Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins: Sketching out a Game Plan for Washington
T-minus two days before the biggest game in the NFC East this season. Sunday night in Landover, Md., the Washington Redskins will play the Dallas Cowboys for the 106th time. Washington has only won 41 of those games, but a win here would likely be satisfying enough for Redskins fans to get over their tough history with the Cowboys.
It wouldn't be as significant as their victory over Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship game, but it would still probably be the team's biggest win over the 'Boys in 30 years.
So how do the Redskins ensure that they get the W? A few suggestions...
When the Redskins are on offense...
Despite the fact they've been winning of late, the Cowboys have actually given up more yards than any other team in football since Week 12. And this Redskins team has averaged more yards per offensive play than any other team in the NFL this season. They must win this game on offense, not defense.
The key for Washington will be to again mix up targets, keeping a depleted defense off-kilter by utilizing several different receivers as top reads and working the ball around. That happened in the first meeting, as Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan were targeted six times and Santana Moss had the ball thrown his way on five occasions.
Matchups with Morris Claiborne should be preferred. While Claiborne's had some good moments as a rookie, Brandon Carr is the much more dangerous Dallas corner right now. Plus, Claiborne isn't 100 percent healthy right now. He wasn't tested deep by the Saints last week, but he still gave up 10 catches on 11 throws in his direction.
The Redskins targeted Carr much more often in Week 12, but that was a bit of a coincidence. I don't think they should head into this outing with a motive to go to town on any specific Dallas defensive back.
Instead, they'll want to attack a shorthanded front seven up the gut. With linebackers Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Orie Lemon, Ernie Sims and Alex Albright all either out or less than 100 percent and defensive linemen Jay Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and Josh Brent all out, this Dallas D is most vulnerable on the ground. The Redskins can set up big, game-changing plays by pounding away with battering ram back Alfred Morris.
Not only is this the best way to continue to avoid turnovers while controlling the clock and wearing down the Dallas D, but it also makes the quarterback run the third and final option, protecting the hobbled and vulnerable Robert Griffin III.
When the Redskins are on defense...
Like I said, the Redskins won't likely win this game on defense. Instead, they have to make sure they don't lose it here. Tony Romo is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, and Dez Bryant is one of the hottest receivers in the league. They've improved in pass protection and also have a healthy DeMarco Murray complementing Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, who has already broken the single-season record for catches by a tight end.
It goes without saying that Bryant has to be the biggest concern. Austin has struggled a tad, and the 'Skins don't have to concern themselves with Witten's speed. Bryant is the deep threat who can change the game at any moment, and this defense is still without suspended cornerback Cedric Griffin, who I believe would have been an ideal option to shadow Dez.
Instead, they should give both Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall opportunities to match up with Bryant since you never know what exactly you're going to get from either corner. And regardless, there has to be constant safety help. Bend but don't break, right? That means ensuring that a guy like Bryant is never deep down the field in single coverage.
If that means Austin and Witten get a lot of looks, so be it. That's how you bend. And if the Cowboys try to force things by spreading them out and gaining single coverage, the Washington pass rush has proven to be good enough to limit Tony Romo's time to take advantage of said situation.
Murray can also hurt the Washington defense, which has been inconsistent against the run because it's been selling out to defend the pass a lot. Again, though, that's a risk the 'Skins have to take.
Murray hasn't been himself this entire season, and especially since returning from injury four weeks ago. The Redskins have to gamble that he won't suddenly flick a switch and burn them. They have to blitz frequently, just as they did in the first meeting.
There's a decent chance Jason Garrett panics and ditches the run early anyway in a game like this, so Washington can't devote too much of its defensive attention to Murray. Sending extra men will help that secondary greatly against one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL.
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