Cowboys vs. Redskins: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Sunday Night Clash
Sunday night is an NFC East title fight between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins.
Victory not only claims the division, but earns the NFC's No. 4 seed in the process.
Robert Griffin III's impact will undoubtedly be a factor in the game's outcome; however, he's not the only player to watch for—even on Washington's offense.
As for Dallas, the Cowboys are still trying to avoid being a late season flop. Without question, Big D has performed better throughout this December than recent years, but none of it will matter unless victory occurs in prime time.
Given that Dallas dropped last week and the Redskins enter with a six-game winning streak, there is a clear disparity at the moment. And that only intensifies the matchups within the game.
Alfred Morris vs. Cowboys Rush Defense
Controlling the line of scrimmage begins and ends with the rushing offense and rushing defense of each team.
When Alfred Morris and the Redskins offense take the field, though, this is a challenge for Rob Ryan's defense.
For one, Morris averages 4.7 yards per carry and is quite dynamic. His size, frame and overall athleticism allow for any run inside or out, which in the grander scheme takes additional pressure away from Robert Griffin III.
RG3 also averages 6.6 yards per carry.
Secondly, the Cowboys give up an average of 4.3 yards per rush. Ranking No. 17 in rush defense, Dallas has also allowed 13 rushing touchdowns. In short, expect the Redskins to utilize their No. 1 ranked rushing offense to control the tempo.
Not to mention that will keep Tony Romo off the field, and Washington must limit his possessions.
Tony Romo vs. Redskins Pass Defense
After winning over the Cowboys 38-31 in the first meeting, Washington certainly can match any pace of this game.
That said, the Redskins are still at a disadvantage, provided a high-scoring affair is to occur.
Tony Romo and the 'Boys rank No. 3 in passing offense, whereas the Redskins are No. 30 in pass defense. Giving up a 62.3 completion percentage, Washington allows an average of 287 passing yards per contest.
With Romo's 66.3 completion percentage and an array of explosive receiving targets, the Redskins have their hands full. Romo can easily spread the field to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, because all three are capable of consistently defeating man coverage.
Even if Washington mixes up some zone throughout, these targets are aware of the soft spots at each level. So, it's not surprising to see Austin, Bryant and Witten with a combined 1,048 yards after the catch.
This is where Dallas needs to take over, because the defense won't entirely shut down RG3.
RG3 vs. Cowboys Pass Rush
Although Washington took Game 1, Dallas did get solid pressure on RG3.
Sacking him three times, the Cowboys limited Griffin to 29 rushing yards and added a few more hits in the backfield.
Given the nature of RG3's mobility, he can't afford to take numerous hits. Now yes, Kirk Cousins has proven the dependability in getting the job done when needed.
Nevertheless, this overall matchup favors Washington because of Griffin's versatility. But we must also still expect Dallas to blitz and blitz often. The Redskins don't present the receiving corps like Dallas, so the Cowboys can utilize more man coverage on the outside.
Doing so allows for a complexion of blitzes that can broaden to rolling down safeties into the box. The result is more pressure on RG3, and the extra defenders also help in stopping the run.
To counteract that approach, though, more designed roll outs and play action for Griffin will get called to keep the Cowboys honest. Washington may present an unorthodox approach, but the passing game has been effective enough to remain balanced.
Dez Bryant vs. Redskins Secondary
The one distinct impact that separates Dez Bryant from the rest of Tony Romo's targets is his deep threat.
Miles Austin and Jason Witten can also make plays downfield, but nowhere near as consistently as Bryant.
With 1,311 yards through the first 15 games, Bryant also averages 14.9 yard per reception and leads Dallas with 455 yards after the catch. His ability to burn man coverage deep, split a Cover 2 and get upfield after going underneath will warrant more double coverage.
Drawing another defender is the more vital aspect for Bryant in Week 17, because that ensures man-to-man on Austin and Witten. Factor in Washington's vulnerable pass defense and the Redskins don't possess the personnel to double cover two players.
Bryant cannot become silent whatsoever, though, as the Redskins are an opportunistic defense: 18 picks so far. By that token, if the Redskins lock down Bryant in man coverage, Witten or Austin can face a bracketed zone.
This scheme then allows for additional blitzes to be called. And Romo making ill-advised throws courtesy of extra pressure is only to Washington's advantage.
Cowboys Coverage Schemes vs. Redskins Receivers
It is imperative for Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne to isolate in man coverage.
The obvious reason is Dallas needing more eyes on Robert Griffin III and Washington's ground game.
Combining the elements of the potential from Alfred Morris and RG3, as well as the Cowboys' suspect run defense, Dallas must force the Redskins into being one-dimensional.
Well, that is done with excellent man coverage.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Washington's receiving corps does not present a single player with over 600 receiving yards. At the same time, RG3 possesses a 66.4 completion percentage and has tossed 20 touchdowns to only five picks.
Therefore, despite the lack of prestige like Dallas provides to Tony Romo, RG3's decision-making is off the charts. Remaining in man coverage while blitzing, however, makes tougher pre-snap reads for Griffin and can allow Rob Ryan to disguise more looks.
The Cowboys must literally play a simple scheme of press coverage and contain. Washington makes few mistakes offensively, which is why it averages 27 points per game.
Not to mention, Dallas has just seven picks this season and turnovers ultimately decide the NFC East.
Redskins 34, Cowboys 30
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