It’s no secret that this is one of the biggest games in recent Cowboys history.
Win and you’re in; quite simple.
The Cowboys were off to an embarrassing start early this season, a start that had many fans quitting on the season before the halfway mark even rolled around. As fate would have it, the Cowboys have proved everyone wrong and now have a shot to win the NFC East with a makeshift team.
This won’t be an easy task. The Redskins looked dominant on Thanksgiving Day and were able to hold off a late surge by the Cowboys.
There are some weaknesses on this Redskins team, and if the Cowboys want to be successful, they have to exploit them.
So without further introduction, here are my keys to victory for the Dallas Cowboys.
Stay Away from Zone Coverage
Pierre Garcon torched the Cowboys on Thanksgiving to the tune of four receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. Simply put, Garcon was unstoppable.
Where Robert Griffin III is most dangerous is when he’s moving around. He’s obviously a combination quarterback who can beat you with his legs as well as his arm. So when he starts to scramble, the defense reacts and RGIII attacks.
In at least two big catches for Garcon, the Cowboys were playing zone coverage. Garcon wasn’t bumped or turned off his route. RGIII was able to move around and suck in defenders and find Garcon in his routes in the soft parts of the zone.
This can’t happen again.
When you commit your offseason to bringing in two cornerbacks who specialize in man-to-man coverage, then you have to live and die by it. The Cowboys have had great success in press coverage this season but it wasn’t featured as much in the Thanksgiving Day showdown.
Here’s what the problem is: RGIII is a rookie who has exceptional field vision. He isn’t going to be taken back by zone blitzes or disguised zone coverages. He will take the snap, read the defense and react accordingly. You can’t let him pick you apart.
The best thing to do is minimalize your zone. I’m not saying abandon it completely, but the Cowboys should force the Redskins receivers to beat them man-to-man.
Additionally, the Cowboys are getting caught in zone coverages and not accounting for receivers out of the back field. You have to be able to contain the impact of a player like Alfred Morris.
A careful, strategic defensive plan will help the Cowboys to win this game.
Let the Offense Come to You
The Redskins pass defense is horrid. They are allowing 287 yards per game and really haven’t demonstrated any ability to stop opponents.
My point is pretty clear: The Cowboys are going to be given chances to exploit this defense. They just have to take them.
Last matchup, Dez Bryant had a coming-out party by recording eight receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The coming-out party may have actually been for a player like Cole Beasley, who had seven receptions on 13 targets for 68 yards.
With all the focus that will be on Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, the slot receiver is often forgotten. It’s important that Tony Romo makes all the appropriate reads.
The Cowboys are still a team that loves a balanced offense. The return of DeMarco Murray to the matchup is a good one. Between his ability to gain positive yards and Romo’s ability to exploit mismatches, the Cowboys could have an explosive day.
Keep Safety Coverage High
Rob Ryan loves to dial up the blitz in creative ways. This has been a double-edged sword for him. Dallas’ defense has been productive when bringing defensive backs on the blitz. However, it's also paid for it.
In the last matchup against RGIII and the Redskins, the Cowboys left safeties in man coverage or had them blitzing and they suffered for it. RGIII was able to complete a bomb to Aldrick Robinson for 68 yards because of a miscommunication on coverage and no safety help up top.
You have to keep it simple, Rob.
The safeties we have on our roster aren’t good enough to play man coverage on receivers. We have to trust that we can matchup appropriately without leaving too much weakness. If that means the blitz has to be scaled back, then by all means.
The Cowboys can live or die by the blitz. If they chose it this week, I’ll be writing their seasonal obituary this time next week.
Tackle, Tackle, Tackle
I wish I had counted all the missed tackles I’ve seen over this season, but trust it’s been way too many.
No matter which game you watch, you’ll find the Cowboys using lousy form when tackling and ultimately missing those tackles.
The Cowboys are tied at 17th for fumbles forced this season. I get it; you want to force turnovers. It makes perfect sense, but not at the expense of bringing down a ball-carrier.
This team cannot afford to allow any additional yards. Hit, wrap, lift, drive it’s quite simple, middle school children are perfecting it as we speak.
For the love of Cowboys Nation…just tackle, guys!
Manage the Clock
The Cowboys have only lost two games when they have a positive time of possession margin. Those two games were at Baltimore Ravens and home against the New York Giants, both games they should have won.
If you want to keep the ball out of a dangerous playmaker like RGIII’s hands, then control the pace of the game.
DeMarco Murray averages 4.1 yards per carry, and Tony Romo completes 76 percent of his passes between one and 10 yards.
Sure, the Cowboys love the explosive play, and they’ll have their opportunities. For the most part, however, the Cowboys have all the ability in the world to control the clock by making positive runs, short passes and staying in bounds.
Not only will this allow the Cowboys offense to maximize efficiency against an increasingly tired Redskins defense, but it will allow the Cowboys defense the opportunity to stay fresh. The replacement defense will be a lot more effective if it isn't running all over the field every 10 minutes.
Keep the defense fresh, the offense efficient and you have a formula for success.
Why not, right? This is my article, and I’m making the calls.
So I’m going to pretend Jason Garrett really cares about what I’m saying and assume he takes into consideration all my keys to victory.
Dallas 24 Washington 17
Tony Romo: 30-of-39, 314 yards, two touchdowns
Dez Bryant: nine receptions, 97 yards, one touchdown
DeMarco Murray: 24 carriers, 112 yards, one touchdown
Morris Claiborne: three tackles, one interception