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Defensive Review: Another strong showing despite being put in difficult situations

Defensive Review: Another strong showing despite being put in difficult situations

While the scoreboard wasn’t ideal in terms of points allowed, a closer look at the numbers shows another strong performance from the Cowboys’ defense. Turnovers put the Dallas defense in tough spots all night. The defense held up their end of the deal.

If you count the turnover on downs in the Cowboys’ own territory, the offense turned the ball over four times Sunday night. It put the defense in difficult situations all night and made things much harder for the Cowboys. 26 points is by far the most Dallas has surrendered this season, but a closer look at the performance shows this was yet another strong showing from the defense.

It wasn’t perfect. Philadelphia ran the ball well at times, and after the offense woke up and cut it to a three-point game, the defense didn’t get the stop it needed. The Eagles’ scheme gave the defense fits and the Eagles were able to scheme up some nice plays.

But here’s the reality of what the Dallas defense was able to do:

  • 6/14 on 3rd down
  • 268 yards
  • 3.9 yards per play (the low total yards was not just due to short fields)
  • 155 passing yards
  • 3.5 yards per rush

If I had told you those would be the Eagles’ offensive numbers, you likely would have felt decently about the performance. The Eagles punted on four of their six drives that didn’t begin in Dallas territory, and they had to settle for a field goal on two of the three drives that started in Dallas territory.

Run Defense

This is now two straight weeks of improvement from the run defense. Cam Akers had just 13 carries for 33 yards last week. This week, the Eagles were able to run for 136 yards, but given how run-dependent their scheme is, that was over 39 attempts. As I said above, the Eagles ran the ball for just 3.5 yards per carry.

Miles Sanders carried the ball 18 times for 71 carries and a touchdown, Jalen Hurts ran nine times for 27 yards, Kenneth Gainwell ran five times for 25 yards, and Boston Scott carried it six times for 16 yards.

Per Pro Football Focus, Dallas’ five highest-graded run defenders that played substantial snaps were:

  • Trevon Diggs: 72.2
  • Malik Hooker: 72.1
  • Jayron Kearse: 69.0
  • Micah Parsons: 68.3
  • Anthony Brown: 67.0

DeMarcus Lawrence was the sixth-highest graded run defender but he still deserves a mention (and I would have had him higher than sixth). He recorded four run stops and was fantastic against the run as usual.

Philadelphia was able to have some success on the ground though, and that was to be expected given the quality of its offensive line. Things shifted up front when RT Lane Johnson went down with a concussion and the Dallas defensive front started causing issues for the Eagles as well.

It was a little disappointing that the defense couldn’t get off the field on Philadelphia’s touchdown drive right after Dallas cut the lead to 20-17. It was a 13-play drive that consisted of nine running plays. Dallas couldn’t generate a negative play to put the Eagles in a third and long situation and force Hurts to beat him with his arm. Dallas forced the Eagles into three third down situations, and they were all third and short situations (the three distances were four, four, and one).

The run defense was solid overall against a really strong rushing attack, but I still think the Cowboys defense could use some more “oomph” up front (please call Carolina about Derrick Brown).

Pass Defense

The pass rush was unable to put Hurts under serious duress throughout the night (at least not on the levels we’ve gotten used to), but they still had some success and gave the Eagles OL some fits.

Some of this was also due to the Eagles getting the ball out quickly. It was clear that they had a prerogative to slow down the Dallas pass rush with quick game. Jalen Hurts’ average time to throw coming into the week was 2.93 seconds (25th longest out of 29 qualifying QBs) and his average depth of target coming into the week was 7.3 yards per throw (22nd lowest among qualifying QBs). On Sunday night, Hurts’ average time to throw was 2.55 seconds (7th fastest of Week 6) and his ADOT was just 3.7 yards. Philadelphia got the ball out quickly and didn’t ask Hurts to make any difficult throws.

Once Lane Johnson went out, Dallas was able to really put some heat on Hurts. The Cowboys finished with 16 pressures, 13 of which were hurries, two were sacks, and one was a hit. Here are your pressure leaders from Week 6:

  1. Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong: 3
  2. Osa Odighizuwa, Dante Fowler Jr.: 2
  3. Sam Williams, Trysten Hill, Anthony Barr: 1

A quieter day for the pass rush for sure, but much of it had to do with lack of opportunity.

In terms of coverage, there wasn’t much going on. Jalen Hurts threw just 25 passes and completed 15 of them for a measly 155 yards. Most of the Eagles’ success through the air came on nicely schemed plays that went at Micah Parsons, forcing him to make a decision to either go after Hurts or cover the receiver. The Eagles ran that same concept multiple times and it worked.

There was some miscommunication in the secondary at times as well. Here is a good example of it, as Donovan Wilson (rough coverage grade of 34.1 in this game) gets his signals crossed on his assignment on the bottom of your screen:

It was a nice night in coverage for the linebacking crew of Micah Parsons, Anthony Barr, and Leighton Vander Esch as they did their jobs well. The three LBs were three of Dallas’ four highest-graded players in coverage. Parsons received the highest coverage grade on the team with a grade of 71.1 as he allowed just one catch for 21 yards and recorded a very nice pass breakup while covering Dallas Goedert. Vander Esch allowed just one catch for 14 yards on two targets and Barr was never targeted.

Malik Hooker was once again terrific on the back end as he has become one of the best safeties in football. I say it every week, but he has been one of the unsung heroes on this defense and has been tremendously consistent. He was Dallas’ second-highest graded defender behind Parsons and recorded 12 tackles, three stops, and allowed just one reception for 11 yards.

Here’s how the rest of the secondary’s coverage stats broke down this week:

Coverage Grade Targets Receptions Yards Allowed TD Allowed PBU Passer Rating
Trevon Diggs 64.2 2 1 11 0 0 66.7
Anthony Brown 66.5 4 3 43 0 1 109.4
Jourdan Lewis 56.3 6 5 29 1 0 126.4
Jayron Kearse 53.7 3 2 19 0 0 84
Donovan Wilson 34.1 1 1 7 1 0 135.4
Malik Hooker 67.5 1 1 11 0 0 112.5

The Cowboys secondary should get more work this week against the Lions, who have been involved in some shootouts. Philadelphia’s scheme gave Dallas some issues in coverage at times, but it was generally a solid night against an offensive filled with weapons on the outside.

The Parsons Project

Parsons didn’t quite have the game we are accustomed to, but he was still effective. You really began to feel his presence once the outstanding Lane Johnson went out with his concussion and Parsons had a very favorable matchup with the backup, Jack Driscoll. Parsons finished the night with three pressures, all of which were hurries.

Dan Quinn deployed Parsons as a linebacker at a much higher rate than he has all season. This was the most he played at linebacker since Week 1, and I’d guess this week it had to do with Hurts’ mobility and the need to use Parsons in space against Hurts and the other athletic weapons Philadelphia has.

As stated above, it was hard to create pressure on Hurts with how quickly Hurts was getting the ball out. I’m expecting a big week from Parsons and Co. against the Lions this week.

vs. TB vs. CIN @ NYG vs. WAS @ LAR @ PHI
DL 40 55 40 53 30 41
LB 21 3 20 8 16 26
CB 1 2

The Lions have been really explosive on offense outside of getting shut out by the Patriots prior to their Week 5 bye. This week will be a decent test for the Cowboys’ defense.

Staff Writer covering the Dallas Cowboys || Co-Host of The Silver and Blue Podcast || Co-Host of The Victory Avenue Podcast

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