Had the Dallas Cowboys dropped their Week 6 Sunday night matchup with the Washington Redskins, they would have fallen to 2-4 and third place in the NFC East. Instead, they took down the Redskins 31-16 and climbed to 3-3, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place. Just as important, Washington is now 1.5 games out of first at 1-4.
It was a great sign for Dallas that it could win despite relatively little offense. Quarterback Tony Romo and Co. could muster only 218 yards of total offense. When that happens, the Cowboys will lose 99 times out of 100. Well, this was that hundredth time, and the 'Boys were able to get the win due to outstanding defense and special teams play.
Read on for individual position grades for Dallas after the big win. Each position will be graded as a whole using a combination of game stats and early film study results.
Statistically, it was a putrid game for Tony Romo. Coming off of his record-breaking 506-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos, Romo was able to compile just 170 yards against Washington. He did it on 30 attempts, good for just 5.7 yards per attempt. That’s the sort of efficiency we saw from him when the ‘Boys were losing early in the season.
In his defense, Romo threw just one pick on a tipped pass and had really poor protection all day. The Cowboys couldn’t give him time to throw, even when he wasn’t looking downfield.
Actually, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan did a good job of moving to five-wide and other spread sets once 1) running back DeMarco Murray was injured and 2) he realized the offensive line couldn’t give Romo time to throw. By spreading the field, Callahan made Romo his own blocker, giving him the option to throw hot at times. It wasn’t overly successful, but it ironically allowed him to avoid sacks.
Ultimately, the Cowboys got the win. But we can’t grade Romo, or any quarterback, solely on team wins. A good question to ask is this: “If he plays like this again, will the Cowboys win?” Against the Broncos, the answer was a resounding "yes." Not so much this week.
Murray went down early in the game with a sprained MCL in his knee. It was a shame for Dallas, because it looked like he had something working against the Redskins. Murray ran seven times for 29 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 21 yards in his limited action. Had he stayed healthy, it’s likely the Cowboys offense would have recorded far greater efficiency.
You can really see the difference between Murray and Randle, who got his first action as a pro on Sunday. With Lance Dunbar out, Randle took his 11 carries for 17 yards and a touchdown, adding two catches for 15 yards. This might be the sort of performance we can expect from him. Due to his horrendous weight-speed combination, he’s going to have a really tough time excelling at the NFL level.
It was interesting to see that Randle get the nod over Tanner, who saw only one carry. Due to Murray’s lack of playing time, Randle is responsible for the majority of this grade.
If the Cowboys didn’t have a full-blown wide receiver controversy on their hands before Sunday night’s game, they do now. Williams was far from spectacular, with two catches and 27 yards, although he did score a big third quarter touchdown from 15 yards out.
Austin, however, didn’t record a single catch in the game. He was outplayed by Williams and even Beasley, who had four catches for 44 yards. That yardage total actually led Dallas since Bryant had only 36 yards on the night. The Redskins used a combination of DeAngelo Hall and a safety over top to stifle Bryant.
The man of the night was Harris, who recorded 222 yards on returns, taking one back for a score. His contributions as a returner will help the specialists’ grade.
As receivers, the tight ends were even were quieter than the wideouts. Witten had only three catches for 27 yards, while Hanna and Escobar failed to record a catch. Moreover, they all again struggled as blockers.
As mentioned, the offensive line should take on plenty of blame for the Cowboys’ anemic offensive output. It cleared the way for only 48 rushing yards on 19 carries, good for 2.53 YPC. Fifth-round rookie running back or not, that’s horrible.
The line also gave Romo little time to throw throughout the night. The quarterback was able to minimize the sack total to just one by getting the ball out quickly. Quarterback play is so closely tied to sack totals that it’s really difficult to use sacks to grade pass protection. Romo was under fire all night, which obviously isn’t reflected in just a single sack.
Smith was a bright spot for Dallas, dominating in both pass protection and the running game. He’s really developing well in his third NFL season. Waters also played a decent game in the interior.
Hatcher was the Cowboys’ defensive MVP on the night, continually showing up as a run defender and getting to quarterback Robert Griffin III. He had six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. More importantly, he stepped up when DeMarcus Ware was down, knowing the team needed him to generate some sort of rush.
It was a quiet day for the other defensive tackles; Hayden, Nevis and Carter combined for five tackles, though a few of them came in crucial situations. Although the others brought their C-games, Hatcher pulled up the grade for the defensive tackles.
Ware went down in the second half with just three tackles and no sacks to his credit. It appears he has a strained right quadriceps, the severity of which isn’t completely known. The early signs are that he should be healthy relatively shortly, though, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas.
Selvie also had a quiet game, with four tackles and no sacks. He had a few important pressures on RGIII, but for the most part, Washington limited the up-and-coming defensive end.
When Ware went down, the Cowboys called upon Wilber to step in. He did so in a big way, recording three tackles and one of three Dallas sacks in his limited action.
Although the Cowboys defense played well as a whole, it was a relatively quiet night for the linebackers. Lee led the way with 10 total tackles, including a few on plays where it looked like he had no chance to make a play. He played a B+ sort of game.
Carter added six more tackles, but he and Lee were the only linebackers to have any tackles in the contest. All three of the other linebackers were shut out, including starter Justin Durant.
Overall, the Redskins ran for 216 yards on 33 carries (6.5 YPC). Seventy-seven of those yards came from RGIII, but the Dallas linebackers are still responsible for a big part of that. Lee and Co. did a decent job in coverage, however, holding all Redskins tight ends and backs to eight catches for 93 yards.
It was a heck of a day for the Dallas cornerbacks. Washington receivers combined for 11 catches, 153 yards and no touchdowns.
Carr in particular showed lockdown coverage for much of the game. That will improve some of his advanced stats like yards per route, but it won’t help casual fans know just how well he’s playing right now. Carr won’t have a lot of interceptions because he doesn’t get targeted much, but he’s playing lights-out.
Scandrick has been the Cowboys’ top defensive player in 2013, hands down. Prior to this game, he was allowing the second-lowest yards per route in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That’s particularly amazing for a slot cornerback. Scandrick was rewarded for his elite coverage with an interception in the end zone.
We should just get used to the fact that either Church or Lee will lead the Cowboys in tackles in most games. Church had another nine on Sunday night—a team high. With 47 tackles already in 2013, he's on pace for 125 tackles on the season. If that happens, he might lead all safeties.
Church did drop a potential interception, however, which would have been the Cowboys’ second on the day.
Wilcox was the only other safety to record meaningful stats with four total tackles. We haven’t heard much out of him, although that can be a good thing for a rookie safety.
Bailey connected on his lone field-goal attempt, and Jones averaged 45.2 yards on his five punts.
As mentioned, wide receiver Dwayne Harris was the star of the game for the Cowboys’ special teams, returning a punt 86 yards for a huge second quarter touchdown that gave Dallas a 14-3 lead—a lead to which it clung for the rest of the night before pulling away late to reach 3-3.