Dallas Cowboys: 5 Steps Toward Total Dominance of the Washington Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys travel to take on the Washington Redskins this Sunday in the next installment of the greatest rivalry in the NFL. Many would take issue with the notion that this rivalry is currently relevant, given the lack of postseason success these teams have enjoyed in the past decade.
However, dating back to the 1960's, this rivalry has historically been very fierce. It seems that regardless of each team's record, regardless of what the stats say should happen, this game typically turns out to be a brawl, with the winner being the one who is willing to fight the hardest for 60 minutes.
Cowboys fans should take little comfort in the overwhelming amount of statistical evidence that points to the potential for a lopsided Cowboys win.
Coming off an emotional, mountaintop performance against the Bills, Dallas is heading toward what could be the ultimate trap game. Here are the five keys the Cowboys must strike in order to dominate this game as they should and come home with a W.
The Dallas Cowboys Must Attack the Redskins QB with Great Intensity
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The Cowboys should have great success attacking the Redskins QB this Sunday. Washington has had its QBs sacked more than any other team in the NFL this year. The Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware, the best defensive player in the NFL and the current sack leader.
The only thing that could slow down the pass rush for the Cowboys this Sunday would be a lack of intensity and discipline across the defensive line. I don't see that happening, but if there were ever a game where they could become overconfident and under-prepared, it would be this game.
The Redskins offense is such an absolute train wreck at this point, it may be hard to get up for this game.
Regardless of how challenged the Redskins offensive line is, they are still paid professionals who have pride and don't want to look stupid on national television. Rob Ryan will need to find a way to keep his players excited about this game and give them some reason to bring the intensity they are capable of.
I cringe when I hear commentators say that professional teams don't need a "rah, rah" guy. The notion that just because they are pros, they don't need a master motivator pushing their buttons is just flat wrong.
These are still young men with enormous amounts of money and the lifestyle that goes with it. To think that they could never lose focus is ridiculous.
The good news is that Ryan appears to know how to keep things fun and interesting for his players. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few mental lapses on defense this week, but I can't see them giving up more than 10-14 points.
The Dallas Cowboys Must Run Relentlessly Against the Redskins
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The Dallas Cowboys come into FedEx Field on Sunday with currently the most dominant running back in the NFL. DeMarco Murray leads all backs over the last 5 games in yards per carry and total yards. Click here to see his impact on this offense.
In addition to that, Dallas will likely have Felix Jones back on the field—a gifted, explosive runner with the ability to take any handoff and go the distance.
Washington, meanwhile, has struggled in run defense all year. They are currently ranked 19th against the run.
One of their main issues is getting the back down once he has gotten to the open field. According to Football Outsiders, Washington is ranked 21st in the league in open field yards.
Washington is 25th in league in stopping runs around left end and 23rd in the league in stopping runs up the middle.
That doesn't bode well for the Redskins, given how the Cowboys like to run the ball. Dallas is third in the league at running off the left end and third in running up the middle.
This has the makings of a perfect storm in the run game for Dallas. Expect the Cowboys to hurt the Redskins early and often with runs to the left and up the middle, and expect the play-action pass to be very destructive to Washington's secondary as a result.
The only caveat here is, once again, the potential for overconfidence. I don't see that as a problem here, though, given that the Cowboys line was somewhat embarrassed by the Redskins in their last meeting.
You will recall that in that game, the Cowboys center was thrown off repeatedly by the Redskins defensive line calling out the cadence. Center Phil Costa prematurely snapped the ball on five different occasions. My guess is that this will provide additional motivation and edge to the Cowboys offensive line and keep them far from complacency this week.
Although NFL players routinely downplay revenge as a motivator, I'm guessing that Dallas' O-line has had this date firmly circled in the back of its mind. If the Cowboys get on a roll with their running game early, this could get brutal.
Dallas Should Attack Washington Intelligently Through the Air
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The Dallas Cowboys will have plenty of opportunities to run their balanced offense this weekend against the Washington Redskins. Washington has allowed the third highest average rating for opposing quarterbacks and they are tied for 27th in the league in defending 20+ yard passes.
But the Redskins have given up only eight touchdown passes all year. This is due in large part to the fact that Washington is sixth in the NFL in red-zone defense against the touchdown.
But this is also due in part to the fact that they are 23rd in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed. When teams know they will succeed in running the ball in for the score, they are less likely to pass for the score.
Looking at the last three games, the Redskins are 27th in the league in opponents' passing yards per attempt.
This may be a more accurate statistic of their passing defense than yards, because when teams are behind, they end up passing for many more yards trying to catch up without burning clock. The Redskins haven’t had many leads lately, so there has been less need for their opponents to pass the ball.
But the fact that their opponents are getting so many yards per pass attempt indicates that moving the ball through the air shouldn't be an issue for the Cowboys.
I would expect, however, to see the Cowboys take shots at the end zone as soon as they get in the vicinity of Washington's 35-yard line. This is because Washington does poorly at defending deep passes, yet they excel at red-zone defense, especially against pass plays.
The simple counter to this is score before you get to the point where the field is so compressed and their scrappy defensive backs have less space to defend.
The Cowboys Will Need to Continue with the Takeaways Against the Redskins
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The Redskins lead the league in giveaways this year and the Cowboys are on an upward trend in takeaways. If there were no other supporting factors for these trends to continue, I might not be so confident that Dallas will win the turnover battle this Sunday.
But the Redskins are also the worst team in the league at protecting their quarterback. Teams that allow their QBs to get hammered consistently will continue to turn the ball over, especially if they don't have a running game to take pressure off their signal-caller. And the Redskins currently have no running game.
Dallas is fifth in the NFL at takeaways. In their last game, Dallas stole the ball from the Bills four times and had zero giveaways.
If Washington can somehow manage to get great protection from their banged up, patchwork offensive line and get great decisions and production from Rex Grossman, they can minimize their mistakes and make this a close game.
But that's a huge if. All of the predictive factors that I have looked at indicate that Washington will lose the turnover battle in this game. If they lose it in the first half, this game will get ugly very quickly.
Dallas Must Protect Romo vs the Redskins
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The Washington Redskins offense is an absolute train wreck right now. They are 31st in total offense, last in first downs earned per game, 31st in time of possession, and they lead the NFL in turnovers.
Injuries have ravaged their offense along the front line, in the backfield and in the receiving corps.
The Cowboys defense must come out and dominate this game so that Romo is not put in harm's way.
The Redskins are still one of the very best pass-rush teams in the NFL and they would like nothing better than to knock Romo out of this game. As long as the defense does it’s job, the Cowboys will be able to have great balance running and passing the ball and build a comfortable lead.
Once they have the lead, Dallas will be able to lean more heavily on the running game and greatly minimize Romo's exposure to the Redskins pass rush.
The Dallas Cowboys once again are facing an opponent that they should beat. These are wins that define a teams ability to handle prosperity.
This W is being carefully placed upon a silver platter in a banquet hall called FedEx Field. All the Cowboys need to do is stay focused, not drink to much of the Kool-Aid (its always spiked), grab the W and get home.