark

We’ll get to Micah Parsons in a moment. But let’s start with both Leighton Vander Esch and Damone Clark. LVE is doing a good job at the moment at filling in gaps. He’s getting more consistent at coming downhill and finding the ball carrier, and he makes those important stops when it’s needed most. Has he bought himself another contract at Dallas from this years performance so far? The answer so far is probably, and his run stopping this week will be important.

For a guy that wasn’t supposed to play this year, Damone Clark has been thrown in the deep end in his rookie year. They’ve asked him to fill a role as an off-ball linebacker, and he’s gone out there and just delivered on schedule, you can’t ask for more. Clark is doing what the coaches hoped Jabril Cox was supposed to, and no one was expecting that from him this year. Then there’s Parsons. Sacks, pressures, tackles, stops, yep he’s doing it all. The question now is, will he be getting the Defensive Player of the Year award, or even something more prestigious?

Meanwhile for the Colts, they have Zaire Franklin, the leagues number three in most tackles. And just to add on top of that, Bobby Okereke, is ranked seventh in tackles. This may seem impressive, which it is, but also it’s down to defensive line play letting backs to get the next level. If these two linebackers weren’t mopping up so well, things may look even worse. Franklin does lead the league in one stat among linebackers, penalties. Nearly double the number of penalties to the second most.

Win: Cowboys

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images


The Cowboys lead the league in least passing yards allowed. Some of that is down to the crazy effectiveness of the pass rush, but it’s also down to the solid work of the defensive backs. Trevon Diggs is shutting down his side of the field. The interceptions have gone down, but his ability to stick with receivers and shut down passing lanes with consistency is great to watch. And when receivers do make the catch, Diggs has only missed two tackles this year.

Donovan Wilson had a good game last week, and it was interesting to see him being used to add more pressure on the quarterback. Jayron Kearse is on the injury report so keep an eye on him this week. The concern mostly is Anthony Brown. His first five weeks looked a little shaky, then he turned the corner. But lately are those struggles, and injuries he has picked up the last few weeks are starting to catch up. He’s allowed 132 yards and two touchdowns in the last three games.

The Colts defensive backs are pretty good. The teams leading tackler at the defensive back position, Kenny Moore II, is going to be out this week with a shin injury. Safety Rodney McLeod is next in tackle numbers, and he does a decent job in coverage to. His 63% completion allowed is only beaten by fellow teammate Stephen Gilmore. Gilmore has allowed zero touchdowns all year off 63 targets. And has totaled 45 tackles this year, missing only two. With the pass rush up front similar to the Cowboys game plan, this defensive back group at the Colts has allowed 190 pass yards per game, which ranks fifth.

Win: Push

Indianapolis Colts v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images


This portion seems to always start off with a declaration of love for Brett Maher. So let’s not break tradition. Maher missed his first kick since Week 6, and it was a tricky kick at that dreaded distance he struggled with in the past. But he did make all four extra points. For the Colts, Chase McLaughlin has missed five field goals this year, and made all twelve of his extra point tries.

In punting, Bryan Anger outdoes the Colts punter in average yards per punt by nearly four yards per attempt. But Matt Haack does have more punts inside the twenty than Anger, and their average hang time are both pretty close. So let’s not hope for a punt battle.

If you want to place a bet on KaVontae Turpin to score a punt return for a touchdown, then hold off on that bet this week. The Colts punt defense allows just over seven yards per punt return, that’s the eighth best. The Colts punt return specialist, Keke Coutee, is a whole three yards per average less than Turpin on returns, and has fumbled the catch twice this year. But in kickoff return, the Colts are ranked best at 27 yards per return.

Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (360 votes)
  • 5%
    Indianapolis Colts
    (20 votes)
380 votes total Vote Now

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