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Position battleground (defense): Cowboys vs. Jaguars head-to-head breakdown for defensive positions

Jacksonville Jaguars v Dallas Cowboys
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 15 matchup between the Cowboys and Jaguars to find the strengths and weaknesses of each defensive position.

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.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Just like Dak Prescott last week, the Dallas Cowboys defensive line saw its struggles against the Texans. But in the final moments of the game, the defensive line came out and asserted its dominance. It was evident the defensive line in Week 14 was out to prevent the run and slow down Dameon Pierce. The problem in doing so was they created very little pressure up front on passing plays, and failed to contain the quaterbacks for Houston when they scrambled for a first down.

Versus the Texans, the defensive line had one of its quietest games on passing plays. They managed as a team to create 12 pressures, which is the team's second-least this season, but also failed to record a single sack. But in contrast we got to see the skills and power of the defensive line during the stop they made in the Cowboys own red zone after Dak’s interception near the end of the fourth quarter. If there was ever a time the line needed to dig deep and find a way to halt the Houston drive, that was it. Demarcus Lawrence having a huge tackle for loss near the goal line is yet again another example of why people say he’s one of the best run stopping defensive ends in the league. Lawrence is now on 41 tackles for the year and among defensive tackles and defensive ends, that ranks fourth-most.

Thanks to the efforts of the line to stop that score, the Cowboys offense was able to get on the field and get a touchdown at the other end of the field for the win. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, this defensive line will have some work to do, as they rank sixth-best in sacks allowed. On the plus side, this defensive line does look to be much improved against the run, having now gone four games without permitting more than 120 rushing yards during a game. The problem they now face now is how to remain efficient against the run, without Johnathan Hankins until the playoffs.

The Jaguars do have a couple of strong pieces on the defensive line. They rank 14th in rush yards allowed which isn’t bad. But in the last three games they have allowed an average of nine first downs on the ground per game, which is fifth-worst. The biggest issue the Jaguars defense has is finishing on pass plays. They now have 23 sacks on the year, and that is the forth-least in the NFL. Their best edge player, Dawuane Smoot, has the most team sacks with six, but has failed to register a sack since Week 9. On the opposite of the line is Josh Allen who generates a lot of pressure, 14th most in fact. His issue is finishing plays and has only four sacks this year. He got his forth sack last week having gone since Week 4 when he managed to get his last sack. This line will have a heavy workload this week as they face both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. In the last three games they have rushed for 172 yards per game, which is the third-most. Keep an eye on Travon Walker’s injury update this week. He’s been playing a quietly important role for the Jaguars, but is out at the moment with an ankle issue.

Win: Cowboys

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

LINEBACKER

Parsons/LVE/Clark vs Oluokun/Lloyd/Muma

Some people talk about the concerns they have about Micah Parsons and his two game dry spell. It’s not the first time Parsons has been quiet on the sack front in back-to-back games. The concern now is his lack of pressure last week and if he’s feeling a bit of fatigue. It did look last week as though Micah Parsons was more out there defending the run, but let’s see how he gets utilized this week against a pretty decent offensive line. Leighton Vander Esch, on the other hand, is ascending game by game. Each game we appear to be seeing him getting to the ball carrier faster and reacting to the offense with better recognition.

The Jaguars linebacker unit is also effective. Foyesade Oluokun leads the league in tackles and looks to be all over field as a very decent off-ball linebacker. He can get the tackle for loss and make good defensive stops, so playing delayed handoffs to Zeke or Pollard won’t be something the offence wants to run often. Alongside Oluokun is the Utah rookie Devin Lloyd. His potential is enormous and so far this year has made some good stops. But he has also shown he can get pushed off a tackle and misses quite a few. Chad Muma is questionable this week with an ankle injury.

Win: Cowboys (but this is close)

NFL: DEC 11 Texans at Cowboys Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Both Trevon Diggs and Jayron Kearse missed game time last week due to injuries. The good news is Diggs hasn’t shown up on the practice report. As for Kearse, he’s limited so far due to a shoulder issue. The Cowboys defensive backs do have their work cut out this week. Trevor Lawrence has found a level of comfort with his receivers, and his receivers have found ways to connect with Lawrence. The Jaguars receivers play the way that the Cowboys backs actually struggle with. They are physical at the catch point and good runners of the ball after the catch. Donovan Wilson will need to be there to make the important tackles, and Kearse will play an important role this week to keep Evan Engram in check.

Tyson Campbell is by far the Jaguars best cornerback, and he’s playing this year worthy of a Pro Bowl appearance. He plays exclusively on the right side as an outside corner, which is good for CeeDee Lamb who can move around the field. But it would be a good game plan to keep targets to Campbell’s side to a minimum. The safety play at Jacksonville can get a little suspect. A lot of missed tackles and they allow quite a high reception percentage. This could be another game we see plenty of Noah Brown again. Andre Cisco looks to come back from a shoulder injury and Andrew Wingard may miss this one with a shoulder injury.

Win: Cowboys

Houston Texans v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

SPECIAL TEAMS

Last week will be a game KaVontae Turpin will want back. Against the Texans, the Cowboys needed to keep it tight and not give the opposition hope. The Texans got that moment of hope early in the game with Turpin’s fumble off the first punt. Let’s see how Turpin can recover from a bad game and get back to his electrifying ways. For the Jaguars, they use wide receiver Jamal Agnew on returns. He’s average in the league in returns and has less than half as many return yards as Turpin.

In the kicking competition this week, it’s Brett Maher vs Riley Patterson. Maher has a better field goal completion percentage than Patterson, but Maher also has the bigger leg and makes the long distance kicks much easier.

As for punting, that competition is a lot more close. Bryan Anger and Jaguars punter Logan Cooke are very closely matched in punting abilities and statistics. A fairly balanced fight here.

Win: Cowboys


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