Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming game for the Dallas Cowboys. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other
Let’s not sugar coat anything here, the defensive line was the major underlying factor to last week’s loss. They were dominated in the run game and provided nothing in terms of pass rush. This team needed the line to plug the holes and constrict any running lanes to keep the likes of James Cook from getting away, and that just didn’t happen. The biggest weakness this defensive line has is trying to defend teams that have both a solid running back and a quarterback that has the ability to get first downs with his legs. Most teams struggle to defend that combination, but for the Cowboys defense it really is their kryptonite.
A lot of fans have blamed Mazi Smith for last week’s failures in stopping the run, but he wasn’t the biggest issue. The issues in stopping the run came on the edge and the missed tackles. There was 17 missed tackles last week, which is unacceptable, six of those missed tackles came from edge players. Stopping the run this week is just as much of a priority as it was last week. The Dolphins are fourth in rush yards per game and are first in rushing touchdowns, meaning this defensive line really needs to clamp down this week and keep Raheem Mostert from getting away.
Something that could help turn the tide in this week’s game is the fact Tua Tagovailoa has the second-most fumbles in the NFL. If they can create and recover loose balls, that could be huge for getting momentum on Dallas’ side. In terms of pass rush, the Dolphins offensive line has done well in pass protection this season, but it’s missing a lot of pieces this week due to injury. They’ve placed Connor Williams and Isaiah Wynn on injured reserve. Starting guard Austin Jackson and offensive tackle Robert Hunt are also questionable this week. Given the missing parts already tied with another two possibly missing time, this could put the Cowboys pass rush in an advantageous position. The Cowboys defensive line rank eighth in total sacks this year and they will need to create pressure to slow Tua down. Johnathan Hankins may miss this week as he continues to recover from his ankle injury.
The key to the Dolphins success on defense has been down to its defensive line play. One thing to take note though is both Emanuel Ogbah and Jaelen Phillips are set to miss this week’s game which is significant. Both players rank third and fourth in sacks on the team and delivered a healthy amount of pressure. At a glance people will say Bradley Chubb is one to watch for, and he’s still effective to a degree. But he went on a seven-week stretch of only managing two sacks. Three of his 12 sacks this season came in one game, and that was last week. The other guy to watch this week is Christian Wilkins at defensive tackle. He’s second on the team in sacks and pressures. Among defensive tackles, his nine sacks is third-most in the NFL. Much like the Dolphins offensive line that is heavily injured, their defensive line is facing a similar situation. But this line has shown all season how to hold up against the run, even with the missing parts.
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
David Long/Duke Riley
After having an amazing week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the linebacker unit last week struggled. It’s true the unit played its nickel package far too much which didn’t help, but that was mostly due to the fact the coaches feared the threat of the passing game too much. As a result, the box defenders were left in a situation where lighter players had to try and cover a heavy run game, and that just didn’t work out. It’s clear this linebacker corps is missing that big thumper type linebacker, but this week the skill set of Damone Clark and Markquese Bell plays in the defense’s favor. With the speed to cover ground efficiently, this could prove vital against the speed of Mostert and De’Von Achane.
One of the key players on the Dolphins linebacker corps, Jerome Baker, has been placed on injured reserve. His replacement is Duke Riley who can be hit or miss when it comes to finishing tackles. David Long continues to be a great run defender. Of all the linebackers between these two teams, he’s maybe the best run stopper. But he lacks any skills in pass coverage which could be key for guys like Jake Ferguson.
Damone Clark has more tackles and fewer missed tackles than David Long. Markqeuse Bell is out producing Duke Riley.
The Dolphin’s offense is predicated on speed, that means Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland really have a challenge this week. It is unknown whether Tyreek Hill will play this week but the Dolphins seem confident he will go. His speed can kill. On top of that, this cornerback pairing will need to come down and cover the running backs on running plays, and their speed can kill also. This week the Cowboys secondary is facing Tua Tagovailoa that leads the NFL in passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns. Going in their favor however is the fact Tua is throwing the sixth-most interceptions this year, but is on a three-game streak of staying pick-free. Keeping Jaylen Waddle from having an easy release is important, and if Hill misses time this defensive back unit can concentrate its efforts on slowing Waddle down. As for covering the tight end position, it should be an easy day for Jayron Kearse. The Dolphins tight ends have yet to score this season and Durham Smythe is 33rd in receiving yards among tight ends. Keep an eye on Malik Hooker on the practice report this week with his ankle.
The Dolphins safety play has been very good this year, but Jevon Holland may miss the game as he’s failed to play the last three weeks with a knee injury. If he fails to play this week that could be huge for the Miami defense that relies a lot on his skills in coverage and on run plays. Also possibly missing time is DeShon Elliott who is in concussion protocol. If both starting safeties are out the team will look to their backup safeties, Brandon Jones and Elijah Campbell,that both combine for 35 tackles this season. Adding to the list of issues at defensive back, cornerback Xavien Howard could miss this week’s game as well with a hip injury. If he misses time then it will be Eli Apple taking over who the Cowboys are familiar with from his time playing for the New York Giants. He’s had his struggles in the NFL and this year is allowing a passer rating of 92.5, which is one of the highest on the Dolphins roster.
There are question marks all over this Miami secondary this week which puts a dampener on how they’ve played this season. If all the pieces set to miss this week’s game actually do, then this Cowboys receiver corps should be able to create plenty of space to have a big day.
The wind and rain can’t stop Brandon Aubrey which means even Mother Nature failed to end this guy’s streak. He made a field goal and extra point last week and is now the only kicker this season with a perfect field goal record. Jason Sanders has had plenty of struggles this season and has an 81% field goal rate. That puts him 24th among kickers this year. He’s made 105 points from kicks this season, meanwhile Aubrey is on 133.
Bryan Anger is third in the NFL in average yards per punt. As for Miami, they have Jake Bailey who ranks 31st in average punt yards, at just 44 yards per attempt.
KaVontae Turpin ranks third in average kickoff yards, but at 6.6 yards per punt return, he continues to ride near the bottom of rankings. Miami uses slot receiver Braxton Berrios on kick returns. He ranks 14th in average punt return yards and 13th in average kickoff yards.
Which team has the better defense?
This poll is closed