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Week 12 Keys to the Game: Washington Redskins vs Dallas Cowboys

The Washington Redskins loss more than just a home game to the Houston Texans last Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a season ending leg injury that has forced quarterback Colt McCoy into the starter’s role with the Dallas Cowboys up next this Thursday on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. First place in the NFC East is on the line. The Cowboys look to have the inside track on securing the division with the Eagles seemingly faltering, the Giants three games back, and the Redskins have important players going down with season ending injuries. The Cowboys are on a two game winning streak, and are playing their best football as running back Ezekiel Elliott has resurfaced as the dominant force he was expected to be coming into the season.

The Redskins did not roll over last Sunday when Alex Smith was injured. They came back to take the lead in the final quarter on the strength of quarterback Colt McCoy’s aggressive play and ability to move the offense despite having not taken a regular season snap since the final game of 2015. The Redskins are looking to put together an improbable final six games of the season and overcome a rash of injuries to win the NFC East division title and make the playoffs. Thursday’s game will determine whether they take a 2-game lead over the Cowboys to control their own destiny, or make the division a wide open scramble for supremacy down the stretch. The Redskins are currently 2-0 in the division, and have already defeated the Cowboys once this season. Not that the Cowboys need any added motivation for one of the all-time greatest rivalries in the history of professional sports, but the Redskins were victorious the first time they met this season 20-17 in a game that ended controversially. The Redskins will have a short week to prepare for this game, and quarterback Colt McCoy will need to dust the proverbial cobwebs off real quick, and lead this Redskin team to a road victory in a hostile environment on Thursday afternoon.

With this being a short week to prepare, it will be interesting to see how Jay Gruden and the Redskin offensive coaching staff approach game-planning for the Cowboy defense. Colt McCoy has not started a game since 2014, and will not have the benefit of a full week of study and practice to get prepared and reacclimate himself. The good thing is, he has had more than enough mental repetitions, and knows Jay Gruden’s system better than anyone on the team. The Redskins also signed veteran Mark Sanchez this week as the backup, but hope he is not put in a position that he has to play anytime soon; preferably, at all. Colt McCoy and Alex Smith have similar strengths in that they are both mobile, and can beat you on the move, and off schedule, but Colt is much more aggressive and will take more chances in an effort to make a play. He will make some plays in the process, but with those chances comes more mistakes and turnovers in some cases. McCoy will not be afraid to make mistakes, and that could ultimately prove to be a detriment or benefit to this team going forward. Jay Gruden said in so many words in his Monday press conference that he was going to be cautious with McCoy as a result of them not having a proven backup ready to go if he was to get injured. This mentality is exactly what we DON’T need going into Dallas with the division lead at stake. If that press conference was any indication of how Jay is going to call this game offensively, then we can expect to see similar results on the scoreboard. The Redskins proved in the first game that they can run the football on the Cowboys, but since then, they have lost arguably their best offensive lineman in Brandon Scherff for the season, and pro bowler Trent Williams is questionable with a thumb injury he had surgery on a few weeks back.

With Alex Smith out, and the Redskin offensive line banged up, the Redskins should be expecting the Cowboys to put 8 men in the tackle box in an effort to stop Adrian Peterson, and force McCoy to throw the football to beat them. They should also look for them to bring pressure frequently especially on 3rd downs. How do you combat that? Quick screens and short passes to get the ball out of McCoy’s hands fast allowing tight end Jordan Reed and this wide receiver corps to get involved and make some plays early in the football game. This will allow Colt to get in a rhythm as well as force the Cowboys to defend sideline to sideline instead of hash to hash opening up the field more for the running game. Sometimes, you have to pass in order to allow yourself the opportunity to run. The Dallas defense is aggressive, and run to the football well. The Redskins can use that against them with some misdirection plays, and some creativity within the run and pass game. The Dallas defensive backs are only as good as their front seven allows them to be. If the Redskins can find a way to cut off penetration into the backfield, and move McCoy around enough in and out of the pocket to create some throwing lanes, their defensive backs can be exploited. Above all in this game, the Redskins have to continue not turning the ball over, and not give the Cowboys short fields providing any type of momentum. The Cowboys offense feeds of that, and the Redskins can’t afford to give them any additional opportunities to score. The Redskins left a lot of points on the field Sunday when they had some chances to make plays. This week, they cannot afford to do that on the road against a team that looks to be gaining offensive confidence.

This week, the Redskin defense’s job is definitely easier said than done: stop running back Ezekiel Elliott for a second time, and force Dak Prescott to beat you with his arm inside the pocket. The Redskin front line of Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, and DaRon Payne has gone from dominant to almost a non-factor in recent weeks. They will need a resurgence as they face one of the best offensive lines in football, and an offense that has picked up a new toy in wide receiver Amari Cooper since their last matchup. Pressure and disruption will be key as running lanes for Elliott will need to be eliminated, and they will need to get pressure on Prescott to constantly harass him in passing situations. It is imperative that they collapse the pocket and get him to the ground not allowing him to gain any type of confidence. The Redskin defense is hoping starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar is able to return this week to add stability back to their secondary. They are also looking to reap the benefits of their trade for Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, and hoping it pays dividends. The Redskin linebackers will need to tackle well in the open field and keep an extra eye out on Dak Prescott as he likes to scramble when he sees defenders backs turned, or notices them dropping into coverage. Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan, who has played noticeably better in recent weeks, and Preston Smith will need to play possessed on Thursday. They need to play like Dak Prescott disrespected their whole family lineage and is proud of himself for doing so. They need to take this game personally, and use it as an opportunity to make a statement. The whole defense does for that matter. They need to take Alex Smith’s injury and use it as motivation and say to Colt, “We got your back...you don’t have to do it by yourself”, and then go out and be dominant. I believe if they play the way they are capable of playing, and do the basics like tackle well, and not commit bad penalties being undisciplined, everything else will take care of itself. It never hurts to cause a couple turnovers as well.

Tress Way has been absolutely phenomenal this season, and has been one of the MVPs for this team. He will be invaluable again this week as the Redskins will need to be able to flip the field position in punting situations. The more plays the Cowboys are forced to run, the higher the likelihood they commit a mistake in the Redskins’ favor. Field position will be crucial in this game, and the Redskins need to win that battle along with the turnover ratio. It’s absolutely imperative that Redskins find a way to infuse some creativity on special teams because as the season winds down, they are going to need to figure out some more dynamic ways to put points on the board. What better time than a rivalry game against a division foe for first place to open up the playbook and go “balls to the wall”. The Redskins have all the components to win this game on Thanksgiving. They can’t go into that “chrome urinal”, as former Redskin Doc Walker likes to call AT&T Stadium, feeling sorry for themselves. The Cowboys will be hungry. They will be angry. They will have their sights on putting themselves in prime position to win this division. The Redskins have an opportunity to negate that, and break the brooms out by sweeping them this season. Not to be negative, but the Redskins have continually blown these types of chances, and at some point, as a Redskin fan you would like to hope they will get tired of it and emphatically put a stop to it. The Redskins’ division title run continues this week with a 24-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. As you were...

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