Ashburn, Virginia. On paper, the game looks like this: the team with the best passing in the NFL faces the team with the most sacks. The Dallas Cowboys front, who lead the NFL with pressure, against the Washington Commanders line that allowed for fourth place. Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons faced a group that allowed nine sacks last week.
Do we need to continue?
And yet, this is something the Commanders say they welcome for a simple reason.
“After last week, we are very excited to go out and prove [to] we can do it ourselves,” said Sam Cosmey, Washington’s right tackle.
“Very worried about it,” Washington left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “We have another opportunity.”
On Sunday (1 pm ET, Fox), the Commanders (1-2), tied with the Cincinnati Bengals with the NFL’s worst 15 sack, will play the Cowboys (2-1), the team that is leading in the NFL with 13 sacks. bags and 49 pressures.
If Washington doesn’t handle the pressure better than it did in a nine-sack loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, another season could begin to crumble. This is not what the team wants or expects from Year 3 under coach Ron Rivera.
It all starts with the ability to slow down Parsons.
“Micah Parsons is an incredible player,” said Washington Capitals center Nick Martin, whose brother Zach started playing defense for Dallas.
“Just a very talented athlete, a very special athlete,” Leno said.
Washington’s pass defense did a great job opening the season with a 28–22 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. This allowed quarterback Carson Wentz to complete 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. But the last two weeks have had terrible first halves dominated by constant pressure on Wentz, who made matters worse by holding the ball for too long at times.
It’s not just about slowing down Parsons, as the Dallas roster also has winger DeMarcus Lawrence, who has three sacks and helps lead the front using various alignments.
“They’re trying to create one-on-one meetings,” Rivera said.
Last week, Philadelphia also created head-to-head opportunities — even against a seven-man defense — with their pre- and post-click appearances.
On Monday, against the New York Giants, Dallas had the best 24 games in the NFL. Parsons has won 50% of the time he’s faced one blocker this season, trailing only Buffalo linebacker Von Miller.
They usually align Parsons on the left side on passes. But sometimes it’s inside where he chooses a place inside. Other times it’s on the right side. Maybe it’s near Lawrence and they’re doing a trick. Maybe they’ll move the rest of the line to the right and create a one-on-one for Parsons with more room inside.
“He is a really good athlete. A fast, smart player, so you definitely need to play alongside him, keep an eye on the 11 on the field,” Cosmi said, referring to Parsons’ number. “He is quick on the ball, has a very good inside move and lulls [tackles] sleep outside, but he is very fast with this internal movement. He’s a fast guy and he’s got a lot of guys like that.”
But it’s not just the Parsons, and that’s what makes Dallas dangerous – six different Cowboys have recorded sacks this season. Lawrence has recorded four of his 9.5 sacks in the past two years against Washington.
“They have a very good rush, so they have to play against great players,” Martin said. “They take advantage of small bugs or lack of technique that you don’t use.”
Washington will try to counterattack, perhaps with more control of the ball with Antonio Gibson. Commanders will use double teams, maximum defense and try to use their fast game. From time to time they break the end, but when it happened last week, the pass rusher hit the tackle and hit the bag.
They tried this tactic last week and failed, in part because they lost too many one-on-ones. Wentz said he could help by dropping the ball a little early, which is a factor in two or three of Sunday’s nine sacks.
“All of our guys with the ball in hand can turn a two-meter pass into something big in a hurry,” Wentz said. “For me, it’s just a fast game. Play fast and go where the reading takes me. If that means checking it out at the bottom, I have nothing but confidence that these guys can quickly go two yards at 20. I think we’ve already seen some of them this year.”
Receiver Terry McLaurin said their timing should have been much better. Any deviation from their route can result in a sack.
But at the end of the day, it’s about Washington’s offensive front in need of a much better game than they’ve played in the past two weeks against a dangerous pass.
“We know what we’re facing,” Wentz said. “I have nothing but confidence in our guys who need to be protected. I am very excited about the upcoming match. I know our guys are excited about it and they are great defensively, great front… We are going to be ready for the challenge.”