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

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

A positional head-to-head breakdown of the Week 18 matchup between the Cowboys and Commanders 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

DeMarcus Lawrence pretty much stole the show last week for the defense. His pressures, tackles, and more significantly the forced fumble he produced, were all well-timed illustrations of his athletic ability. Tank also got his arm up to bat the ball away on one play, and had two very crucial stops at the line. Let’s see this strong showcase of defensive might persist in the playoffs.

Dante Fowler had a productive game. He managed to force a fumble during the game when reaching the quarterback for the sack. Fowler took his opportunities when they arrived. The missing part on this line is the defensive tackle position. Of the five players at the 3-tech or nose tackle position, they managed to total only two pressures between them all. Another game of meagre productivity from these guys on passing downs. Neville Gallimore and Carlos Watkins managed to both rack up two tackles each, but apart from that another silent week from the inside tackles.

Daron Payne has been a force in the middle of the Washington Commanders defense the last two games. He’s managed to initiate eight pressures and turn out three sacks the last two weeks along with six tackles. He’s playing above all others at the tail end of the season. Montez Sweat had an equally productive game last week forcing a sack, four pressures and three defensive stops. Jonathan Allen vacated the game early with a knee injury and his availability to play this weekend is in doubt. On top of the additional injures for the defensive line, James Smith-Williams is still under concussion protocol so he has a cloud over his ability to play. All this is troubling for a defensive line that will face a team that’s eighth in rushing yards, while this defensive line has in the last three games handed out the second-most first-downs to running backs.

Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

LINEBACKER

Davis/Mayo vs Parsons/Barr/Clark

Micah Parsons scarcely needs to be on the field to make an impact. The most humorous moment last week was when Parsons hurried to the field on a play moments before the snap, set his position, and used his quickness to get to the ball carrier for the stop. Parsons may have been on the field for all of 10 seconds to get to the line and breakthrough to get across to the running back. Just a remarkable showing of how truly sensational he is as a player. So many questions get asked about Jabril Cox and last week everyone got to witness a little of him. He came in on 18 defensive snaps and produced two tackles.

Damone Clark manages to stay ahead of Cox on the depth chart, just watching last week's game you can see why. He is dependable as a tackler with two very critical stops at the line, and does a reasonable job at filling in gaps where required. Anthony Barr continues to show he’s slowing down with age by having his battles again in pass coverage. Leighton Vander Esch inches near to returning, the coaches declared he should be good to play for the playoffs.

After Jon Bostic went to injured reserve a few weeks ago, the Commanders linebacker corps truly is delicate. Jamin Davis is rapid and reliable, really their only dependable defender in the box. He’s made 80 tackles this year and plays competently off the ball in coverage. Building substantially off a fairly modest rookie season for him was important, he hasn’t done too badly under the circumstances. Beyond that they only have David Mayo playing, who’s been forced to play more as a Mike linebacker with varied results.

Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Tennessee Titans decided it was Nashon Wright that was chosen to be the odd man out. He got targeted the most last week and was made the emphasis of attack. He allowed seven of the ten targets thrown his way for a total of 105 yards, which could be said to be below par. But Wright was pretty sturdy for most of the game. He made an interception which wasn’t a straightforward lay up, he didn’t permit a touchdown and he tackled everything that came his way. What was most vital at this stage was to give Wright experience and time on the defense leading into the postseason.

Jayron Kearse was substantial out there again. Next to Trevon Diggs, Kearse is perhaps the best defensive back this team carries. He completes tackles, he covers routes and he misses nothing. To have Kearse back at full speed heading into the postseason is the most essential factor for this defense, next to getting Vander Esch and Johanthan Hankins back in the lineup.

This is yet another position impacted by injuries for the Commanders roster. Both Washington corners Tariq Castro-Fields and Benjamin St-Juste are suffering with lower limb injuries, they may not play this week. Starting strong safety Kamren Curl may not start either with an ankle injury. So in terms of what’s left for this unit, they had somewhat of a troublesome game last week. Kendall Fuller and Darrick Forrest both allowed a touchdown and between them allowed four from six targets to be completed. Danny Johnson is their only real glimmer of hope. Since Week 15 he’s played pretty reasonably but will look to head up against CeeDee Lamb who is really assembling an impressive finish to his season.

Win: Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Tennessee Titans Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

SPECIAL TEAMS

KaVontae Turpin now ranks eighth in total punt return yards. His average of 11.6 yards per return is fifth-most and his 52-yard longest run is the third-most among punt returners. Dax Milne for the Commanders ranks 12th in return yards and 16th in average yards per return.

Brett Maher added two more field goals last week and three extra points. He is officially the highest-rated kicker this year. Joey Slye has missed three extra points and three field goals on 26 attempts. His accuracy rating isn’t bad but has far fewer attempts than Maher.

Bryan Anger and Tress Way are both relatively evenly matched in the punter class. Anger averages a further punt, but Way has placed the ball inside the 20 a lot more than Anger.

Win: Cowboys


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