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Position battleground (defense): Cowboys at Commanders head-to-head breakdown

How far apart are the Cowboys and Commanders defenses in your mind?

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Previously we broke down the offense for this week’s final regular season game between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders. Now we dive back into the position battleground, this time looking at how the defensive positions and special teams stack up against each other

DEFENSIVE LINE
It’s fair to say the defense played better than the offense last week, but even still the defense had its ups and downs. DeMarcus Lawrence made some essential tackles and once again proved to be one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the NFL. Dorance Armstrong delivered the only sack last week, but Micah Parsons led the defensive line group in both pressures and tackles. He also made the most defensive stops on the team. One of the more impressive statistics from last week’s game was the how well the defensive line did in stopping the run. This Dallas defense held the Detroit Lions to just 125 rush yards and kept both David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs below 100-yard rushing. The Lions were a top-three rushing team last week averaging over 140 rush yards per game, so the defense did well.

This week the Cowboys defensive line faces a less-than-stellar offensive line, unlike last week. It’s facing an offense that is allowing the most sacks in the NFL and sixth-most pressures this year. As for the run game, the Commanders average 96 rush yards per game, the eighth worst. The Commanders offensive line is also facing issues with injuries. This is on an offensive line that has already faced durability issues and placed players on injured reserve this year. As for Dallas, keep watch for Johnathan Hankins, he remains out and expect that to be the case this week as he prepares for the playoffs.

The Commanders crown jewel was once its defensive line, but this year that has all but diminished. The only veteran players left on the line for the team are Daron Payne and Johnathan Allen. Leading the team in pressures and sacks is Allen, but his six total sacks ranks 71st among defensive linemen. Since Week 11, both defensive tackles have combined for two sacks. Defensive end Casey Toohill has seen his struggles creating pressure this year and the opposite side with James Smith-Williams has also seen him struggle and recorded only one sack this year. All this has meant Washington has generated the sixth-fewest sacks this year, the seventh-most rush yards allowed and this has led to its defense allowing an average of 30 points per game, most in the NFL.
Win: Cowboys

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

LINEBACKER
Damone Clark/Markquese Bell
vs.
Cody Barton/Khaleke Hudson

Markquese Bell and Damone Clark had a tough assignment last week. It means you can’t criticize them too much, but they did have moments of being out of position on run plays which meant they had play catch up. Markquese Bell finished with eight tackles where as Damone Clark only made three. Where these two players struggled most last week was when they had to drop into coverage. They got beat a number of times which led to the Lions establishing first downs. The team is adding ex-Cowboys linebacker Damien Wilson who was drafted by Dallas back in 2015. The depth at the position is much needed after releasing Rashaan Evans.

The Commanders linebacker unit is lacking after their starting linebacker, Jamin Davis, got sent to injured reserve. Barton isn’t bad at chasing the ball carrier down in open field, he’s just not the type of linebacker to get down close and stuff backs at the line of scrimmage. As for Hudson, he’s had to take up the slack since coming in as the starter during the last four weeks. He’s missed five tackles in that time and on 22 targets, he’s allowed 17 receptions.

Conclusion:
The Cowboys linebackers have had a rough run lately. But they’ve been there to help stop the run which is something this defense has looked much better at the last couple of weeks. Washington’s linebackers are being forced to tough it out each week as their defensive line is not much help.
Win: Cowboys

NFL: DEC 30 Lions at Cowboys Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Cowboys secondary forced Jared Goff into throwing two interceptions last week, with Donovan Wilson and Jourdan Lewis coming away with one. If Parsons hadn’t stepped offsides at the end of the game they could have a third. Over the last couple of weeks Jourdan Lewis has really shown his worth and was again everywhere on the field at the right time last week. Jayron Kearse also had a big day finishing with the most tackles on the team. Kearse will be grateful for an easier week covering Logan Thomas as apposed to Sam LaPorta. Sam Howell is throwing more interceptions than any other quarterback this year, so this defensive back unit will be more than ready to take a pick or two this week, maybe even another DaRon Bland pick like the last meeting on Thanksgiving. Adding more positivity to the Cowboys secondary is the fact the Washington offense has thrown the fourth-fewest yards in the last three weeks, and in that same time the Cowboys secondary has allowed the fourth-fewest passing touchdowns.

For the Commanders secondary we’ll start with the common theme of injuries here. Both starting cornerbacks, Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller, are both questionable to play this week. Both missed last week’s game with respective injuries so their availability is unknown. Backup corners, Tariq Castro-Fields and Christian Holmes are also questionable for this week’s game after leaving the game early last week. They also placed starting safety Percy Butler on injured reserve last week meaning they now only have two safeties left on their active roster for this weekend’s game. So that leaves rookies Emmanuel Forbes and Kyu Kelly available at cornerback. Forbes ranks second on the team in receiving yards allowed and is allowing the highest passer rating. Kyu Kelly has yet to play a snap on defense.

Conclusion:
The Cowboys secondary will be wanting to finish on a high against a lackluster offense with very little firepower, and a quarterback that has thrown 20 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. The Commanders secondary is beaten up with a lot of question marks surrounding it.
Win: Cowboys

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

SPECIAL TEAMS
Ok, this is it people. Can Brandon Aubrey go an entire season without missing a single field goal? If he makes it through the final game of the season he will join nine other kickers that have ever performed such a feat. The last kicker to go perfect on the year was Mason Crosby in 2020, and Justin Tucker, who is regarded as one of the greatest kickers currently playing, has a single-season high record of 97%. Commander place kicker Joey Slye has missed three extra points and five field goals this year.

Bryan Anger is out-punting Commanders punter Tress Way. Anger is averaging 51.4 yards per punt with an average hang-time of 4.56 seconds. Tress Way is averaging 46.0 yards per punt and and hang-time of 4.3 seconds.

On punt returns, neither team are doing much. KaVonate Turpin is averaging 6.3 yards per return, where Jamison Crowder is averaging 7.9.
Win: Cowboys

Poll

Which team had the better defense?

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    Dallas Cowboys
    (295 votes)
  • 1%
    Washington Commanders
    (3 votes)
298 votes total Vote Now

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