Cowboys Front Seven vs. Jonathan Taylor: Run around the defensive curve in time to face off against Star Colts RB

“There’s a saying that everyone remembers November and December, that’s the reality of our league, especially at 17 games,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “The best football is ahead of us.”

McCarthy’s last line, “The best football is ahead,” seems to apply to his team’s defense, especially against the run. Her quick defense had been her glaring weakness, allowing for 143.1 rushing yards per game in weeks 1-10, fourth-highest in the NFL, ahead of her wins at the Minnesota Vikings and at home to the New York Giants in weeks 11 and 12. Dallas has conceded 81.5 rushing yards per game in his last two competitions, the sixth-least in the league, despite playing against two of the NFL’s top running backs — Dalvin Cook of the Vikings and Saquon Barkley of the Giants.

“We just understand that teams will do that [run the ball right at us]’ Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons said Wednesday. “They kind of hope teams don’t play the run-screen game…Teams don’t really want to fall behind and keep passing, at least against us…it’s hard to stay up, but we get what it is. At the moment we’ve seen what we need to see and we’re always planning for the unexpected.”

In Weeks 8 and 10, before and after their Week 9 bye, the Cowboys allowed a total of 447 rushing yards in their 49-29 win over the Chicago Bears in Week 8 (240 rushing yards allowed) and 31-28 losses in overtime on the Bay Packers green in Week 10 (207 rushing yards allowed), a two-game stretch that marked only the ninth time in franchise history that Dallas had conceded 200 or more rushing yards in consecutive games. A big source of pride for the Silver and Blue this Thanksgiving was Barkley’s limit of 52 scrimmage yards – 39 rushing and 13 received – and a rushing touchdown in Week 12 after allowing him to break away in Week 3, when he had 126 yards from scrimmage and a rushing score.

“I thought we did pretty well, hey [Barkley] Maybe he had one explosive run, maybe two, but for the most part he held it back and made sure it was all short,” Parsons said after the Thanksgiving game. “They passed a lot more than we probably expected, so I think we did a pretty good job for the way he is [Barkley] play this year.”

The Cowboys closed their season-high with 12 missed tackles in their 23-16 win over the Giants in Week 3, but they had a season-low with one missed tackle in their 28-20 win over the same team on Turkey Day in Week 12.

“One thing we were happy with was our tackle…that was a big improvement over the quarterback [Daniel Jones] to the running back [Barkley]Guys who are exceptional with what they do in terms of running the ball,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday. “Against this team [the Giants], we knew how important it would be to be able to place the edges. This running back Barkley has such a good jump cut to start outside and bring it back inside, so we worked on it as much as we could in the short week. We know how explosive and dangerous he is. We knew it had to be second, third, fourth coming in to make some plays. It wouldn’t just be in the running game. It was he who came out of the backfield on screens. That was a focus for us in the run-up: the duels in the run and also in the passing game.”

Week 13 brings another challenging task to AT&T Stadium in Arlington on “Sunday Night Football” in last season’s leading rusher, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. He led the entire league in carries (332), rushing yards (1,811) and rushing touchdowns (18) in 2021, and although Taylor missed three games this season with an ankle injury, Taylor has avoided 47 tackles in 2022, the eighth-most in the NFL , according to Pro Football Focus.

“It’s the speed,” said Quinn when asked what sets the Colts’ lead horse apart. “[Jonathan] Taylor has a bigger back, which you wouldn’t always believe given his speed, but he has a strong back. The inner barrel if you miss your fit or angle you can be really vulnerable. I think you saw that against them [Las Vegas] Raiders on the long he had [a 66-yard touchdown run] If he can get to the edge and share it, he has the speed to go the distance. This has been the case since he was a student [at Wisconsin], and it’s kinda worn all the way through. He’s a tough back who has really good speed so this will be our third in a line of guys who can really make the big games.

“He is [Taylor] just more downhill, more forward, and he’s got that extra juice at the end,” Parsons said when asked about the difference between Taylor and the last two running backs, Cook and Barkley. “He always falls forward where Saquon was [Barkley] and [Dalvin] Cook are a lot more elusive, I would call Jonathan Taylor more of a powerback just smaller than D Henry.”

Since former Indianapolis Colts offensive lineman and ESPN NFL analyst Jeff Saturday became acting head coach in place of fired Frank Reich, he reinstalled Matt Ryan as starting quarterback after being benched for former sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger , and put more of an emphasis on ground play. Taylor has had at least 20 carries, 80 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in all three games since taking over on Saturday.

