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Position battleground: Cowboys vs Bengals head-to-head break down for each position group

A positional head-to-head breakdown on the Week 2 matchup between the Cowboys and Bengals to find the strengths and weaknesses of each roster.

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With the dust almost settled on Week 1, and there’s a lot of dust to settle, let’s take a look toward the Week 2 matchup for the Dallas Cowboys, when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town hoping to get their Super Bowl aspirations back on track after a loss in OT last week against the Steelers.

In the ‘Position Battleground’ series we dive into each position for both respective teams and which team wins at those respective positions. Hopefully that should help figure both the weak spots on each team, and how victory can be obtained.

With the Dallas Cowboys roster having to go back into construction this one might be a little nervy to look at, but watching both games back from Week 1, there’s some hope for Dallas to obtain a notch in the win column, or to at least prove itself when backed into the corner. So let’s get into it.

QUARTERBACK

Joe Burrow vs Cooper Rush

Ok so it’s a bad start here for Dallas. With Dak Prescott injured from the Buccaneers game, his successful hand surgery clearly puts him out this game and we get a full game of Cooper Rush as this week’s signal caller.

Sure that seems bad right now, but we thought the same thing last year vs. the Vikings and look how that finished. Rush managed to topple the Vikings completing 24 passes for 325 yards and two TD’s, that’s not bad for a guy that had to hold it down against a fairly decent defensive line at the time, and something similar to what Rush will face this week.

On the other hand, the Bengals have first overall draft selection Joe Burrow. Burrow just oozes confidence and is completely draped in swagger, so last week’s loss will be cleared from his mind and he’ll be ready to attack with his extended passing style. It’s a scary prospect to face coming off the back of the loss the Cowboys had last week, knowing Burrow has a solid connection and rapport with his receivers, and whatever in-game adversity he faces, the LSU product finds a way to shake it off.

But last week against the Steelers we saw something interesting. Burrow made some very bad decisions with the ball, had long patches of the game where his timing was way off, and his ball accuracy saw him get picked off four times along. He also suffered seven sacks.

It is fair to say in this position battle the ex-Super Bowl contender has the leg up over an ex-practice squad back up, so this one is a win for Cincinnati.

Win: Cincinnati

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

RUNNINGBACK

Mixon/Perine vs Elliott/Pollard

This one is actually less obvious than you think. Week 1 saw Ezekiel Elliott show his efficiency and be one of the few cogs of the Cowboys offense that had some success. Sure Joe Mixon went off for more yards than Zeke on the ground and in the air, but put it in perspective. The Cowboys star RB went for 52 yards on 10 attempts, that makes working out the YPA easy at 5.2, and that places Zeke in the top 10 among RB’s with 10 attempts or more. As for Mixon, his offensive coordinator kept his work rate a lot higher with 27 attempts, putting his YPA at a pedestrian 3.0, and add to that his yards after contact average of just 1.78 makes him statistically one of the easiest backs to bring down (he ranks 26th out of a possible 29 on a 10 attempt minimum). And to compare the lead backs further, Zeke finished with a run grade of 78.6 which has him ranked third among other RB’s, and Mixon with 58.8 puts the Bengals RB just above Kenyan Drake and Isiah Pacheco.

In terms of RB2, Tony Pollard had more carries with less effectiveness (1.3 YPC), but both backs were featured in the receiving game, with Samaje Perine collecting more yards. But the difference is the coaching staff willing to utilize their backfield a lot more than what Dallas is willing to do, both in the ground game and as a receiving option. With Dak out though, will this mean more of a shift to the ground crew going forward? Hopefully/more than likely.

Win: Cowboys

WIDE RECEIVERS

Chase/Higgins/Boyd vs Lamb/Brown/Houston

The WR corps for the Cowboys right now has that feel of “receiver by committee” we all had to endure half a decade ago, pre Amari Cooper era. If it wasn’t for having CeeDee Lamb on the roster then that moniker would definitely be in full affect, but there also lies the problem, what did Lamb do? Last week the coveted 88 receiver caught two passes off 11 targets for 29 yards. He wasn’t helped by the fact the Buccaneers defense was singling the Sooners YAC monster out, also some of Dak’s passes were off target, and add in the fact the Cowboys wide receivers are lacking any sort of speed which doesn’t help Lamb, but as the prime receiver we needed more and expect more alpha mentality from him. Noah Brown didn’t have a massively bad day, certainly with respect to expectations, and he ended up leading the team in receiving yards last week which is a plus. Dennis Houston, on the other hand, has two issues, and that is his biggest strength and his production during training camp was all tied to Dak. Both players had a nice rapport going on, but that questions whether Houston could replicate that when it matters, Now there’s no Dak, and that means for Houston his biggest positive goes out the window.

For the Bengals, all you have to hear are the words Ja’Marr Chase. He’s started off his campaign off where he left off with a game over 100 yards and a TD. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd both converted over 60 yards between them and Boyd reeled in the other TD. The lanes and options from the receiving corps for Burrow to throw are vastly superior to the Cowboys, but there are few teams in the NFL that have a WR room as well built as the Bengals. Ironically, something the Cowboys could boast only a year ago.

Win: Bengals

TIGHT END

Hayden Hurst vs Dalton Schultz

It’s no secret that Dalton Schultz is Dak’s safety outlet and going forward for Rush this will be even more true. Last week Schultz was only behind Noah Brown in yards on the team, and last year his 897 is over four times more than what Hayden Hurst put up in 2021. Hurst is buried as a receiving option among a solid WR list for Burrow, but he still features and is a threat if left as the forgotten man. In terms of blocking, Schultz wins again allowing only four pressures since 2020 compared to Hurst’s 10. This is a win for the Cowboys and that includes if placing both teams into 12 personnel.

Win: Cowboys

OFFENSIVE LINE

Right now this is like the moveable object vs the un-resistive force. But that could change slightly for Dallas.

Last week both teams had their struggles, but for Dallas it wasn’t massively bad minus the Dak injury. The Bengals offensive wall continued with its issues from last year leaving their star QB on the ground four times, and finishing the week with the third worse number of pressures with 18, making the offensive line a clear weakness on their roster.

As for the Cowboys, the line only actually allowed one sack, the other came from RB Tony Pollard, but they did allow 12 pressures and let’s not forget OG Connor McGovern will be out with a high ankle sprain, and later in the game we saw Dak injure his hand on a broken pass block play. But that does leave the question of whether we see Jason Peters suit up and kick Tyler Smith back inside? That could be a recipe that helps keep some integrity for the backfield this week, and hopefully age is not too much of factor for the newly acquired offensive tackle if he’s ready to play.

Win: Push

DEFENSIVE LINE

This one is pretty hard to judge. On one hand the Cowboys run defense last week was sub-par and allowed Leonard Fournette over 100 yards (discount the DB’s for Dallas not helping much on run stopping). On the other hand, the Steelers offensive line showed how to keep the Bengals defenders at bay allowing only four pressures from a Cincinnati pass rush that has shown in the past the ability to turn up the heat. For the Cowboys, more needs to be seen from their veteran guys, communication is key, and odd moments like when Dorance Armstrong tackles a Cowboys player mid-play need to get handled. Sure we all know where the pressure comes from at Dallas, but let’s get some more from inside with the big guys in the middle, and let’s see more anchor in the run game to help the LB’s get some clearance on the ball carrier. Based on last weeks numbers though, the Cowboys defense came out with more TFL’s, more pressures and more sacks, and while that was against a lesser Buccaneers offensive line, but still it’s production and that’s what everyone is after. The biggest problem right now for the Dallas D-Line is the edge, which last week really did give the defense nothing.

Win: Push

LINEBACKER

Wilson/Pratt/Bailey vs Parsons/LVE/Barr

Some people in the offseason spoke of how Micah Parsons production should regress to the mean and level out, but last week saw Parsons doing Parsons things. With five pressures, two sacks and two TFL, it looks like Parsons is off to the expected flying start for Dallas. As for Leighton Vander Esch, he looks to be getting fully back into form and led the team last week in tackles, and Anthony Barr, for his first game in Dallas, did fine with three tackles and allowed a single reception off two targets.

As for the Bengals, Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt both had fairly good days, but let’s be fair, neither are Micah Parsons, and even with their heavy usage last week both LBs for Cincinnati showed their lack of pressure up front has a huge effect on their efficiency. As long as Parsons continues to be a hungry lion and LVE keeps his trajectory up to once again be the Wolf Hunter we all fell in love with, the LB corps in Dallas is looking not so bad.

Win: Cowboys

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Want to prove yourself? Then intercept one of the greatest QBs of all time. Donovan Wilson, check. Against a fairly decent WR group and only allow 33 yards individually? Trevon Diggs, check. Have a centerfield safety fly between sidelines to help cover the ball? Malik Hooker, check. So where’s the problem at the DB position for Dallas? Well Jayron Kearse is out, and that’s hugely problematic. Anthony Brown got picked on something bad last week allowing over 100 yards. Let’s see how he recovers. But on the flip side, the only TD the backs allowed was the grab Mike Evans made, and that was something very spectacular with the jumping, one-handed snatch. And this week the corners and safeties for Dallas will be tested to its limits.

On the other side the Bengals have ex-Cowboy CB Chidobe Awuzie who allowed five catches and 50 yards last week, Mike Hilton allowed much the same, but on his career has less takeaways than what Diggs had all of last season. But they do offset their CB room with one of the best free safeties in the league with Jessie Bates. He has a proven record of helping defend the pass with a great understanding of offensive play concepts. As a collective though, between the two, Cowboys take the win but it would have been easier to choose had Kearse still been in the mix.

Win: Cowboys

SPECIAL TEAMS

So far this season, 100% of the Cowboys scoring has come from the kicker. For the Bengals, a missed FG and missed extra point was one of the factors the team lost on opening week. They did have a long-snapper injury that was a driving factor. As for returning kicks, KaVontae Turpin has not only the potential to run it up, he also has more return yards this season than his Bengals counterpart. Sure everytime we see Brett Maher head to the field for a kick we’ll hold our breath, but Cincinnati had its own special teams issues last week.

Win: Push

Poll

Who wins this weekend?

  • 37%
    Cowboys
    (209 votes)
  • 62%
    Bengals
    (350 votes)
559 votes total Vote Now

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