Washington Redskins: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30:  Alfred Morris #46 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball against the defense of Eric Frampton #27 of the Dallas Cowboys in the third quarter at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

There aren't many incentives when you're 3-11, but the Washington Redskins will still want to end the playoff hopes of their hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys.

Their chances are good after their offense amassed 484 yards last week in Atlanta. That should spell trouble for a Dallas defense that is the worst in football:

Dallas Cowboys Miserable Defensive Rankings
Points Allowed27.526th
Yards Allowed427.332nd
Pass Defense297.432nd
Run Defense129.928th
via NFL.com

Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will be counted on to repeat what was a strong first performance in relief of Robert Griffin III. He will be buoyed by how another stand-in, Matt Flynn, shredded the Cowboys in Week 15.

Flynn led the Packers to 37 points in Dallas, throwing for 299 yards and four touchdowns in the process. But Cousins isn't the only member of the Washington offense who can be expected to dominate.

Running back Alfred Morris should terrorize a soft Cowboys run defense, something anticipated by Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News (subscription required). It's reasonable to suppose Morris will be a handful for the Cowboys. After all, they haven't been able to stop him yet:

Alfred Morris vs. Cowboys
2012: Week 1224 carries113 yards4.7 yards per carry1 TD
2012: Week 1733 carries200 yards6.1 yards per carry3 TD's
2013: Week 616 carries81 yards5.1 yards per carry1 TD
via NFL.com

Morris could be particularly effective thanks to the absence of one of the few outstanding performers on the Dallas defense.


Injury News

Things are bad enough for the Cowboys defensively, and their woes are not eased with linebacker Sean Lee out. It is something that clearly concerns the Cowboys hierarchy, as The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota has noted:

Those concerns are certainly well-founded. Lee has the instincts and sideline-to-sideline quickness to disrupt Washington's favored zone-stretch runs.

He is not the only linebacker sidelined for Week 16. Nick Eatman of Cowboys.com has reported that Justin Durant has been put on injured reserve.

The Redskins can attack the depleted Dallas linebacking corps with both Morris and Roy Helu Jr. They should also be able to free tight end Fred Davis behind the linebacker level.

The injury news is a lot more positive for Washington. The only pressing concern is the status of fullback Darrel Young, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury in recent weeks.

CSN Washington's Tarik EL-Bashir notes that Young's status for Sunday is currently unclear. He also highlights the fullback's importance to Morris' production:

Running back Alfred Morris probably also hopes it’s not a serious setback. Before Young’s injury, Morris gained 6.8 yards per carry on nine attempts against the Falcons, including a 37-yarder. Young made a key block on safety Zeke Motta to spring Morris.

After Young’s injury, though, Morris’ average dropped to 4.8 yards per carry on his final nine attempts in the Redskins’ 27-26 defeat at the Georgia Dome.

The Redskins are more potent on the ground with Young in the lineup. But embattled offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan ought to be able to tweak things to still create huge holes for Morris.

The younger Shanahan's greater challenge could be compensating for another week without Jordan Reed. The versatile rookie tight end has been struggling with the aftereffects of a concussion suffered in Week 11.

Fred Davis has to be used more.
Fred Davis has to be used more.Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

He hasn't played since, and as yet there is no word on his availability for Week 16. Reed is a big miss because of his ability to line up anywhere and pose mismatches in coverage.

Getting Davis, who at his best possesses similar skills, more involved can help mitigate the damage.

But the main focus on the passing game this week will be on a prolific wide receiver nearing a franchise record.


Pierre Garcon Ready to Surpass Art Monk

It has been a quite brilliant personal season for Pierre Garcon. His efforts have inched him closer to surpassing the great Art Monk for the most receptions in a season in Redskins history:

Garcon has averaged seven catches a game in the last three weeks, so he should make short work of the 10 he needs to earn a piece of history.

Stephen Czarda of The Official Redskins Blog believes Garcon can take advantage of the Cowboys and Week 17's opponents, the New York Giants, to capture the record.

It would be a nice personal achievement for Garcon and also a rare cause for team pride in what has been an otherwise dreadful season.

Pierre Garcon is chasing history.
Pierre Garcon is chasing history.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, before any member of the Washington offense can think about records, the unit as a whole must focus on looking after the ball.


What Must Improve

Ball security has to be the main emphasis for an offense that seemed allergic to the idea in Week 15. The Redskins gave the Atlanta Falcons the game by handing them the ball a whopping seven times.

The Washington Post's Mark Maske puts the turnover problem into perspective with some dismal numbers:

The Redskins have committed 29 turnovers this season, including seven in last Sunday’s loss at Atlanta. That includes 16 interceptions thrown by their quarterbacks and 13 lost fumbles. Last season, when they won the NFC East title, the Redskins committed only 14 turnovers, including eight interceptions and six lost fumbles.

The Redskins cannot afford to be this generous against the Cowboys. The only thing the Dallas defense has been able to do right this season is force takeaways.

The unit has snatched 14 interceptions and forced a dozen fumbles, according to statistics from NFL.com. But as the other numbers prove, if the Redskins protect the ball, they should have little trouble piling up points.

The Washington defense must have a plan for Jason Witten.
The Washington defense must have a plan for Jason Witten.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

In terms of the Washington defense, improvements have to be made to how the unit covers tight ends. Last week in Atlanta, ageing marvel Tony Gonzalez beat linebackers and safeties all game.

He caught six passes for 62 yards and a score. The Redskins cannot let Cowboys star Jason Witten enjoy that level of production. They kept him to only three catches in Week 6 and need a repeat of that effort.

With cornerback DeAngelo Hall able to match up on Dez Bryant, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett must craft a plan to stop Witten winning underneath.

This is one of those weeks where the Redskins can revel at playing the spoiler. Thoughts of an offseason that can't come soon enough should be suspended, putting the focus firmly on ending the Cowboys' season and finishing their own on a high.


All statistics via NFL.com.


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