The Dallas Cowboys’ Week 6 matchup with the Washington Redskins represents an awesome opportunity for the team to prove it can respond to a heartbreaking loss by rising to the occasion against a tough division opponent.
Sitting at 1-3, the Redskins can actually take the lead in the NFC East with a win over Dallas on Sunday night. That will be made easier since the ‘Skins have two weeks to prepare for the ‘Boys coming off of their bye.
In terms of forecasting the rest of the season, this is about as monumental as a Week 6 game can get—a heated matchup in a tight division with first place on the line.
With their loss, the Cowboys dropped into a tie with the Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
|New York Giants|
Included in the standings above are points for, points against and Pythagorean wins. If you recall, a team’s Pythagorean expectation is how many games it can be expected to win given its point differential. It’s a simple calculation, and it shows the Cowboys have played the best football in the division.
Note that with 2.83 expected wins, the Cowboys’ most likely record at this point in the season is actually 3-2. Thus, if you want to argue that the ‘Boys are unlucky to be 2-3, you actually have some statistical proof that it’s true.
The Eagles have the record you’d expect given their play. The Redskins check in a half-win lower, although they’ve also played one fewer game. Based on points scored and allowed, both Philly and Washington have been about even.
Finally, despite how poor they’ve played all year, the New York Giants’ most likely record at this point is 1-4. Currently sitting winless in Week 6, the Giants’ chances of making the postseason are extremely low. However, they aren’t completely out of it in a division in which 0-5 is still only two games out of first place.
The Cowboys will again head into another contest without any major injuries to report.
Wide receiver Miles Austin is still game-to-game with his hamstring issue, as are linebacker Justin Durant and defensive end Edgar Jones with strained groins. None of those players was able to give it a go on Sunday.
Two players—running back Lance Dunbar and safety Barry Church—were hurt during the Broncos game. Dunbar left the contest with a pulled hamstring and didn’t come back, while Church broke his nose, left and then returned to the game.
What Must Improve
Offensively, it can’t get much better for Dallas. Yes, quarterback Tony Romo had the late-game interception, but you can’t ask for anything more than 506 yards, five touchdowns and 14.1 yards per attempt. No one with 500 yards and five touchdowns has ever touched that efficiency, and only five quarterbacks with 400 or more yards have ever beat 14.1 YPA.
So “what must improve” in Big D is, well, the not-so-big D. The Cowboys were the first team in 20 seasons to score 48 points in a loss, so there are obvious concerns with coordinator Monte Kiffin’s defense, Peyton Manning-induced or not. Through five games, only seven teams have given up more than the 136 points allowed by Dallas.
With that said, let’s take a look at two players who need to it up in order for Dallas to field a formidable defense.
DE DeMarcus Ware
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware failed to record a sack for the second straight game and had only two pressures against the Broncos. Part of that is certainly due to the Peyton Manning effect, but before we brush aside Ware’s struggles, let’s not forget that he’s 31 years old.
In terms of the percentage of his past peak, Ware is producing right in line with the typical defensive end.
Ware’s peak was obviously much greater than for most players, but he’s still aging at the same rate. Earlier this year, I wrote an article detailing why Ware might fade late in the season:
The problem is that he’s playing at an age that makes him far more susceptible to injuries than someone a half-decade younger. If you recall, Ware actually played outstanding football to start the 2012 season, too. He had four sacks in his first three games—the same as this season—six sacks in the first five games, and 10 of his 11.5 sacks in the first 10 contests.
Ware at 80 percent is better than a lot of players at 100 percent, but that doesn’t change the fact that we probably can’t count on the one-plus sack per game that we did in Ware’s prime. As it stands right now, he’s on pace for 13 sacks and 51 tackles—not far from my preseason projection of 10.5 sacks and 55 tackles.
DE George Selvie
Opposite Ware, defensive end George Selvie also needs to step up his play. After recording four pressures in each of his first three games, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has three combined pressures in the past two games.
You might argue that Selvie isn’t a pivotal player for Dallas, but that’s no longer true. We know he has the potential to be special, and the ‘Boys are now counting on him as a starting defensive end.
Ware and Selvie need to work in tandem to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, picking each other up when the other is down. But with little pass rush from defensive tackle Nick Hayden and Jason Hatcher forcing only two total pressures in the past two games, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities for the ‘Boys to get to the quarterback if their defensive ends aren’t playing well.
Matchup to Watch versus Redskins
There are a number of quality matchups across the field this week. Here’s the one I’ll be watching most.
RT Tyler Polumbus vs. DE George Selvie
We know Selvie needs to get back on track, and he has a chance to do that this week against right tackle Tyler Polumbus. Selvie has lined up on the left side of the Cowboys defense 77.2 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus, so he’ll be over top of Polumbus on most snaps.
Polumbus has played decent football this year, but he’s still allowed eight pressures in four games. That’s a good but not great number, as is his 4.1 percent pressure rate.
The problem is that Polumbus was far worse in 2012, allowing pressure at over twice the rate (8.7 percent of his pass snaps). He’s certainly playing better football right now, but it’s unlikely that Polumbus, coming off of a season of horrible pass protection, will be able to keep it up.
With Selvie likely to improve upon his quiet Week 5, especially against a quarterback who holds on to the ball for a long time in Robert Griffin III, look for the defensive end to record at least one sack working against Polumbus.