Jonathan Taylor in numbers in 2022

Rush Attack/Game



Rush YPG






Rush TD



* With Interim HC Jeff Saturday

Old friends became enemies on Sunday

The Cowboys defense may never get a better scouting report on an opposing quarterback from their defense coordinator than in preparation for Colts quarterback Matt Ryan, Quinn’s face of the franchise when he was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-2020. Their run together included the culmination of their two careers in the 2016 season when Ryan won the NFL MVP award while the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl. They narrowly lost to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, losing 34-28 in overtime, the only Super Bowl ever to go OT, after losing a 28-3 lead. However, when Quinn looks back on his years with Ryan, it’s all admiration.

“I love him,” Quinn said when asked if he would face his former star quarterback. “He’s a rare and relentless competitor. It’s one of the first things you learn about being around him for a long time. He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He comes across as nice and clean, but he’s a tough – ass competitor. Those are some of the things I remember. From his side I remember all the support he showed me and the staff and I certainly appreciate it. He has a special place with me because of his toughness, his leadership and so on, that’s what he stands for.”

Ryan may not be so happy to see his old boss on Sunday, as the 37-year-old quarterback is averaging the fewest air yards per pass attempt in the NFL this season (5.9) and the second-highest turnovers in the league at 14 , just behind Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s 15. To make matters worse, the Colts have conceded the most sacks in the league, 43, while the Cowboys defense has the most sacks in the NFL, 45, the most of any team through 11 Playing since the Buffalo Bills in 2014. Dallas is on course for 69 sacks as a team this season, which would be three fewer than the 72-season team record set by the Chicago Bears in 1984.

Parson’s power

Leading the Cowboys’ sack division is Parsons, whose 12 sacks are the second-highest in the league, behind only the 13 posted by New England Patriots linebacker Matt Judon. With 12 or more sacks in each of his first two seasons, Parsons is just one of three players to have accomplished the feat, along with arguably greatest pass rusher of all time, Hall of Famer Reggie White, and former San Francisco 49ers defensive end, AldonSmith. His 12 total sacks also ranks among the 11 most-played games by a player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Double-digit sack champions in first two seasons of career


Micah Parsons








Reggie White



* There are six games left in the 2022 regular season

All of his sacks have come in bundles — two-sack games — as Parsons’ six multi-sack games since 1982 ranked third in a season. He needs just three more such games to break the record for most multi-sack games in a season, currently held by White at eight.

Most multi-sack games in a season since 1982


Reggie White



Aaron Donald






Chris Doleman



Micah Parsons


* Connected to many others

“I come out and try to do variations of moves,” Parsons said. “I really want to see how they’re going to play, especially in the first 15 [plays]. You will try tricks, gadgets, game actions, boots and all sorts of things compared to real dropbacks. I try to use my super strength, that is my speed, to see if they are suitable for the speed. If I can’t hit the edge, I’ll be like, ‘Ok, good is in there?’ If he remains heavy inside, “are his arms wide?” There are a lot of keys that I’m slowly picking up and realizing if maybe I’m taking advantage of that. Then, “Oh wow, if anyone figures out the game plan, it’s like we need to change it now.” And at that point, I’ve got it right where I want it. I have a good playback memory so I can kinda remember how they hired me [up]how i lost, were my hands wrong, did i miss my hands? Things like that just help me. You remember more when you lose than when you win.”

A significant part of Parsons’ prolific ability to bring down opposing quarterbacks is his versatility — both in his formation and in his moves to take down offensive linemen. While he was playing 72% of the time as a defender, 26% of the time as an inside linebacker, and 2% of the time as a cornerback, there was a lot of variation in where he was lined up on the defensive line, or when standing up as an inside linebacker, loudly Pro Football Focus.

“You want to make sure you’re not in one place long enough for teams to be like, ‘Here he is [Parsons] will be, so that’s what we’re going to do,'” Quinn said. “He moves off the ball sometimes, left, right, so you can move him around. … When you have that kind of versatility, not every player can. The fact that Micah can switch from inside linebacker to outside linebacker to right defensive end to left defensive end to stand over center. Putting him in different spots is one of the real parts of not letting anyone know, “Hey, always put a tight end on the offensive left [side] Hacking Lawrence Taylor, not that it worked against him or anyone else. I think the ability to move is a big part of that.”

Ryan, Taylor and the Colts’ 30th-scoring team — 15.8 points per game — are likely to have a rude awakening Sunday night against Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and the rest of the Cowboys’ front seven powering the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense, which allows 17.0 points per game.