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

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 1 matchup between the Cowboys and Giants to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

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.

The Cowboys have one of the best pass rushes in the entire league. The talent and depth at the position, along with some very intelligent coaching from both Dan Quinn and Aden Durde, has made this defensive line one of the best position groups on the team and in the NFC. There was plenty of news on Micah Parsons during the offseason about where he will play the most snaps. Everything that’s been seen in training camp says that he will continue the role he played last year. He looks more explosive, determined and impactful this year than he ever has, and this week facing a less than stellar offensive line should see plenty of Parsons in the Giants backfield. Where he may struggle to earn sacks this week will be due to Daniel Jones’ mobility and the threat of Saquon Barkley ready to explode for a chunk play at any moment.

In terms of run defense, Osa Odighizuwa will be manning the 3-tech position. Although the Cowboys drafted a huge and physical 1-tech, Mazi Smith, to help fix the inside against the run, we should expect savvy veteran Johnathan Hankins to be the starter and take the majority of snaps. This is while Smith continues to develop and learn pro techniques.

DeMarcus Lawrence once again ended the season as one of the best run-stoppers at the defensive end position. But given his age he will be playing more on rotation, not to dissimilar to his snap count from last year. Dorance Armstrong will be itching to have more production given this is a contract year for him. Dante Fowler has spent a lot of time in camp flashing his pass rush moves, he is also on a contract year so will want to impress as a designated pass rusher. Sam Williams is one to keep an eye in this week’s practice reports to see how he’s doing medically from turf toe.

The New York Giants defensive line however is pretty effective in parts. Dexter Lawrence took a huge leap last year and ended the season as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league. When you tie that with Leonard Williams’ production, this makes an extremely formidable duo that had 13 sacks collectively. They added more firepower last year in the draft with edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. If he develops more from his rookie season, that could take this defensive line into the next tier.

The tiebreaker between these two defensive lines is based on depth and of course, Micah Parsons. The Cowboys have much more depth on their line than the Giants do. In a physical game between two division rivals, depth is important.
Win: Cowboys

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

To help slow Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones, Dallas will use the speed and lateral quickness of Damone Clark. He’s had a solid preseason and looks set to have a breakout season. Anything coming through the inside will be met by last year’s effective tandem of Hankins and Leighton Vander Esch. LVE looked solid last year and is slowly ascending back to the quality of play we saw during his rookie season.

As for the Giants linebackers, they are led by Bobby Okereke who looked more effective last year as a run-stopper than previous years. But generally this linebacker corps struggles badly against the run, so this should be a fun game for the Cowboys running back group. Micah McFadden saw his struggles last year and Isaiah Simmons was traded away by Arizona for a seventh-round pick. Simmons is an athletic, hybrid type linebacker that can snag a lot of tackles, but he also misses a lot of tackles. Last year he missed 12 tackles which would be the second-most among Giants defenders from last year.

The pass rushing and blitz capability from the Cowboys linebackers isn’t great. Given the lateral quickness and pursuit speed of LVE and Clark, they are better at playing in coverage than then are at blitzing.

For the Giants, they have struggled to find help for Okereke, so he has another season of having to do most of the heavy lifting at the position.
Win: Cowboys

Chicago Bears v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Cowboys made a move and got themselves a stud in Stephon Gilmore. With two players either side of the field that threaten to take the ball away, Daniel Jones will be even more hesitant to throw deep when he sees his targets in close coverage. The good news is Donovan Wilson is back doing rehab work, but keep close watch on the final practice report to see how his health is leading up to the game. They may sit him out and look to keep him back in Dallas to rest up for their first home game. Jayron Kearse will have a lot of work to do this week as Jones will more than likely target Darren Waller a lot if he can’t find open wide receivers. Waller can get a lot of momentum in this game if given the chance, and if Kearse fails to keep his guy in check then this could be a big day for Waller.

The Giants will likely put their leading cornerback, Adoree’ Jackson over CeeDee Lamb if in the slot. Last year Lamb ran away in both games against the Giants combining for 14 receptions, 193 receiving yards and one touchdown. So they will more than likely give Jackson additional help to keep Lamb under control. On the outside side will be rookie Deonte Banks who also has his hands full with either Michael Gallup or Brandin Cooks. Both receivers look to have big days in this game.

Having a Defensive Player of The Year as well as two cornerbacks that have led the league in interceptions stands for a lot here. The Cowboys safety position is just as talented with plenty of depth, even if Wilson should have to sit this one out.

The Giants are building their secondary up and have now taken Banks this year in the draft and Xavier McKinney a couple of years back. But it’s still a work in progress with plenty of upside as the year progresses.
Win: Cowboys

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

So it’s Brandon Aubrey after much debate about who will be the Cowboys kicker come Week 1. From college soccer player to USFL placekicker, he’s now ready to take the stage in an NFL regular season game. That’s quite the ride. Whether people like it or not, Aubrey is the Cowboys kicker, his preseason performance put some confidence back into fans, but also left a few questions. He was 2/3 on field goal attempts in preseason, but he was also 8/9 on extras points. The good news, his miss on the extra point happened against Jacksonville, and since then stayed perfect. The issue is how will he handle the pressure when it counts. We have no idea how he will deal with that until it happens. Could this mean some more attempts for the offense on fourth-down?

As for the Giants they have Graham Gano who is one of the more established kickers in the league. He ended last season ranking eighth in field goal accuracy and he was 8/9 on kicks at 50-yards or more.

For punting, Bryan Anger wins this competition. He had a longer punt average than Giants punter, Jamie Gillan. Anger averaged two yards more per punt last year and got his attempts inside the twenty more times than Gillan.

As for return specialists, the Cowboys will continue with KaVontae Turpin. The Giants will be using rookie running back Eric Gray from Oklahoma. Turpin averaged 10.4 yards per punt return, which ranked 11th last year. His 52-yard punt return was the fourth longest in the league and his 63-yard kickoff return was the 10th longest. As for Eric Gray, he’s made three punt returns in preseason games. He averaged 5.7 yards per attempt.
Win: Cowboys


Which team has the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (504 votes)
  • 5%
    New York Giants
    (29 votes)
533 votes total Vote Now

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