Previously we broke down the offenses for this week’s upcoming game when the Dallas Cowboys face the L.A. Rams at AT&T Stadium. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other
Last week, L.A. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was bombarded with pressure from players like DeMarcus Lawrence and Dante Fowler for the entire night. Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme that utilizes a heavy four-man rush is getting home more than any other team. Micah Parsons’ sack could not have come at a better time and the result of his sack led to Herbert losing focus and throwing the game ending interception. Osa Odighizuwa had a productive game creating a load of pressure inside and finishing the game with the second-most pressures. But Odighizuwa was vital a number of times at stopping the run and keeping Austin Ekeler to just 1.9 yards per carry.
This week the Cowboys pass rush faces an offensive line that is giving up the third-most pressures and sixth-most sacks. Getting pressure on Matthew Stafford is essential to disrupting an offense that relies on timing and giving its receivers time to separate. This means what the Rams struggles with the most feeds well into what the Cowboys do best. The unfortunate part is the Rams offensive line does well what the Cowboys defense struggles with, run blocking. But with the recent injuries to the Rams running backs, this could be a good time to face them in that regard.
The Rams defensive line has regressed from the powerhouse it once was. This year the defensive line ranks 20th in rush yards allowed and 29th in total sacks. The one part it was very good at doing in the past, getting stops on third down, is only average at best this season. Losing their nose tackle Bobby Brown hasn’t helped, but generally the team just lacks any firepower beyond the usual suspect. Aaron Donald is still there and one the greatest disruptive forces in the game from the 3-tech position we will ever get to witness. The inside offensive linemen will need to be on their best behavior to keep Donald from having a big day. Donald leads the team in pressures and is second in sacks. The player leading the team in sacks is rookie defensive end Byron Young from Tennessee. Going in Dallas’ favor is the fact that the offensive line is giving up the fourth-fewest pressures and is generally doing not a bad job at keeping Dak clean.
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
Ernest Jones/Christian Rozeboom
The only real true linebacker left for Dallas is last year’s surprise player, Damone Clark. It was interesting to see Dan Quinn opting to use Clark on a couple of blitzes against the Chargers, but generally Clark was solid in Week 6 and finished tied for second on the team in tackles. But he was able to do what he did thanks to the amazing work done by Markquese Bell. In his first start for Dallas, Bell played 39 snaps and made seven tackles (second-most on team), five defensive stops (led team), one pass breakup (second-most on team), and had a 91.3 defensive grade (second-best on team). Bell was a major player in the Cowboys red zone defense and at stopping the run against the Chargers. Facing a Rams team that’s effective at creating running lanes we should expect to see more downhill play from Bell, using his rapid speed to get the ball carrier.
The Rams leading linebacker, Ernest Jones, is more of a two-down linebacker. He’s limited due to his speed and below-average athleticism. What Jones is good at is his field IQ and he’s more than capable of handling the physical duties required of him. Schematically he fits the Rams 3-4 base defense and his ability of finding runners between the tackles is one of his best abilities. Keep an eye on Jones on the injury report, he’s dealing with a knee injury. Christian Rozeboom is a good place to attack for Dallas. He’s missing a high rate of tackles. In fact his 22% missed tackle rate is the highest among starting linebackers. With the Rams defensive line leaking the way it is, this leaves the linebackers with a lot of work to do and that has a negative effect on them as the game wears on.
Jones has the most defensive stops and total tackles at the linebacker position between these two teams. But the Cowboys have one quickly rising star that is about to get more opportunity this week, and also have Clark who is looking much better than he did against the San Francisco 49ers. Damone Clark and Ernest Jones aren’t to far apart in terms of skill set for the position, but the edge goes to Jones. Bell is much better than Rozeboom, but we need to see him do it consistently.
The Cowboys defensive backs have their work cut out this week against the Rams wide receivers. Stephon Gilmore’s interception to end the game was the exclamation point to a solid day’s work on defense. So far this season, DaRon Bland has allowed zero touchdowns, made seven pass breakups (second-most in NFL), three interceptions (second-most in NFL) and two pick-sixes (most in NFL). For a fifth-round pick that isn’t bad. Jayron Kearse looked to have moments again with penalties but managed to correct himself before it got worrying. His role in stopping the run and the tight end position will be significant again this week. Another player looking to play a big role this week will be Donovan Wilson. His ability to cover and play down in the box will be important against this receiving unit that has the seventh-most yards this year.
The Rams backs will pay a lot of attention to CeeDee Lamb since he represents the biggest offensive threat for Dallas. The Rams leading cornerback is Ahkello Witherspoon, who played for Pittsburgh last year. He has two interceptions this year and is allowing a 45% completion rate which is outstanding for a starting cornerback. But last week against Pittsburgh he was exposed and really struggled to hold down his assignment. If Lamb can do the same and outmatch Witherspoon when he gets chance on the outside, he could have a big day. Jordan Fuller does a good job at helping out against the run, he had a tackle for loss last week. But last week, Kenny Pickett proved how teams can pick on this defensive back unit and win, and the Steelers have one of the least productive offense’s this year. We should see Dak find the same success, especially given the fact this Rams defensive unit fails to create turnovers.
The Cowboys defensive backs have more interceptions, more fumbles and are allowing far less passing yards than their Rams counterparts. The Rams however have the far superior pass catchers to defend.
Brandon Aubrey continues to be the bright spot on this year’s Cowboys rookie class. There aren’t that many boxes left to check with Aubrey as he continues to deliver. Only Nick Folk is perfect on the season with the same amount of field goal attempts, but Folk has been in the league since 2007, when he started with Dallas.
Talking of ex-Cowboys kickers, Brett Maher had himself a terrible game last week for the Rams which cost them the game with his misses. As a result, he was released by the Rams this week and the team now needs to fill the spot ready for this weekend.
Bryan Anger is proving to be one of the top punters in the league. His average punt distance of 51.5 yards is third-highest in the league. The Rams have Ethan Evans who isn’t doing a bad job either. His average yards per attempt is at 49.6 yards, which ranks seventh.
In terms of punt returns, KaVontae Turpin has collected more punt return yards and is averaging far more than Rams returner Austin Trammell. This season Trammell is averaging 6.4 yards per return, which ranks 33rd out of 51 players that have returned a punt this year.
Which team has the better defense?
This poll is closed