Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins: Washington Grades, Notes and Quotes
The Washington Redskins' role as the favorite in the NFC East was short-lived, wasn't it?
Behind their 19-16 defeat at the hands of the rival Dallas Cowboys, anarchy now reigns in the division. Only one game separates the first-place Redskins—Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants—from the last-place Cowboys.
Washington saw its five-game winning streak at home come to an end in a contest in which it forced three turnovers and allowed one third-down conversion. Go figure.
Moving past the recap, here are the Redskins' postgame grades, notes and quotes.
So much for the quarterback edge.
Unlike his past performances at home—10 touchdowns and zero interceptions during his past four home games—Kirk Cousins was rather mediocre against the rival Cowboys.
He completed 22 of 31 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown. While he played turnover-free football, it was Cousins' inability to hit on downfield throws that ultimately caused the offense to stall.
Dallas' pressure no doubt played a role here. But it's not as if he was connecting on such throws entering this contest. Per ESPN.com, he was 7-of-36 on throws traveling 20-plus yards through 11 games.
The bottom line is, in a game Washington simply had to have, Cousins didn't measure up.
Running Backs: D+
If you wanted to know whether or not last week's 100-yard outing was a product of Washington improving or the Giants' bad defense, you got your answer in Week 13.
Even with seven offensive linemen on the field simultaneously on occasion, the Redskins' running game never gained traction against Dallas' front.
The team finished with 73 yards on 26 carries. With 18 of these carries, Matt Jones did the heavy lifting and sported a team-high 49 yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Pressed at the line of scrimmage, Washington's receivers weren't given leeway to garner yards after the catch. In particular, Jordan Reed was limited by Dallas' defensive game plan.
The team's leading receiver finished with just three receptions and 33 yards on eight targets. In his place, DeSean Jackson led the receiving corps. Scoring the lone touchdown, Jackson finished with 80 yards on six receptions.
With just three receptions of 20-plus yards, again, the story is the absence of big plays.
Offensive Line: D-
With center Josh LeRibeus headlining it, Washington's offensive line was a step behind all night. Late shifts, stunts and blitzes consistently confused the team's offensive front and allowed free rushers to pressure the quarterback.
As a result, the team surrendered three sacks, six quarterback hits and failed to pave many rushing lanes.
Given Dallas' lack of success rushing the passer prior to this contest, you can bet its success will compel opposing teams to implement a similar strategy against the Redskins' green offensive line.
Defensive Line/Linebackers: C
Despite bringing one of the NFL's worst rushing defenses (126.6 yards allowed per game) into this game, the Redskins were respectable against the run.
The Cowboys' 13th-ranked rushing attack managed just 97 yards. Getting penetration in the backfield, Washington's front seven tallied six tackles for loss.
Its pass rush wasn't nearly as effective. Matt Cassel was sacked once, with the defense only registering one quarterback hit.
Defensive Backs: B+
Going against the team's blueprint all season, the secondary carried the Redskins defense. Despite the protection he was afforded, Cassel was only able to complete 16 of 29 passes for 222 yards.
Blanketed by Bashaud Breeland for a second consecutive season, Dez Bryant was quiet until late. He had zero receptions through three quarters. Bryant did ratchet up his production in the fourth, though, with a 42-yard catch on Will Blackmon serving as the highlight.
On the game, he finished with 62 yards and three receptions on seven targets. Washington did give up another big play to Terrence Williams (38 yards), but overall the secondary was the strength of the defense.
Special Teams: C-
Rashad Ross netted a 41-yard return, and Dustin Hopkins connected on three of four field goals. So there were positives from Washington's special teams.
But now for the negatives. How can you not start with Jackson's fumble? If not for Dallas' time-management skills rivaling the Giants', it ends any hope of the Redskins pulling this game out.
In kick coverage, Lucky Whitehead averaged 35 yards a kick return and over 10 yards a punt for the Cowboys.
This unit has shown improvement across the board in 2015, but this has to register as a step back.
With nine points allowed before Jackson's miscue, defensive coordinator Joe Barry isn't the coach who has to fall on the sword for this disappointing loss. That would be head coach Jay Gruden.
Dallas blitzed all game, and Washington never adjusted. Max protection and screen passes weren't utilized enough to combat the Cowboys' overly aggressive defense.
Furthermore, the offense was rather predictable. Injuries created a need for both players, but Tom Compton and Ty Nsekhe entering the game was a telltale sign a run was coming.
Looking at the team's inability to translate turnovers to points, not to mention penalties (nine for 73 yards), this loss is on the team's coaching staff.
Important Note No. 1: Prime-Time Blues for Cousins
The nation at large has identified Cousins as Washington's backup quarterback for much of his career. Given his track record on the national stage, there's cause for this stigma sticking, even with him emerging as the unquestioned starter.
Entering this Monday night tilt, Cousins' record was 0-3 in prime-time games, with four touchdowns to six interceptions. Now it's 0-4.
While he avoided the killer turnover in this one, Cousins didn't move the needle much as far as his national perception is concerned.
With Cousins unable to make them pay for it deep, the Cowboys blitzed the Redskins with reckless abandon. He did step up in the clutch, connecting with Jackson for the tying score.
Still, ultimately, the loss here stands as a blown opportunity for both Washington and Cousins to be taken seriously as players in the playoff race.
Important Note No. 2: Wasted Opportunities
When it looks back at this defeat, Washington will undoubtedly point to missed opportunities as the root cause.
The Skins entered this contest with a mere 23 points off 17 turnovers, per ESPN's John Keim. Against the Cowboys, it was much of the same.
Washington racked up just three points on three turnovers. Making matters worse, two of those turnovers occurred in Dallas territory.
With three of their final four games on the road, where they're winless, the Redskins squandered their best shot to seize control of the NFC East.
Quote No. 1: Punt-Return Gaffe
Knowing the struggles his offense had moving the football against the Dallas defense, Jackson put it upon himself to churn out the big play his team desperately needed.
The hope may have been for him to emulate his infamous walk-off punt-return touchdown against Giants. The reality, though, was an utter failure.
Reversing field on his return, Jackson gift-wrapped the game to the Cowboys with his fumble inside the Washington 16-yard line.
Speaking postgame, Jackson owned up to his mistake.
"I have to take that one on my chin. I know better than that to protect the ball," he said, per Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times.
Other factors were at play in Washington's defeat, and Jackson did have a moment of atonement when he tied the game in the final minute. But in the event the Redskins miss the postseason, this is the moment the team will reflect on as the turning point in its season.
Quote No. 2: Injuries Strike
With Washington's shortened week of preparation ahead, the team's state of health is cause for concern.
The Skins were already without Derek Carrier and Perry Riley. In this one, Jason Hatcher, Jeron Johnson and Stephen Paea were added to the team's injury tally.
Speaking postgame, per Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post, Gruden revealed Paea would need an MRI on his injured toe.
Having underwhelmed already against the run and in getting after the quarterback, the Redskins can ill afford to be without both Hatcher's and Paea's services against a Chicago Bears team getting healthy at both the receiver and running back positions.