Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions. 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 Cowboys game against the Dolphins last week was one where the team needed the defense to stand tall and deliver. For the most part they did. They kept the top scoring to just 22 points and only one touchdown. The defensive line also held the fourth-highest rushing attack to just 91 rush yards. If you told anyone the Cowboys defense did that you would expect to say the Cowboys got the win. The issue was the defense couldn’t come through when it mattered most. They couldn’t generate enough pressure all game and only came away with one sack, which was a crucial one in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were trying to convert on third down.
This week this defensive line is facing a huge one-two punch at running back with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, who scored three touchdowns combined last week. And they have to face an offensive line that is extremely effective in both run blocking and pass blocking. The Lions own easily one of the top three offensive lines in terms of run blocking and it has allowed only 29 sacks this year, which is fifth-fewest. Getting in and shutting down the run is an extremely important task in stopping this Lions offense. Slow the run and spoil the fun.
The Lions defensive line is a slight weakness for this team when it comes to the pass rush, but it’s extremely well designed at stopping the run. Looking at injuries, it only looks as though Josh Paschal could miss time, who plays as a rotational defensive end. But they have lost defensive tackle Alim McNeill who was doing great work against the run this year. He was placed on injured reserve a couple of weeks ago. Aidan Hutchinson is the guy to watch this week. He’s third in the NFL in total pressures (first is Micah Parsons), but he’s only managed to records six sacks. This Lions line has produced 34 sacks this year, that’s seventh fewest. It’s a tough assignment for them this week when facing an offensive line that’s allowed 37 sacks, which is 12th fewest. Where this defensive line does well is against the run. It’s allowing only 90 yards per game, the third-fewest this year. But something that’s very significant is the amount of rushing touchdowns they’ve allowed this year, the seventh-most.
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
Alex Anzalone/Jack Campbell
Markquese Bell and Damone Clark had up-and-down games last week against Miami. They were part of a defense that kept the Miami running game in check, and that is not easy. They still had moments missing their keys and allowing room for the running backs to get beyond the second level. They face another test this week as they face a solid running back duo that have their team ranking third in total rush yards this year.
Alex Anzalone isn’t a bad linebacker. He lacks speed and instincts but he makes up for that with his relentlessness and tenacity. He’s not a bad tackler and not bad defending the run. He’s just not a sideline-to-sideline type guy. This was the reason the New Orleans Saints released him. It is unknown if Derrick Barnes will play this week after suffering a shoulder injury. That of course leaves rookie strong-side linebacker, Jack Campbell. He’s fifth on the team in tackles and defensive stops. But he’s struggled when he’s been asked to drop into coverage and allowed 82% of receptions that go his way.
Alex Anazalone leads the position in three categories between these two teams, total tackles, missed tackles and sacks. Damone Clark has had his miscues the last couple of weeks and seems to be freelancing a little. Markquese Bell has far outperformed what Jack Campbell has produced. That makes this position a tie for the battle.
This Cowboys secondary faced the most explosive offense last week and allowed only one touchdown. Much like the narrative on the defensive line, the Cowboys defensive backs for the most part did their job. It was when they were needed most they failed to come through. This week they have to face Amon St. Brown who’s in the top five this year among wide receivers in production, so slowing him down is very important. He will test both DaRon Bland and Stephon Gilmore this week as he lines all over the field and can give defenders nightmares with the various techniques he uses on his releases. He’s very instinctive with mind-blowing body control which can put cornerbacks in awkward positions to compete for the ball.
The Lions are fifth in the league in passing yards with most of that going to St. Brown and Sam LaPorta. Jayron Kearse will have his work cut out trying to keep LaPorta at bay, he’s a huge scoring threat this week. But what the Cowboys cornerbacks will need to do a lot of this week is come down and help defend the run. The outside run plays need to be kept in check which means these corners need to come in and help. Let’s give Jourdan Lewis a big hand for being everywhere last week. Hopefully we get the same level of tackling from him this week. Malik Hooker is the only player showing up on the injury report so keep an eye on him this week.
Jerry Jacobs could miss this week’s game which is significant for the Lions. They are currently allowing an average of 235 passing yards per game, that’s the tenth-most in the NFL. So losing their starting corner when facing this Cowboys passing attack and CeeDee Lamb, who’s having a career year, is a huge mountain facing this Lions secondary. Rookie cornerback Brian Branch has been their best corner this year. He’s allowing a passer rating of 88.9, has three interceptions and has been impressive coming down to defend the run from the slot. Ifeatu Melifonwu is having a good season at safety. He has three sacks, one interception and a passer rating allowed of 68.8.
The Cowboys secondary is helping create a defense that is allowing the fifth-fewest passing yards. They are also allowing a completion rate of 60%, fourth-fewest in the league. The Lions can’t afford to lose a cornerback this week on a team that has allowed 24 passing touchdowns this year.
We’re at the easiest portion of this article, writing about Brandon Aubrey. He remains perfect this season and his two extra points and two field goals helped keep hope alive last week. The Lions released kicker Riley Patterson last week (he’s now signed with Cleveland). In his place they added Michael Badgley. This year he’s made one field goal and he’s missed one extra point.
We saw some big punts from Bryan Anger last week. He’s now second in the NFL in average yards per punt, at 52 yards. Detroit has punter Jack Fox. He’s averaging 45 yards per punt, which ranks 26th.
KaVontae Turpin is being outperformed by Detroit’s punt return specialist, Kalif Raymond. Turpin is averaging 6.3 yards per return, Raymond is averaging 9.3. Neither are great, but Raymond is still doing better.
Which team has the better defense?
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