Keys to the Game: Washington Redskins vs Dallas Cowboys
The 3-2 Washington Redskins rebounded last Sunday with a win against the Carolina Panthers at FedEx field to regain sole possession of first place in the NFC East. This weekend’s game needs no formal introduction. It’s simply Dallas week ladies and gentlemen. If you can’t get excited about this game as a fan of either team, then what are you really watching for? I’m ready to suit up right now just thinking about it as I’m typing this article!! The Redskins face a Dallas Cowboy team that is coming off a dominant 40-7 victory against a Jacksonville Jaguar squad that just last year was in the AFC Conference Championship game. The 3-3 Cowboys look to have found their stride offensively last week, and may be coming together as a team at the right time. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s issues at quarterback going back to last season have been well documented, but since entering the NFL, he is 4-0 against the Washington Redskins. As a Redskin fan, that record should sicken you, but as a player it should motivate you to take care of business this Sunday at home, and start to create some distance record wise within the division.
The Washington Redskins have been anemic all season offensively. They have shown signs of becoming a machine moving the football in the first half of the Cardinal, Packer, and even the Carolina game. They have also shown signs of being incapable of establishing anything resemblant of offensive consistency in the Colt and Saints game, and in the second half of every game. This week against the Cowboys, they will have their work cut out for them as they will face a solid defense that has been more than competitive all season, and has the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage with their front seven led by their pro bowl defensive end and absolute beast Demarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys possess an aggressive defense that swarms well to the football, and puts you in tough down and distance situations on 2nd and 3rd down. They rush the passer well and are much better tackling than they have been in recent seasons as a unit.
This week, Dallas defensive leader and starting middle linebacker Sean Lee will be returning from a hamstring injury he suffered in the 3rd quarter of a week 3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, so that will provide an emotional lift and additional stability to an already solid defense. The Washington Redskins can use the Cowboys aggression against them this week by neutralizing the rush up field, and running effectively between the tackles. Head coach and play caller Jay Gruden has been stubborn with his play calling in regards to being creative and keeping defenses on their heels. If it has been a run formation, most likely, they have run the football; if it is a pass formation, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion they are going to pass. They are yet to mix in some read option plays for Alex Smith who has run them well throughout his career.
This week is not the week to hold back offensively, and be conservative, which we have consistently seen in Gruden’s play calling, and from Smith quarterbacking wise. They need to be aggressive and stay aggressive. Yes, they need to establish the run with Adrian Peterson early and often. Yes, they need to make sure they pick up exotic blitzes, and even basic blitzes in the passing game. Yes, they need to make Jordan Reed option number one in the passing game. Yes, they need to get their number 1 draft pick from 2016 Josh Doctson more involved in the offensive game plan. Above all, this team needs to exhibit some mental and physical toughness this week. The Cowboys are going to come in here cocky, and arrogant believing this is a guaranteed victory. With four straight wins against the Redskins, and coming off a 40 point performance the week before, they have every right to be confident. The Redskins need to not hold back this week and open things up. Utilize all their offensive resources. Speaking of offensive resources, the Redskins will be without Jamison Crowder for the second week in the row as he continues to nurse an ankle injury, and Paul Richardson is doubtful with a shoulder separation he has been playing through for weeks.
The Redskins need to get quarterback Alex Smith in a rhythm early in the game, and then build off of it. One thing I have noticed this year, is in games where he is flustered and rushed consistently, he has never found his way, or been able to regain his pocket composure. That can’t happen this Sunday, or this game will be over before it even gets started. The Redskins will hopefully see the return of Chris Thompson, their dynamic running back who has served as Alex Smith’s security blanket, this week. This will help create some additional mismatches in addition to Jordan Reed versus any linebacker or cornerback the Cowboys possess. The Redskin offensive line is going to need to tighten up their blitz protection because teams are recognizing they are unable to communicate up front and account for 5 to 6 rushers. The quick screen game should be utilized this week especially on first and second down instead of obvious passing downs. This will contribute to neutralizing the Cowboy defensive line rush up the field. The Redskins overall need to do what has been said weekly, establish an offensive identity and control the game tempo. They do that, they will be in great shape in the fourth quarter, and in position to possibly win this football game.
The Washington Redskin defense is coming into this Cowboy game feeling pretty good about themselves after holding Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to only 17 points in their victory last week. Now Dallas Cowboy quarterback, Dak Prescott is by no means Cam Newton by any stretch of the imagination, but he has the ability to beat you in a similar fashion. The quarterback position for Dallas is important, but this offense goes as running back Ezekiel Elliott goes. “Zeek” has averaged almost 100 yards rushing a game and is the second leading receiver on the Dallas squad. Plain and simple, you stop him, you stop Dallas. Well, “simple” may be a loose term, but it is definitely “necessary” in order to keep this team out of striking distance. Wide receiver Cole Beasley has proven he has the ability to make some plays, so it will be key for the Redskin slot cornerbacks (most likely Fabian Moreau, Danny Johnson, and Greg Stroman) to be in his hip pocket all game long.
The Redskins defense will need to keep Prescott in the pocket and make him make plays with his arm downfield versus allowing him to scramble for yardage and keep downs alive. They will need to hit Ezekiel Elliott every down. Even if he doesn’t have the ball, hit him anyway so he knows exactly what type of day it’s going to be. If the Redskins are able to establish some physicality early, and set the tone defensively, I honestly believe Dallas will tap out, and start to implode. Like the Redskins, Dallas hasn’t exactly responded well to adversity in recent years. If the Redskins can get out to an early lead as they have in their three wins this year, they can establish a healthy foundation for the remainder of the game, and compromise everything Dallas wants to do offensively. Making them a one dimensional passing team is going to provide the Redskins with their best chance to win, but that will require them to be up substantially in the second half of the football game.
Place kicker Dustin Hopkins has been a surprising bright spot for the Redskins thus far this season making all but one kick and going 2-2 from 50 plus. He has kicked off well, and has not been a liability. All you can ask from your kicker. Punter Tres Way has struggled and has only been able to establish a 38.2 net average punting so far this year, and that will need to improve this week for the Redskins to win the field position battle. Kickoff return team and punt return team could provide an added boost if they put together some notable return yards. Last week, coverage teams provided an early turnover, which swung the momentum in the Redskins favor. They will look to build off of that this week and continue to make plays in coverage.
I could sit hit here for hours, and yell from the mountain tops about all the things the Redskins should do in order to win this football game. The bottom line is this, the Redskins have to want it and they have to go out there and take it. They need to play angry. They need to play as if they lose this game, something bad is going to happen to their families. Play as if they lose this game they will be banished from the NFL forever never allowed to return. Play as if the Cowboy players took turns defecating on their front lawn because that is exactly what they have done the last 5 times they have come into FedEx field!! When does enough become enough? When do you get pissed off and say “not today, damnit”. I tell you what, if the Redskins come out in a game this important this early in the season, and lay another classic egg, something has to give. No more excuses. No more finger pointing. No more feeling sorry for themselves. They need to just get it done. Nobody cares how. Just defend your turf and play with some pride and effort. Whether they win or lose, make fans at the end of the game say “they did everything they could to win”. It’s time for the Redskins to take that next step towards becoming a legit contender, and it starts this Sunday with a 31-23 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. As you were...