Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and L.A. Chargers. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other
It’s up and down with the Cowboys defensive line at the moment. One week they dominate and look unstoppable, the next week they can’t stop anything coming at them. The San Francisco 49ers knew exactly how to attack the defense last week and pushed the defensive linemen around at will. We all had the idea that this defensive line was elite and a dominant force in the league, but after last week’s performance, we have to ask if that’s really the case.
The defense looked to struggle from opening kickoff and Micah Parsons was kept silent throughout the game. He has now gone without a QB hit in consecutive games for just the second time in his three-year career. Only once has Parsons gone three straight games without a sack.
The Cowboys defense failed to make consistent stops last week, and the 49ers managed to convert 25 first downs and amass 170 rushing yards while only allowing one sack. It was strange to watch players like DeMarcus Lawrence get pushed around and fail to get to the ball carrier. The same can also be said about Mazi Smith. But one shining light was Johnathan Hankins that kept finding ways to disrupt the play.
This week the defensive line will look to reassert control as it faces an L.A. Chargers offensive line that leaks enough to exploit. They can definitely achieve that by going heavy on the Chargers right side of the line. Pressuring Justin Herbert to make poor decisions, or getting caught out while spending too much time looking downfield will be an important way to win this week.
Running back, Austin Ekeler may return this week from injury, if he does that increases the workload for this defensive line. If the backup center for the Chargers, Will Clapp, has to start for Corey Linsley, then the inside pass rush from Dallas will open up and be more effective.
The L.A. Chargers have been without starting defensive end Joey Bosa. The four-time Pro Bowler injured his hamstring in the Chargers’ Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Since then he has been limited at practice and in games; he then injured his toe against Minnesota. There’s a chance he plays but it doesn’t sound like it.
The Chargers defensive line isn’t creating that much pressure beyond one or two guys (discounting Bosa with him being out). They don’t get in oppositions backfield that much, just when they do, they get home for the sack. Khalil Mack is one of those guys to keep a close eye on as he leads the team in pressures and sacks. He currently has more sacks than Parsons this year, but those came in one game. Mack has an elite ability to create pressure in a range of ways from a range of positions and will need extra attention this week.
Rookie defensive end, Tuli Tuipulotu has done well filling in for Bosa so far this year. The USC standout has generated five sacks and 14 pressures this year, second only to Mack. In terms of stopping the run, they are a little better than Dallas, but not by much. They are very good at stopping the runs coming from the inside, but outside runs is where they struggle and are averaging over five yards per carry.
Damone Clark/Marquese Bell (Rashaan Evans)
Kenneth Murray Jr./Eric Kendricks
Leighton Vander Esch injured his neck last week and is set to miss 4-6 weeks while he recovers from a neck sprain. In the meantime the Cowboys have brought in Rahsaan Evans. With DeMarvion Overshown on injured reserve, the front office releasing Jabril Cox and Devin Harper, that leaves a huge gap in the linebacker corps. Markquese Bell will more than likely fill in for Vander Esch, but there’s still a need to fill the position that was already light. That could mean seeing Parsons playing more off-ball linebacker going forward, and they could work Evans in on some snaps if they choose.
Kenneth Murray played a full season last year for the Chargers after missing time in 2021. It was a mixed year for him and this year is much the same. Murray’s game is predicated on speed with an ability to move quickly from sideline to sideline and wrap up the ball carrier. Murray, however, is completely hit-or-miss and is more splashy than consistent. He misses a lot of tackles and last year he was the third-highest player in missed tackles for the Chargers.
Eric Kendricks returned to his starting role at linebacker two weeks ago after returning from a hamstring injury. Kendricks made the move to sign with L.A. during the offseason after playing eight seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s now 31 years of age and looking to return home to California where he was born and played for the UCLA Bruins. Kendricks is an intelligent leader with high football character and plus instincts against the run and pass. He still has that downhill, attacking mentality but given his age this style of play has caused problems with durability.
Both sides have the same problem with the position, injury history. While the Cowboys are dealing with finding replacement parts to their roster, the Chargers are as heathy as they can be this week. With the extra stability L.A. have at the moment, it’s a win for this position.
With such boom-or-bust play coming from Jayron Kearse so far this season, the question is whether the team will continue his services beyond this year. The taunting penalty on Kearse was a confusing and terrible call by the refs last week, but the offside call was one of the most disastrous plays of the game. Why Kearse was that far over the line is anyone's guess and shows a complete lack of awareness. The penalty led to the 49ers continuing the drive and erasing a third-down stop.
Stephon Gilmore showed again how he can lose containment by offense’s sending his receiver in motion. This is now something that’s becoming a trend. Malik Hooker also had a bad game and was beaten a number of times. But the two bright points from last week were DaRon Bland and Juanyeh Thomas, who is more than likely going to get more playing time. Nahshon Wright is close to returning from his ankle injury and it’s been announced his 21-day practice window has now been initiated.
The list of defensive backs injured and questionable for this week’s game for the Chargers is lengthy. They have three safeties possibly out this week with Derwin James, Alohi Gilman and J.T. Woods. The big one for the Chargers being James as he has the most impact for the defense at all three phases. Keep a watch to see if he practices this week as he injured his hamstring against Minnesota and has yet to return to practice. Also out for the Chargers are two other backup cornerbacks.
Asante Samuel is the team’s best defensive back and leads the team in interceptions. He’s also second in pass breakups and has one of the lowest completion rates allowed at 72%.
There are currently a lot of missing pieces for the Chargers defensive back corps that could be out of this week. This fact, along with the team being dead last in passing yards allowed, shows the issues this defense faces in keeping games close. The defensive back rotation will look a little odd this week for the Cowboys with players missing time.
Brandon Aubrey is third in the league in field goals made, but he’s one of only two kickers that is perfect with more than 10 field goal attempts. Last week he had to make two kicks in the limited score game for Dallas, and he made both. The Chargers have Longhorns kicker, Cameron Dicker. He’s attempted seven field goals and has missed one at over 50-yards so far this year.
Bryan Anger ranks fifth in average punts yards at 51.3 yards, and he has a hang time of 4.50 seconds which ranks in the top-ten. For the Chargers, they have J.K. Scott who ranks second-last in average yards per punt at only 40.7 yards.
On kick return duty it looks like Deuce Vaughn is going to take over for KaVontae Turpin, who is out for up to six weeks with an ankle injury. Vaughn did return one punt last week in Turpin’s absence, and went for 10 yards. Rookie receiver Derius Davis is the punt returner for the Chargers. He averages 10.7 yards per return and has a longest return of 20 yards, both rank 17th-most in each category.
On punt defense, the Cowboys have lost gunner C.J. Goodwin for the year with a pectoral injury.
Which team has the better defense?
This poll is closed