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

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 16 matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

NFL: OCT 16 Cowboys at Eagles Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via 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.


So let’s start with the negative. Where has the pressure gone? Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars the Cowboy’s defensive line, more specifically the inside tackles, failed to really get any sort of pressure. Of the five defensive tackles that played last week, they totaled as a unit only three pressures and zero sacks. There seems to be some fatigue setting in these guys for sure, but the lack of production in the passing game can’t solely be down to that. For guys like Neville Gallimore looking for a prolonged future in Dallas, he needs to find a way to get back in the saddle and get right quickly.

The answer on the edge can’t consistently be Micah Parsons. Both Demarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong had quiet days, and this was against backup offensive linemen as the game developed. The Jaguars had a good day in the run game getting 192 rush yards and averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

So then what about the positive? Well, the last time these two teams faced off in Week 6, the Cowboy’s defense managed to get 17 pressures and record three sacks. On top of that, they kept Miles Sanders to less than 100 yards. All that will help give them a positive mindset and confidence going into this game. Both Lawrence and Armstrong are dealing with lower body injuries this week, keep an eye on those reports.

For the Eagle’s line, they are allowing 121 rush yards per game in their last three contests. That places them in the middle of the pack. But the focus of this team is all about the pass. The main identity of this team is the ability to get to the quarterback without the need to blitz often. The Eagles rank first in sacks in the NFL, and what’s even more impressive is they nearly averaged seven sacks a game in the last three games. Haason Reddick continues to lead the team in sacks, with 14, and he leads the team in pressures with 54. In this last three games alone, Reddick has managed to tally six sacks and 22 pressures. He will look to pressurize Dak Prescott at every opportunity and he will certainly give Tyler Smith some work to do on the left.

Josh Sweat will demand focus on the other side also. He’s on double-digit sacks this year along with Javon Hargrave from the inside. Brandon Graham has also managed to tally ten sacks this year. A busy day for the Cowboys front five.

Win: Eagles

Tennessee Titans v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images


White/Edwards vs Parsons/Barr/Clark

The good news is that Leighton Vander Esch didn’t injure his neck. He should be back for the playoffs which is even better news. The bad news is we got to see this run defense and how disjointed it was without LVE. The last few weeks had an effective duo of Johnathan Hankins and LVE plugging up the run, and the results were noticeable. Hankins was two-gapping to great effect, which in turn kept LVE off blocks to stop the ball carrier. Now, this defense has lost both components. On third-down stops where it was third and short, we saw LVE managing to make the play.

With the Cowboy’s defensive line having struggles at the mesh point and opposing offensive linemen able to get contact points upfield, the linebackers for Dallas this week should get their share of having to get off blocks. Parsons had a big day last week getting 12 pressures, but this defense can’t keep making him the only option to go disrupt the pass. Anthony Barr is looking slower recently. Whether it’s age or wear on his body, that level of athleticism looks reduced lately. Keep an eye on Parsons for the injury update, he’s dealing with an illness this week.

With the Eagle’s defensive line being disruptive upfront, the linebackers are rarely needed to go up to force pressure. Both Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards are good locators of the ball carrier. Edwards is now on 95 tackles for the year, which is the sixth-most among linebackers. You won’t find him missing many tackles. And White is effective as a solid Mike linebacker.

Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images


Please don’t say the Cowboys need to go draft a safety again next year. Jayron Kearse was a beast out there last week. His stops and forced fumbles were the glimmers of hope for the Cowboys to snatch victory. But the safety play last week in general, and the past couple of weeks, has looked to have declined slightly.

For the cornerback position, that’s easier to explain with the injuries and lack of progression from replacement players down the roster. But why has the secondary fallen off so quickly? Most will say the lack of pressure up front means the secondary has more work to do. But regardless of the issue here, this safety group is still genuinely talented and we’ve seen this season how good they can be.

Let’s all settle on the Kelvin Joseph experiment now being finally over. Last week saw him flounder yet again, but what made it worse was his absence of effort. His lack of understanding and experience in the position, which dates back to his college days, has demonstrated itself in the pro game and he’s failed to develop into anything serviceable at this point. With time left on the season to see what the other players can produce to fill in for Anthony Brown’s place on the field, this is maybe the most important decision this coaching staff will make for the playoffs.

As for the Eagles, they are really doing well taking the air out of the ball. They rank first in passing yards allowed, and a lot of that has to do with the defensive front. The safety group maybe is not as talented on paper as Dallas, but their athletic abilities help keep their end of the bargain in coverage. In the last three games, they’ve allowed only 17 completions per game which is the sixth-fewest. Then add on top of that this year they are allowing only 172 passing yards per game, that’s the fewest in the league, they are really out to stop the pass.

Both James Bradberry and Darius Slay are allowing less than a 50% completion rate and combined they are allowing a rating of 78.5, incredible work. Then add that Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has six interceptions this year, it’s a total unit playing well.

Win: Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images


KaVontae Turpin is going to the Pro Bowl, and rightfully so. He’s been fantastic this year for Dallas. Every punt that goes his way has a level of anticipation. You can almost see every Cowboy fan holding their breath to see if Turpin is about to break off for another big return. Britain Covey is Philadelphia’s answer to Turpin. He’s nowhere near close and a full three yards per average less than Turpin on returns.

Brett Maher is still the biggest surprise this year. He has a better field goal completion rate than Jake Elliott. Maher has nearly twice as field goals made as Elliott and a better percentage of attempts made. Both of Maher’s misses from distance were over 55 yards.

Eagles placed punter Arryn Siposs to IR, meaning they have a backup punter, Brett Kern. He’s punted twice this year. Bryan Anger has the eighth-most average distance on punts. His 83-yard punt is the longest amongst punters this year, and his hangtime of 4.49 seconds is the fifth-best.

Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (61 votes)
  • 77%
    Philadelphia Eagles
    (213 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now

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