Previously we broke down the offenses for this week’s upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other
The pressure the Dallas Cowboys defensive line put on Matt Stafford last week completely stifled his game. Whether it was Micah Parsons, Osa Odighizuwa, or Sam Williams, the bodies were flying into the backfield and creating havoc for the L.A. Rams offense. Last week both Parsons and Dorance Armstrong registered a sack, but it was the collective efforts of the entire line working in harmony that won the day.
This week the Cowboys defensive line face a group of Eagles pass blockers that have given up the 15th-most pressures to Jalen Hurts and have allowed 19 sacks so far this season, which is ninth-most. Stopping Micah Parsons is the key tactic for Philadelphia, his 22.6% pass rush win-rate is the fourth-highest in the league and his 43 total pressures is fourth-most. Where this Cowboys line needs to concentrate their efforts is against the run though. D’Andre Swift ranks fourth among running backs and Jalen Hurts is second among quarterbacks in rushing yards. The Eagles offensive line can generate a lot of push and are very physical in the run game, this will test the run-stopping abilities from the Cowboys front. Having guys like Johnathan Hankins and Mazi Smith will be vital this week as the Eagles are extremely effective at running through the left B-gap or outside the tight ends when in 12-man formation. But a point to note, in the last three games the Eagles have only rushed for an average of 79 yards per game.
The Eagles defensive line is getting more sacks and pressures than Dallas. Hasson Reddick leads the team in sacks with seven and has one more than Parsons. Behind him is Josh Sweat who is having a good season. The Eagles defense is holding teams to an average of 65 rush yards per game, that’s the least amount in the NFL. You would think being so high in sacks per game and rush yards allowed that the Eagles would be dominating the scoreline, and opposing teams would be struggling to score. But that’s not actually true.
The Eagles rank 19th in points allowed and at home they are allowing an average of 25 points per game which is fifth-most. They are also struggling to stop third-down. The Eagles are allowing opponents to convert 43% of the time on third-down, that’s seventh-worst in the league. The Cowboys offensive line is allowing the third-fewest pressures and has found better success with the ground game when on the road.
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
Nakobe Dean/Zach Cunningham
Damone Clark had another good game last week. An impressive stat about Clark is he has now started all seven games this season and has made 45 tackles which leads the team. But in that time he has caused no penalties and has missed zero tackles. An extremely efficient sophomore season so far. Markquese Bell continued where he left off making six tackles last week, which was second-most for Dallas. He now has nine defensive stops in the last two games and leads the team with 17 so far this year.
Nakobe Dean missed the start to the season but returned three weeks ago and got straight to tackling duties. Last week against Washington, he made 12 tackles and two tackles for loss, but he did struggle in pass coverage, getting a lot of targets go his way. Zach Cunningham was less productive with five tackles last week but has 44 tackles on the season, which is second-most for the Eagles.
Damone Clark leads the position in tackles between both teams and holds the best missed tackle rate. Leading the position in missed tackles is Cunningham, missing 13% of his tackles. As for Dean, he’s been targeted 13 times since returning to action, allowing every target for a reception. As for finding a winner here let’s compare LB1 and LB2. Damone Clark outscores Cunningham, Bell outscores Dean right now.
DaRon Bland is playing at an elite level right now. His four interceptions are second-most in the league, and his three pick-sixes are the most in the league. The ascension to Bland’s dominance has happened so rapidly some people haven’t quite got to grasp how much of an elite player he looks at the moment. Ignoring the turnovers and touchdowns, Bland was all over the field keeping receivers in check either deflecting passes or keeping them from separating. The read and angle he took to shut down a third-down play last week is one of the most high level plays you will see from a defensive back. His 22.6 passer rating allowed is the lowest in the NFL among starting cornerbacks.
All of this from Bland is taking away from what Stephon Gilmore is doing on his side of the field. Sure he’s looking a little slower now that he’s getting long in the tooth, but he’s still a very capable and productive cornerback. His passer rating allowed of 74.2 ranks 14th in the league, but he also has a missed tackle rate at just 10% that ranks in the top-20 among starting cornerbacks and best among Cowboys corners. The pair have to face A.J. Brown who is on fire and having a career season so far. Stopping Brown is key to stopping the Eagles and both defensive backs will need to get physical with him in order to disrupt the play. Another player to watch from the defensive backs will be the run stopping assistance from Donovan Wilson, who needs a healthy snap count this week. Jayron Kearse jamming Dallas Goedert from breaking free is another huge battle to keep watch for on the field.
The Eagles secondary is an area of weakness for the team, and a place this Cowboys offense needs to exploit. It’s not that the Eagles lack talent, they’ve just been hit with a lot of injuries at the position. This is one main reason why so many of the Eagles games look like a shootout. Avonte Maddox was put on injured reserve back in September and was a huge loss to the teams pass coverage system. They lost safety Justin Evans not long after, now their nickel corner, Bradley Roby, could miss this week as well. The Eagles defensive backs are allowing the seventh-most passing yards per game at the moment and have allowed 16 passing touchdowns, which is third-most. They have only managed four interceptions this season which only compounds the issues for the Eagles defense to stop the pass.
Leading the team in pass breakups and lowest completion rate allowed is cornerback, James Bradberry. Starting safety Reed Blankenship leads the team with two interceptions and lowest passer rating of 83.9. Darius Slay has usually been the guy for the Eagles to be relied upon to hold back the opposition top receiver, but this year he leads the team in yards allowed and touchdowns allowed. Setting Lamb up against him could see positive results.
The Cowboys are allowing the second-fewest passing yards, fifth-fewest passing touchdowns and have the fourth-most interceptions. They are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum right now in comparison to the Eagles.
Brandon Aubrey, that’s all we need to say. Can he go another game staying perfect and break a record for best start to a kickers career? So far all the signs point to yes as he’s a pure kicking machine. Not bad for a guy that played soccer for Notre Dame. For the Eagles, Jake Elliott hasn’t been doing bad either. He’s made 18 out of 20 field goal attempts with one miss coming from beyond 50 yards. It’s crazy to think Elliott loses this battle having a 90% field goal accuracy rate.
Bryan Anger came on the field for two punt attempts last week, both in the fourth quarter. Braden Mann punts for the Eagles, taking over from Arryn Siposs. Anger is out-punting Mann by a long way, averaging more than five yards per punt and has nearly double the amount of punts inside the 20 than Mann.
KaVontae Turpin took a punt to the house last week, only for it to be called back due to a penalty. The play showed his speed, vision and creativity to break from defenders and get downfield quickly. For the Eagles, they use wide receiver Britain Covey for punt returns. He’s second in the league in return yards, with 220 yards. His 14.7 average yards per return is fourth-most among punt return specialists.
One extra note to add is the use of Sam Williams as a gunner. His ability of getting out the blocks quickly and getting downfield was incredible to see, and using him to replace C.J. Goodwin looks genius right now.
Which team has the best defense?
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