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Position battleground (defense): Cowboys vs. Commanders head-to-head breakdown

The Cowboys defense is only getting better, while the Commanders defense has struggled this season. But how does each defense stack up by position?

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

We’re one step closer to the big game on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys are getting ready to saddle up and take on the 4-7 Washington Commanders, but which team has the better defense? We take a look as we break down each defensive position and declare a winner.


It wasn’t pretty to start off with against the Carolina Panthers, but the Cowboys defensive line came together to help achieve victory in the end. Micah Parsons got two sacks in the first quarter and finished with 2.5 sacks against the Panthers, which ties a career-high for Parsons. During the rest of the game Parsons got extra attention, which meant the rest of the defensive line had more freedom. Five other players registered a sack with that freedom and Bryce Young was sacked seven times. This week that same defensive line is facing a Washington offensive line that is allowing the most sacks in the NFL, and by a long way. The run blocking is also average so expect plenty of rotation with the inside defensive linemen to choke the opposition’s rushing attack. Osa Odighizuwa was on the practice report last week with a reported hamstring issue, he’s practiced in full so far this week.

The Washington Commanders defensive line lost two major players before the trade deadline ended this year. Chase Young got shipped to the San Francisco 49ers for a third-round pick, and Montez Sweat was traded to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick. The Commanders basically hedged their bets on the fact the front seven were not living up to expectations and both players they traded were up for contract renewal at the end of the season. The defensive line is a glaring need for Washington, so expect plenty of their draft resources to go straight back into the position. But that means this season their defensive front is no longer the threat it once was. To add to their issues on the line, Efe Obada has been placed on injured reserve with a lower leg injury, and defensive end James Smith-Williams is likely out with a hamstring injury. One familiar face fans may see on the field at some point on Thursday is defensive tackle John Ridgeway. He plays a fairly consistent role for Washington and has totaled six pressures this season.
Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images

Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
Jamin Davis/David Mayo

Both linebackers played to the same standard as the defensive line. They did what was needed and expected of them as the game drew on. Bell led the team last week in tackles and defensive stops, but both linebackers played solidly in pass coverage to force the Panthers offense to find other ways to throw the ball around. Against Washington, their skills to cover ground quickly and be reliable tacklers against the run will be key to stopping Brian Robinson from making explosive plays.

Jamin Davis is improved from last year, but he’s still looking as though he’s missing something for a guy that was drafted 19th overall two years ago. The Commanders do like to blitz when the opportunity arises, the guy they usually like to use is Davis and he’s totaled three sacks this year. David Mayo got the starting role next to Davis four weeks ago. He’s hit-or-miss as a tackler but has a hard time when asked to drop into coverage.

Damone Clark and Markquese Bell are out-playing Jamin Davis and David Mayo. The Cowboys linebackers are more efficient tacklers and better in coverage. When the Washington linebackers have so much work to do due to their defensive line leaking so much, it’s no wonder it looks bad on them as the game draws on.
Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images


DaRon Bland - is there much point in going any further? Bland tied the NFL record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a single season. He’s averaging a pick-six every 2.5 games and he has seven more games to add another and become the new record holder. But it’s not just the splash plays with Bland, his athleticism and size is seen on every play which limits his receiver from getting open, or we see Bland breaking on the ball quickly and making the pass breakup. Stephon Gilmore has done a quality job this season, but it’s fair to say he’s not the guy he once was as he gets up there in age. The cornerback position is thin for Dallas and when Gilmore went down for a short period everyone held their breath. People complain about Jourdan Lewis, but he did make some tough tackles, and with opposing offenses afraid to target the Cowboys duo on the outside, Lewis becomes the man that gets the tough job. Donovan Wilson played much better last week and seemed to be everywhere on the field. Malik Hooker also played well and all these Cowboys defensive backs will be busy going up against an offense that ranks first in passing attempts in the NFL.

The Commanders may not have Emmanuel Forbes this week, keep an eye on his practice report as he recovers from an elbow injury. Free safety Percy Butler also left last week’s game early with a back injury so he may miss this week’s game. This doesn’t help a team that ranks third-worst in passing yards allowed and last in passing touchdowns allowed per game.

The Cowboys offense have scored the third-most passing touchdowns in the NFL and are facing a defense that is having issues from front to back. Sam Howell has thrown 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
Win: Cowboys

NFL: NOV 19 Cowboys at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Brandon Aubrey now owns an NFL record after hitting another field goal and going 20 consecutive field goals without a miss to start his NFL career. How much work he gets this week is unknown since we should expect the Cowboys offense to be effective against the Commanders defense. But knowing the team has the most reliable kicker in the league is always a nice safety valve.

Joey Slye is currently at 80% on field goals, that ranks 25th among starting kickers this year. He’s also missed two extra points this year.

Bryan Anger is third in average yards per punt. He made three punts last week with one booming downfield for over 60 yards.

Tress Way ranks 19th in yards per attempt, and ranks fifth in total punt attempts this year.

KaVontae Turpin played it safe last week and called a fair catch on every punt. He is on the practice report so keep an eye on him this week. His 6.8 yards per punt return is one of the lowest in the league, but he’s one of the most effective returners in the league on kickoffs.

Jamison Crowder does the return work for Washington and is averaging 7.9 yards per return, which isn’t much better than Turpin.
Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (210 votes)
  • 1%
    Washington Commanders
    (3 votes)
213 votes total Vote Now

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