Clarence Hill: Who has the edge between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders?

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Quarterback Cooper Rush is getting the attention because of his outstanding play in place of injured starter Dak Prescott, leading the Dallas Cowboys to two consecutive wins and keeping them in thick of the battle in the NFC East.

But the true foundation of the Cowboys success through three games and most likely for the remainder of the season is the outstanding play of the defense, which ranks ninth in the NFL heading into Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders.

The Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks and pressures behind the arguably the league’s best defensive player in linebacker Micah Parsons, who has four sacks and a league-high 13 quarterback pressures.

The Cowboys defense has given up just three touchdowns in the first three games, tying the record for the fewest touchdowns allowed through the first three games of a season in franchise history.

Dallas defense held its first three opponents under 200 net passing yards for the first time since 2012. If the Cowboys hold Washington under 200 net passing yards, it would mark the first time since 1977 that a Dallas team held each of its first four opponents under 200 net passing yards.

The Cowboys have not allowed any of their opponents to reach the 20-point mark this season, the first time that the Cowboys have held their first three opponents to 19 points-or-less since 1974.

If Dallas holds Washington under 20points this week, it would be the first time since 1973 that a Cowboys team held their first four opponents under 20.

The exciting part of the Cowboys defense is that they not even close to playing their best football, per coordinator Dan Quinn.

“When you are trying to play good defense it is not just one thing you are after,” Quinn said. “But I would say if you want to be excellent, you have to attack. You have to rush, you have create takeaways, you have to play good in red zone and on third down. You are attacking in every angle and trying to use different guys do that. Having to different guys step in different roles that is what I love most about this group. They are unselfish. That battle for one another. We will keep pushing hard to see the standard we can get to. We have a lot of room to grow.”

Coach Mike McCarthy said this is the best pass rush he’s even had because of the depth of rushers the Cowboys have at their disposal, led by Parsons and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

“It goes back to the old adage. When the offense lines up against the defense, are you just going to worry about the Xs and Os or are you going to get after the Jimmys and the Joes,” McCarthy said. “That’s really what football is all about. There’s always a balance you try to find. For teams that want to line up and play X and O football with us, Dan and the defensive staff have done an excellent job of creating enough scheme to give us flexibility in how we attack and to make sure we’re giving our guys the matchups.”

So who has the edge on Sunday?

Clarence Hill breaks it down:

COWBOYS OFFENSE VS. COMMANDERS DEFENSE

The Cowboys have played solidly behind Cooper rush the past two weeks but they have only scored four touchdowns. The good news is the Washington defense is one of the worst in the league, giving up 402.7 yards per game, including 128.7 on the ground. That the Commanders rank 28th in the league against the pass means that teams have gashed them by land and air all season.

That the run defense gave up eight yards a carry and 191 yards rushing against the Detroit Lions in Week 2 is particular interest to a Cowboys team that wants to lean on the running game and found a nice groove against the Giants last week, rushing for a season-high 176 yards. Look for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to eat on the ground Sunday.

EDGE: Cowboys

COWBOYS DEFENSE VS. COMMANDERS OFFENSE

One one week after giving up nine sacks and putting up just eight points against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Washington offense and quarterback Carson Wentz face off against the league’s best pass rush and the vaunted Cowboys defense. This won’t be pretty. The Cowboys have recorded a league-leading 13 sacks this season. The Commanders have given up 15. Washington simply has no answers for the wave of rushers the Cowboys will send led by linebacker Micah Parsons (4 sacks), defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (3) and defensive end Dorance Armstrong (3).

Washington can’t even lean on a running game to keep the Cowboys rushers at bay. They are averaging just 86.7 yards per game on the ground.

EDGE: Cowboys

SPECIAL TEAMS

Through three games in 2022, Cowboys receiver KaVontae Turpin leads the NFL in punt return average with 16.3yards-per-return and remains a threat to go to the house every time he touches the ball, despite opponents trying to kick the ball away from him. Kicker Brett Maher has made 6 of 7 field goals this season, including three from 50 or more yards.

Washington kicker Joey Slye has gone three consecutive weeks without a field-goal attempt to open the 2022 campaign. He made three of four extra points. Punter Tress Way has been solid and busy with 17 attempts and average of 50.1 per punt through three games.

EDGE: Cowboys

COACHING

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy started the season on the hot seat but he is fighter and has shown an ability to his team back from adversity. Give McCarthy credit. He provided the impetus for the two game winnings streak with his fourth-down gambles and faith in his players. He also has the league’s defensive coordinator holding things down.

Washington coach Ron Rivera is truly on the hot seat three games into the season. His team was embarrassed at home last week by the Eagles, falling behind 24-0 before losing 24-8. He is in Year 3 and the team has shown no signs of improvement and that’s even considering problematic defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who is a problem on and off the field.

EDGE: Cowboys

INTANGIBLES

Dallas has won five of the last seven meetings against Washington and seven straight in the NFC East. They still dominant in the division.

EDGE: Cowboys

PREDICTION: Cowboys 21, Commanders 10