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.
We may have just witnessed the best game Micah Parsons has ever played. On 41 snaps against the New York Jets, Parsons had six pressures, two sacks, four tackles, three tackles for loss, one pass breakup and one forced fumble which he recovered himself. There are players that wished they could generate that sort of production in a season let alone a game. Right now there is no one that is more dominating on defense than Parsons, so much so you could say there is no other player out there that is affecting the game more than him. He currently sits fourth in the MVP predictions, all the other players around him are quarterbacks.
DeMarcus Lawrence also played an impressive game last week. His pressures on Zach Wilson were extremely well timed and the result helped create a number of crucial missed passes. His 91.2 run-defensive grade is the highest among edge defenders, and he ranks second in pass-rush win rate. The Tank really is full right now. These pair would be daunting enough for the Arizona Cardinals to face this week, but then you add the likes of Osa Odighizuwa, who has now transformed himself into the next tier of defensive linemen. He was a major part in stopping the run last week and helped the team only allow nine rushing yards to Breece Hall, and seven yards to Dalvin Cook. What is making Odighizuwa so threatening is his ability to generate pressure up the middle. He now has seven pressures and three sacks this year which shows how much he’s matured as a lineman. To add to the inside pressure, Chauncey Golston also ranks in the top-15 among defensive tackles in pass-rush grade and has five pressures with one sack. He’s been overlooked in how effective he’s been on run defense when he’s been on the field.
The Cardinals defensive line has been hit hard by the injury bug. An old friend to Cowboys fans, Carlos Watkins, left last week’s game early with an arm injury and he will go on IR. Their other defensive tackle, Leki Fotu, is also out with a shoulder injury and he has questions on starting this week. Adding to the list is L.J. Collier, who has been missing since Week 1 with a bicep injury. That leaves Jonathan Ledbetter, Kevin Strong and rookie Dante Stills to hold the inside, and its safe to say the Cowboys offensive line can beat that level of competition.
The biggest threat on the edge this year so far is Dennis Gardeck and Victor Dimukeje, they combined for five sacks in the first two games. They also have Zaven Collins who has started off slow but is hoping that last week’s sack is the start of many. This Cardinals defensive line is allowing 109 rush yards per game, where the Cowboys are rushing for an average of 128 yards. This could be a long day of inside handoffs for the Cardinals defensive linemen to deal with.
Leighton Vander Esch/Damone Clark
Kyzir White/Kyrs Barnes
Vander Esch had himself a quietly productive game. He came in and stopped Zach Wilson on a rush attempt and made a huge tackle on Michael Carter after he caught a pass. How Carter held onto that ball is mind-boggling. It was mostly a quiet night for LVE, but the moments when he was needed he delivered. Damone Clark had an even quieter game last week and only played 17 snaps. The assistance of both linebackers in stopping James Conner, while also playing a lot of drop back into coverage, will be important in keeping the Cardinals offense quiet this week.
On the Cardinals side, they have Kyzir White who they signed during free agency. White played previously for the Eagles so he will be a name Cowboys fans recognize. He’s got good speed, good size and build for the position, and he’s also good at recognizing the play. His issues come with his change of direction skills and general athleticism which is only classed as average. The other free agent signing the Cardinals made in the offseason was for Krys Barnes, who previously played for the Green Bay Packers. Barnes was underwhelming at Green Bay, and so far has 71 snaps for Arizona making nine tackles. They also have Josh Woods that people need to keep watch for on the practice report this week. He was held out last week with an ankle injury.
This Cowboys offensive line shouldn’t have too much difficulty breaking through the inside of the Cardinals defensive line to get to the second level. Clearing the way for the Cowboys running backs once in the second level shouldn’t be too difficult with this linebacker corps. This game so far has all the hallmarks of a big game on the ground for the likes of Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle.
Malik Hooker made an unforced error and missesda tackle which is unlike him. The missed tackle allowed the touchdown to Garrett Wilson and the mood went tense momentarily. Then Hooker shows how big his range is later in the game. He covers half the field to get the interception off a deep ball that could have ended in a big play. The safeties last week had themselves a massive day with one takeaway from Hooker and a second from Jayron Kearse.
The Cowboys safeties looked good coming into the season and have rarely disappointed so far. Kearse will have more work to do this week covering Zach Ertz who leads the Cardinals in receptions. Ertz is a key element to take away in the receiving game so will get plenty of attention from the Cowboys safeties.
Stephon Gilmore also had a rare moment where he lost his receiver, but he was facing a serious talent and will look to lockdown his assignment this week against Marquise Brown. Trevon Diggs opened his interception count against the Jets and he now has two consecutive games being involved on turnovers. Lastly, it was good to see Jourdan Lewis back on the field after a massive year struggling with rehab from his Lisfranc injury. He was sticky in coverage and kept to his assignment. Now the Cowboys have two slot-corners to play with which only adds to this stellar defense. That defensive firepower could get better this week if Donovan Wilson returns. Keep an eye on his practice designation.
The Cardinals have just found out the injuries keep coming. Budda Baker has been placed on injured reserve, meaning they will be without their best defensive back for at least four games. Arizona drafted a cornerback this year in the draft, Kei’Trel Clark. So far he’s allowed eight receptions off 12 targets. Opposite him playing outside corner is Marco Wilson who is allowing a completion rate of 81% and a passer rating of 139.6, which is the seventh-highest among starting cornerbacks.
The Cardinals have problems with health and talent. Facing a solid wide receiver corps and an offensive line that has allowed one sack is only increasing this team’s coverage issues this week. For the Cowboys, their defensive backs enjoyed another game of multiple turnovers, they lead the league in total takeaways and they are allowing an average of 107 passing yards per game, which is the lowest in the league.
Who had Brandon Aubrey on their fantasy teams last week? Well we can bet he’s getting added to a few this week. Currently, Aubrey is perfect and has yet to miss a kick at AT&T Stadium. His 55-yard field goal was impressive. He connected well, the ball went straight, but it also went easily over which tells us he has plenty of juice left on that kick. Aubrey had six kicks last week against the Jets, and made all six. We hoped to see progression each week and he has done exactly that. The next step is to now have consecutive games without missing to instill further confidence in fans.
Matt Prater is the Cardinals kicker and last week he missed a long field goal attempt. Generally, Prater isn’t a bad kicker and given he has the bigger résumé we have to give him the win among the team’s kickers.
Bryan Anger put the boom on one kick last week. He had three punts against the Jets and went for an average 51 yards-per-punt. His average yards-per-punt currently ranks the eighth-highest in the league and he’s helped by a punt coverage unit that has allowed only 14 yards on return. Nolan Cooney punts for Arizona and he’s averaging 47 yards per punt. His longest punt of 56 yards is the exact same as Anger.
KaVontae Turpin looked to be playing safe last week. He called fair catch on a couple catches where he looked to have space to run it back. Whether that was a coaches call to not allow any chance of turning the ball over is unknown. On the Arizona side, they have Greg Dortch. Out of the two returners, Turpin has the higher return average both this season and last season. In fact last year, Dortch had 6.6 yards per punt return, which ranked second-worst among starting punt returners.
Let’s mark this as a win to the Cardinals for kicker, but Dallas wins everything else on special teams.
Which team has the better defense?
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