LONDON – This one is about as clear-cut as it gets in the NFL – strength against strength and weakness against weakness.
If the Jaguars have one strength, it's probably their pass rush, as they are tied for third in the league with 27 sacks on the year. I don't need to spend many words telling you about all the ways the Cowboys' offensive line has spurred their success so far this season.
On the other side of the ball, the leaky Jacksonville offensive line has allowed a league-worst 35 sacks on the season. They'll be tasked with defending a lacking Dallas pass rush, which has just 11 sacks all year – tied for 28th in the NFL.
My two matchups for Sunday center around whose lines can handle the other better.
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence against Jaguars OT Luke Joeckel
These are the kind of matchups that scouts live for. You have two players with high talent levels, both very early in their careers, facing off one-on-one on a Sunday afternoon.
Lawrence made his debut last weekend against the Cardinals, while Joeckel has been a Day 1 starter since he was drafted by the Jaguars in the first round in 2013. Lawrence has done nothing but impress the front office and coaches since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him the first eight weeks of the season. He has benefited from the time he missed by adding muscle to his frame, and those daily snaps he's able to get against Tyron Smith in practice have allowed him to nicely return to form.
His opposite this weekend, Joeckel, shares some similar traits to Lawrence. Joeckel was not the strongest of tackles coming out of the draft, and at times it affected the way he was able to match up with opponents during his rookie season. Now in his second season, he has developed more power to go along with that athletic ability.
In this contest, Lawrence will not only need to be mentally prepared for some of the read-option scheme the Jaguars like to use, but physically ready to match Joeckel's ability to work to the outside and engage in the passing game. Lawrence cannot afford to be technique-poor or lazy, because if he is, Joeckel will neutralize him and that will be the end of that matchup.
Cowboys OT Doug Free against Jaguars DE Red Bryant
It is never an easy matchup when an offensive tackle has to deal with the likes of Red Bryant, because of the physical nature in which he plays the game. Bryant is not one of those players that you would describe as fluid or athletic. He has always been a mauler-brawler type that attempts to turn the game into a street fight.
[embeddedad0]I have always viewed him as a much better run player than pass rusher. In 2013 he played on a Super Bowl-winning defense that relied on his ability to hold up on the edge in the running game while others around him attacked the quarterback. In this Jaguars scheme he is doing many of those same things that he did while he was playing for Seattle.
This will be Free's first game back in the lineup after missing the last three with a foot injury. Free has faced Bryant before, so he is well aware of the power he can play with throughout a game -- he will be ready for that.
A key for me in this matchup will be in the Cowboys running game, off that right side, and how well Free can get movement on Bryant or secure him inside to allow the ball to get to the edge. When this offense has had success running the ball, it has largely been due to Free, Zack Martin and a combination of Jason Witten or James Hanna all working together on that right side.
This should be a very good test for Free, who has done a much better job of handling the type of player he will see in Red Bryant.