ASHBURN — Nick Martin called his brother this week and was quick to remind him of a certain stat. The Washington Commanders’ newest center is siblings with All-Pro Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin. But more importantly, younger brother Nick is 2-0 against Zack when their teams face off head-to-head.
And ahead of another showdown, Nick wasn’t about to let Zack forget it.
“I was talking to him (Tuesday),” said Nick, who had beaten the Cowboys when he was with the Houston Texans and Las Vegas Raiders. “It was one of the first things I said.”
For those bragging rights to continue, the Commanders’ offensive line will need to play much better than it did last week.
After giving up nine sacks over the weekend to the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington will be tasked Sunday with stopping Micah Parsons and a ferocious Cowboys defensive line. Dallas is 2-1 this season and has been able to withstand the two-game absence of quarterback Dak Prescott (thumb) in part because of its defense. The Cowboys lead the league with 13 sacks, four of which belong to Parsons.
The Eagles’ nine sacks last game weren’t solely on Washington’s offensive line. Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz held the ball far too long — with some pundits suggesting that as many as five sacks were the signal-caller’s fault. But the line wasn’t absent of blame, especially on the interior where Wes Schweitzer, Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner combined to allow 11 of 22 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner acknowledged Washington will need to adjust, but added the lineup will stay mostly the same. The only substantial change will be at center as Martin, signed last week, replaces an injured Schweitzer (concussion).
Schweitzer’s injury makes Martin the Commanders’ third center in just four games this season. Chase Roullier (knee) is on injured reserve after going down in Week 2.
Through three games, Wentz has been sacked a league-high 15 times.
“It’s not all offensive line,” Turner said, referring to Washington’s issues against the pass rush. “I mean the quarterback has to get the ball out. … Guys got to get open quickly so the ball can come out. And I got to make sure I’m doing a great job of getting those guys in position to make plays.”
The margin for error figures to be thin against the Cowboys. Last year, Washington especially struggled with Dallas’ front — giving up 10 sacks in two games. In those contests, then-starter Taylor Heinicke was under duress so often that he completed only 38.3% of his passes (18 of 47).
Turner said Dallas’ line presents a different challenge than Philadelphia’s. The Cowboys, he said, tend to be more “multiple” in how they attack offenses — meaning Dallas will line up pass-rushers in a variety of spots and then dial up an array of twists and stunts.
No player better executes Dallas’ philosophy than Parsons — the versatile pass-rusher who’s used all over the field, including at off-ball linebacker. According to Pro Football Focus, the 2021 first-rounder out of Penn State has spent 45% of his snaps on the left side of the line, 30% on the right and roughly 25% of his snaps “in the box” through three games. In the process, Parsons has accumulated a league-high 19 pressures.
“Man, he can do it all,” Commanders left tackle Charles Leno said. “Talk about a five-tool pass-rusher.”
Against the New York Giants on Monday, Parsons had another eye-popping highlight when he steamrolled through guard Mark Glowinski on his way to hitting quarterback Daniel Jones and disrupting a pass. Still, Parsons, for only the seventh time in 19 career games, finished without a sack.
Speaking to reporters in Dallas, the 23-year-old said teammates have been teasing him all week for being shut out. But Parsons plans to change that Sunday. He noted he no longer has a cold — which caused him to miss two practices last week.
“It’s night and day,” Parsons said. “I’m definitely back to myself feeling 100%. I’m ready.”
If Parsons weren’t enough, the Commanders also have to account for other rushers like Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Each has three sacks this season.
“It’s a great defense, a great front,” Wentz said. “They fly around. They play fast. So we know what we’re up against. I’ve got nothing but confidence in our guys to protect. … We’re gonna be ready for the challenge.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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