FRISCO, Texas — For the better part of their interviews, which took place four days and 1,300 miles apart, each man was tempered.
On Sunday, Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera adopted a broad lens through which to diagnose his 1-2 team’s performance. The nine sacks allowed in a 24-8 loss to the Eagles resulted from “probably a combination” of factors, Rivera explained. Protection and coverage adjustments could help, as might a quicker ball release and separation-inducing routes. “There are 10 other guys on the field,” Rivera reminded.
On Thursday, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons praised those other guys, specifically the Commanders’ weapons and capacity for explosive plays. Quarterback Carson Wentz boasts longevity and arm strength, Parsons said. As long as the Cowboys defense collectively performs and downs the quarterback, “that’s a great night.”
Eventually, a moment of candor arrived in each interchange.
Parsons had concluded his camera-facing interview, and nearly also reached the conclusion of his walk down the hall, when the elevator door opened to transport him upstairs. Parsons had just asserted that to sack Wentz, he must get to Wentz’s spot faster than the quarterback himself.
“But I definitely am trying to get back in the sack column,” Parsons admitted, after a sackless win vs. the New York Giants followed two multi-sack games. “I’ve been getting made fun of all week (by) my teammates. Because that’s just the expectation.”
And back on Sunday at FedEx Field?
“I think (Wentz) could’ve played better,” Rivera admitted. “That’s the truth of it.”
Those truths will collide at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, as the 2-1 Cowboys aim to pace the undefeated Eagles in the NFC East race. Dallas’ defense has allowed just one touchdown per game vs. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Joe Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals and Saquon Barkley’s Giants. The Cowboys lead the league with 13 sacks, also ranking fourth in total passing defense (176.3 yards per game) and ninth in overall yardage allowed (312.3 per game) through three weeks.
Wentz and Washington, meanwhile, allowed a league-high 15 sacks through three weeks. The Commanders offense was productive in a 28-22 opening win vs. Jacksonville and even in a 36-27 loss at Detroit, before last week’s unraveling. Wentz has thrown for 861 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions, albeit more recently in back-loaded performances that featured deficits of 22-0 and then 24-0 at halftime.
The Commanders studied each sack and missed opportunity after their loss to Philadelphia. They considered what plays landed them in unfavorable third-and-long situations, and on which looks Wentz and star receiver Terry McLaurin could have connected earlier in the game. Did a coverage bust allow Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham to unleash for 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble? And how might scheme tweaks better position the offense to hum?
The Commanders risk a second division loss if they don’t soon find answers. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner admitted “it wasn’t the most fun” to review tape from their last meeting with Dallas — a 56-14 Cowboys dismantling in December — especially after their performance against the Eagles.
Turner coached his players on the Cowboys’ multiple-front defense and the challenges that extend beyond stance releases and hand placement. Wentz must be wary of Parsons’ movement across the line and back into coverage, and yet not so locked in on the reigning defensive rookie of the year that he (like the Giants on Monday) succumbs to the wrath of defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence (three sacks vs. Giants) or Dorance Armstrong (three in the last two games).
In the secondary, meanwhile, reigning league interception king Trevon Diggs is coming off his first pick of the season while safety Donovan Wilson has wreaked havoc via blitzes, open-field tackles and an interception of his own vs. Tampa Bay.
Both the rush and coverage will tempt Wentz.
“They do a lot of stunts and twists we’ve got to prepare for where Philly doesn’t at that frequency,” Turner said. “They’ll move guys around a little bit (to) where you have the mental challenge of ID’ing.”
Nonetheless, Wentz said he’ll seek to execute his reads and reignite the offense, concerned more about establishing rhythm early than flashy play.
Parsons, meanwhile, anticipates such improvement. His head coach agrees.
“You’ve got to watch yourself, especially in division games,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’m not one to say, ‘Hey, they gave up nine (sacks), we’re going to get 12. … I was watching the game on TV, 24-0, it didn’t feel that way to me watching it live. Then we watched on the coaches tape, it definitely didn’t look that way.
“You’ve got to guard against false confidence.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein