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Struggling Commanders O-line's next challenge: Micah Parsons and the Cowboys' pass rush

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ASHBURN, Va. -- The matchup, on paper, looks like this: Team with the NFL's best pass rush faces team that has allowed the most sacks. A Dallas Cowboys front that leads the NFL with pressures versus a Washington Commanders line that has allowed the fourth most. Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons facing a group that allowed nine sacks last week.

Need we continue?

And yet, it's what the Commanders say they welcome for a simple reason.

"We're pretty excited after last week to going out and proving [to] ourselves we're capable," Washington right tackle Sam Cosmi said.

"Very anxious for it," said Washington left tackle Charles Leno Jr. "We got another opportunity."

On Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), the Commanders (1-2), tied with the Cincinnati Bengals with an NFL-worst 15 sacks allowed, play at the Cowboys (2-1), a team that leads the NFL with 13 sacks 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 start to unravel. That’s not what the team wants, or expected, in Year 3 under coach Ron Rivera.

It starts with being able to slow Parsons.

"Micah Parsons is an unbelievable football player," said Washington center Nick Martin, whose brother Zack starts at guard for Dallas.

"Just a very talented athlete, special athlete," Leno said.

Washington's pass protection held up fine in an season-opening 28-22 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. It enabled quarterback Carson Wentz to complete 27 of 41 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns. But, the past two weeks have featured horrible first halves dominated by constant pressure on Wentz, who exacerbated some of this by holding onto the ball too long at times.

It's not just about slowing Parsons, as Dallas' front also includes end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has three sacks and helps key a front that uses a variety of alignments.

"They try to create one-on-ones," Rivera said.

Last week, Philadelphia created one-on-one opportunities as well -- even against a seven-man protection -- by its pre-snap look and post-snap movement.

On Monday against the New York Giants, Dallas managed an NFL-best 24 pressures. For the season, Parsons has won 50% of the time when facing one blocker, trailing only Buffalo linebacker Von Miller.

They'll typically align Parsons on the left side on passing downs. But sometimes it's inside where he'll pick a spot through the interior. Other times it's on the right side. Maybe it's next to Lawrence and they run a stunt. Maybe they'll slant the rest of the line to the right and create a one-on-one for Parsons with plenty of room to the inside.

"He's a really good athlete. A fast, smart player so you've got to definitely play around him, look out for 11 on the field," Cosmi said, referencing Parsons' number. "He’s quick off the ball, has a really good inside move and lulls [tackles] to sleep on the outside, but he's really quick with that inside move. He's a speedy guy and he gets a lot of guys like that."

But it's not just Parsons and that's what makes Dallas dangerous -- six different Cowboys have recorded sacks this season. Lawrence recorded four of his 9.5 sacks the past two years against Washington.

"They have a very good rush so have to be on against great players," Martin said. "They take advantage of the little mistakes or the lack of technique you don't use."

Washington will try to counter by possibly running the ball more with Antonio Gibson. The Commanders will use double teams, max protection and try to use their quick game. They'll occasionally chip the end, but when that happened last week a pass-rusher was bumped around the tackle -- and into a sack.

They tried these tactics last week and failed, in part because they lost too many one-on-ones. Wentz said he can help by throwing the ball a little sooner, a factor on two or three of Sunday's nine sacks.

"All of our guys with the ball in their hand can turn a 2-yard pass into something big in a hurry," Wentz said. "For me it's just playing fast. Play fast and go where the read takes me. If that means checking it down underneath, I have nothing but confidence those guys can take two yards into 20 in a hurry. I think we've already seen some of that this year."

Receiver Terry McLaurin said their timing has to be much better. Any deviation from their route could result in a sack.

But in the end, it'll be about Washington's offensive front needing a much better game than what they've played the past two weeks versus a dangerous pass rush.

"We know what we're up against," Wentz said. "I've got nothing but confidence in our guys to protect. I'm very excited for the matchup. I know our guys are excited for it and they're a great defense, great front. ... We're going to be ready for the challenge."