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.
Let’s start with the run defense. The Dallas Cowboys, in the last three games, have seen the run defense improve. In the last three games, the Cowboys defense allowed an average of 89 rush yards per game, that ranks seventh best. One of the reasons has been the safeties and linebackers stepping up. But it is also the edges playing better against the run, and Johnathan Hankins being a solid anchor in the middle. The conscious effort made by the coaching staff, and by the players on defense to address the run, has certainly been noticed the last couple of weeks. Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor. That’s the last three running backs this defense faced, some of the most elite runners in the league. Each running back gained less than 100 yard games, and there was only one rushing touchdown between them. That’s an improved effort.
In terms of sacks and pressures, it’s fun to watch each week the creativity of this defense to generate sacks from different positions, and kill games with dominating pass rushes at multiple angles. The pass rush is deep in Dallas and shows up every week. They lead the league in sacks and pressures.
Meanwhile, the Houston Texans rank last in rush yards allowed. Facing the crazy duo of Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott, this line is going to have a hard day. The one bright spot on defense for Houston is their right defensive end, Jerry Hughes. Already on eight sacks this season, and has more pressures than DeMarcus Lawrence, so he isn’t doing a bad job so far this year. His issue is playing the run, which he does struggle to set the edge or bring the ball carrier down. A familiar name, Maliek Collins, starts as a defensive tackle for Houston. He’s playing below average, and has three sacks this year. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is maybe their best run defender, so running to the opposite edge looks to be the best recipe for a good day for Elliott and Pollard.
Harris/Kirksey/Hansen vs Parsons/LVE/Clark
One thing that has helped the improved run defense is both Leighton Vander Esch coming downhill and beating his man to the ball. But also Damone Clark did really well tackling the ball carrier last week, and even forced the ball free late in the game that Dallas recovered. Against the New York Giants, Clark had a good game, but what’s good to think about is how both Clark and Anthony Barr can interchange during the game, and both be productive. LVE has been extremely effective as a tackler, and has shown lately that he refuses to miss a tackle. Then, of course, we have Micah Parsons. Sure he didn’t register a sack last week, but he was close to intercepting Matt Ryan, and where he did it would of been an easy run to the endzone. Parsons got his pressures though, and as long as he’s getting back there and causing mistimed throws, or forcing off-target throws, that’s a tick in anyone’s box.
Houston’s best linebacker is ex-Cleveland Browns player Christian Kirksey. He gets to do a lot of tackling, thanks to a porous defensive line. Kirksey also has managed to get to the quarterback three times this year, and they even ask him to cover passes, with mixed results. Christian Harris is having a tough time. He makes some decent tackles, but also misses a lot too, and is never used to rush the passer. And Kevin Pierre-Louis was placed on IR back in September, due to a groin injury.
The efforts last week of Donovan Wilson and Jayron Kearse cannot be over looked. Wilson seemed to be everywhere on the field last week and covered so much ground during the game. His sack just goes to show how Dan Quinn likes to create surprise mismatches and create sacks from any position. And Jayron Kearse getting in and stopping plays to keep the Indianapolis Colts from getting the first down was a showing of great defensive play-making. Wilson and Kearse combined for 12 tackles, eight defensive stops, and only allowed 26 receiving yards last week.
The question now that every Cowboys fan asks is who is playing outside corner with Anthony Brown out for the year? DaRon Bland is way too effective to take out of the slot. Back-to-back drives with an interception should ensure his place as the nickel back. Kelvin Joseph on the outside? Israel Mukuamu? Nahson Wright? It’s a tough choice but Kelvin Joseph will get first crack.
The Houston defensive backs are mostly developing players. Jalen Pitre is not having a bad rookie season. He even managed an interception last week and made some important defensive stops. But he’s had his struggles in pass coverage, and that’s to be expected as a rookie with a lack of help up front. Their other safety, Jonathan Owens, is a solid tackler. He allows a lot of yards through the air and has allowed three touchdowns this year. He also allows a quarterback rating of 148.1 when targeted. Derek Stingley may not play due to a hamstring issue that’s left him out the last three games. And Steve Nelson, that plays opposite corner, has been recently playing better and keeping his man in check pretty well.
So Ka’imi Fairbairn has yet to miss an extra point at Houston. He actually has more field goal attempts, and field goals made, than Brett Maher. But Maher has seven successful kicks from beyond 50 yards compared to Fairbairn’s three.
There aren’t many punters this year that have had more punt attempts than Cameron Johnston. Johnston has a pretty big sample size and averages about the same distance on punts as Bryan Anger. But Anger does have significant hang time on his kicks than Johnston. For Johnston, his punt defense has let him down on returns.
Which of course means it’s time to talk KaVontae Turpin. Turpin out does Desmond King in returns. But last week, the Colts knowing the breakaway ability Turpin has started kicking the ball higher but shorter, forcing Turpin to call fair catches. But that’s not a bad thing.
Which team has the better defense?
This poll is closed