Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s upcoming Wild Card game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other
Four sacks, 19 pressures and 50 rush yards allowed, that’s a solid way to end the regular season for this Cowboys defensive line. Micah Parsons ended the season leading the NFL in pressures with 103. Yet in the last 11 games of the season he managed to draw zero holding calls, that’s some record. Parsons also finished seventh in sacks, fourth in QB hits and sixth in tackles for loss, so a pretty impressive season again for the stud pass rusher even with the referees clearly playing against him. DeMarcus Lawrence had himself another good game and it was also good to see Sam Williams, Dante Fowler and Dorance Armstrong all record a sack last week. Armstrong was one sack shy of matching his sack total from last year, but he did record a season high in tackles.
This week it’s all about stopping Jordan Love and the best way to do this is getting him down for a sack. This year in games where Love was sacked two or more times, the Packers offense only averaged 18 points per game. The lowest score the Cowboys lost to this year was 22 points against Miami, so sacking Love should be the defense’s main target for victory. The other key strategy is slowing the Packers run game. The issue here is in the last three games the Packers have averaged 154 rush yards per game, fourth-most in the league. But on the plus side, the Cowboys defense has only allowed 88 rush yards per game in that time, that’s sixth-fewest. Johnathan Hankins is set to return which is good news. This only further assists the team in its run defense and slowing Aaron Jones down.
Green Bay’s defensive line has been pretty good. It hasn’t generated as much pressure as Dallas, but they have got to the quarterback 45 times this year for a sack, only one less that Dallas. On the defensive line the one to watch is Kenny Clark. He plays at the defensive tackle position and among tackles he ranks fifth in sacks and he can generate a whole lot of pressure if he’s not checked. Right behind Clark is second-year tackle Devonte Wyatt, who’s played well as a pass rusher this year getting six sacks. On the edge is Rashan Gary who leads the team in sacks and is second only behind Clark in pressures. Second on the team in sacks is Preston Smith and he has 12 pressures and three sacks in the last three games. In fact, this defense in the last three games has generated the second-most sacks and the highest sack rate in the NFL. That means the Cowboys offensive line needs to be hot on their toes both inside and on the edge.
Where this Packers defense struggles is in run defense. It’s allowed the fifth-most rush yards this year and the seventh-most rushing touchdowns. This is all indicative of the the very traditional 3-4 defensive formation the Packers play. As such, the Cowboys should follow the trend most opponents have played and run straight at them. They have the sixth-most rush attempts against them as testament to that. Watch nose tackle T.J. Slaton, he’s been hit or miss this year and the games he’s underperformed the Packers have lost. Also another eyebrow raising statistic is the Green Bay Packers have the lowest sack total when playing on the road.
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
Quay Walker/De’Vondre Campbell
Markquese Bell and Damone Clark have been under tough scrutiny the last few weeks and the hope was to see both of them quell the doubters in the final regular-season game. Damone Clark was hit or miss. He did make some splash plays, but while in coverage he allowed five receptions off six targets. Right where Clark and Bell play is where Jordan Love is most accurate and likes to target the most. That means their role in pass coverage will be vital this week.
The linebacker duo for the Packers is an interesting combination. Quay Walker is used a little bit as both a pass rusher to help the teams pass defense and play as an off-ball linebacker. He leads the team in tackles and defensive stops but also has three sacks to his name, which ranks sixth on the team. Campbell is more the traditional run stopper and ranks fourth in tackles on the team, but where both these players can be exposed is in the passing game. Both have had their struggles this year in coverage and having to face a guy like Jake Ferguson screaming over the middle could give them a lot of trouble. Isaiah McDuffie is in concussion protocol right now. If he fails to return then that’s a lot of Campbell on the field who can be exposed in the passing game.
Damone Clark and Rashan Gary are pretty much side-by-side in tackle numbers. Markquese Bell has outperformed any of the second choice linebackers for Green Bay. On top of that, the pass coverage generally this year by the Cowboys linebackers has been far better than at Green Bay. Collectively the Cowboys pair have allowed less touchdowns and a far lower passer rating.
We spoke last week how Jourdan Lewis has come on during the back half of the season, and last week he delivered yet again. He was essential on stopping some important plays but his coverage efficiency was incredible. Another player making waves in the last few weeks has been Donovan Wilson. What Wilson has always been good with was his general defensive playmaking abilities. For the major part of this season those playmaking skills seemed to be missing, but now Wilson is starting to get hot and he caught an interception last week. Having a guy like Wilson peaking into the playoffs is a huge bonus for this defense. Stephon Gilmore picked up a shoulder injury week while covering Terry McLaurin. The medical staff placed his shoulder back in but held him out for the game. DaRon Bland got another interception. This guy has just been pure fire this season.
Green Bay rank twelfth this year in passing yards and Jordan Love has managed to finish second this year in passing touchdowns. This means the defensive backs have their work cut out for them. There’s not a major key player on the Packers receiving corps the Cowboys need to focus on, but if Romeo Doubs misses the game it could be a huge problem for the Packers passing game.
The nicest way to describe the Packers defensive backs is not completely bad. Teams find the most success running against this Packers defense, meaning they don’t get a whole bunch of passes thrown against them. The problem is when teams do throw against them the defensive backs have had their problems. Jaire Alexander is their best corner but he’s been missing for half the season and only started playing again the last couple of weeks. Let’s also not forget he served a one-game suspension for the odd coin-toss fiasco. The teams other starting cornerback, Keisean Nixon, is allowing an 82% completion rate and a 103.8 passer rating. Rookie corner Carrington Valentine has been a little better in coverage. He’s allowing a passer rating of 84.2, but his problem is the big problem with all the Packers defensive backs, missed tackles. All of the defensive backs have high rates of missed tackles this year, as a result the team is allowing the eighth-most yards per pass and the sixth-highest passer rating allowed this season.
The Packers secondary has the second fewest interceptions in the league and have allowed a completion rate of 65%, which lands right in the middle of the rankings. For a team that has so few pass attempts against them, they have really struggled in a number of coverage statistics. As for Dallas, well Bland on his own has more interceptions than the entire Packers team combined.
Brandon Aubrey had his first miss of the year last week. But in his first year playing, Aubrey proved his worth and was named to this years Pro Bowl and named All-Pro, which is an incredible achievement as an undrafted free agent. Anders Carlson is the Packers kicker. He finished the regular season with an 81% field goal accuracy, which is a far distance from Aubrey’s record.
Bryan Anger finished with the second-highest yards per punt this year. He’s done exceptionally well as a punter this year and been a steady force of special teams. Daniel Whelan, on the other hand, ranks 25th among punters in his yards per punt. He also has more yards returned against him than Anger, proving further the Cowboys special team unit has played far better.
Neither Dallas or Green Bay have had huge success on punt returns this year. KaVontae Turpin ranks 59th in yards per return and Packers specialist Jayden Reed ranks 46th.
Which team has the better defense?
This poll is closed
Green Bay Packers