Re-Focused: Cowboys @ Redskins, Week 11

| November 21, 2011

These ancient NFC East rivals usually play close, competitive games no matter their records and this latest battle was no different. The 5-4 Dallas Cowboys came into this game with a revitalized rushing attack in the form of rookie DeMarco Murray having laid a 44-7 beatdown on the Buffalo Bills, who were a contender for at least the first half of the season.

The 3-6 Washington Redskins were coming off their fifth straight loss at the hands of a Miami Dolphins squad that had only won once. Clearly, the Cowboys were the favorites here yet the Redskins showed plenty of fight, taking this contest into overtime. Two missed field goals and some blown coverages, however, led to the Redskins coming away with a sixth consecutive loss after their promising 3-1 start.

When Washington’s first offensive series started with two wide receiver reverses and a fumble, it seemed like just another day for the reeling Redskins. This game proved to be different though, as the bitter rivals traded hits and points for over 60 minutes in one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. Check out some performances that had the biggest impact in this divisional thriller.

 

Redskins – Three Performances of Note

Offense showing signs of life

Washington’s offensive struggles have been heavily publicized, rightfully so, as this squad had not scored a TD since their Week 7 game in Carolina. That changed Sunday, though, as Rex Grossman helped roll up 336 total yards against a solid Cowboys defense; throwing two touchdowns and running for another. Grossman wasn’t perfect – he missed a few throws, threw a deep interception where he and Anthony Armstrong weren’t on the same page, and unwisely took a sack in OT right before the missed 52-yard field goal – but was certainly good enough, completing 28 of 35 passes for 289 yards and the two TDs despite the offensive line once again struggling to protect (-4.4 pass blocking grade combined for the five O-Lineman). Redskin fans have to wonder if their team would still be in such a deep hole if ‘Sexy Rexy’ had not been benched in favor of John Beck for three games.

Grossman got help from his supporting cast too. With top wide out Santana Moss and rookie Leonard Hankerson sidelined with injuries, this corps full of journeymen needed to step up, and they did. David Anderson made a great 23-yard sideline catch on 3rd-and-7, Donte Stallworth (after recently being cut and re-signed) caught all four passes thrown his way for 51 yards and the game-tying TD, and Jabar Gaffney caught seven of 10 passes for 115 yards and a TD. Whether or not this crew can keep moving the ball in further games will determine when they get their next “W”.

 

Stout against the run, awful against the pass

The Washington defense deserves some credit for holding DeMarco Murray in check. Averaging 8.01 yards per carry in the last four games, Murray averaged just 2.9 yards per carry on 25 attempts in this game while only forcing one missed tackle, despite having forced a combined 16 missed tackles in his other games. Much of this effort can be attributed to ILBs London Fletcher (+3.0 run defense grade) and new starter Perry Riley (+3.6), as well as OLB Brian Orakpo (+2.2).

Unfortunately for the Redskins, their pass defense could not hold up against the Cowboys’ air attack. DeAngelo Hall (-2.8 pass coverage grade) had a lot to do with that, giving up six of eight passes thrown at him for 97 yards. Included were a 17-yard pass to Jesse Holliday (his only snap of the game) on a 3rd-and-12, and – in a moment all too reminiscent of their Week 3 game – a 26-yard catch to Dez Bryant on third and 15 that put the Cowboys in position for the game-winning field goal. Safeties OJ Atogwe (-1.1) and rookie DeJon Gomes (-2.6) also had their hands full – both played parts in two of Romo’s TD passes. In what is becoming a common trend for this defense against tight ends, there was such a colossal breakdown in coverage on Jason Witten’s 59-yard catch and run TD that it’s difficult to distribute specific blame but it seems most likely that the rookie was primarily at fault.

 

An interesting debut

After getting a great performance out of first-time starter Riley last week, the Redskins decided to insert the Nebraska rookie Gomes into the lineup at strong safety despite backup Reed Doughty being healthy. This move provided mixed results. The biggest drawback was in coverage as mentioned above; Gomes looked clueless as Witten ran through his zone on his way to a long score. Aside from that costly mistake, he also gave up a 15-yard catch to Witten and an eight-yard catch to Laurent Robinson, while also failing to recover a Witten fumble despite having a clear shot at it. Those kind of opportunities don’t happen often but he could not make a possible game-changing play at those moments. There were some perks, however.

Gomes contributed heavily in run defense with five tackles, three of which were stops, earning him a solid +1.8 grade in this aspect of the game. He did get shaken up assisting on a tackle, but was able to return. He also helped disrupt the passing game with two pressures on just four blitzes, which is even more impressive because this is his first start. With starter LaRon Landry dealing with a chronic Achilles injury and Doughty struggling, it’ll be interesting to see if there was enough upside in this performance to warrant more starts going forward for this rebuilding team.

 

Cowboys – Three Performances of Note

Houdini

In more than one of the Three To Focus On articles covering Cowboy games this season I’ve reminded everyone that, while Tony Romo has been playing well lately, he can still be a liability, and their losses to the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions can attest to that. After yet another great performance – 113.8 NFL passer rating with 292 yards, three TDs and no picks or fumbles – made all the more impressive by the fact that the running game was ineffective, those two meltdowns seem unlikely to happen again this season. Redskin fans are very aware of Romo’s Houdini-like escapability; in the 2009 game in Dallas, Romo was able to just barely spin out of Orakpo’s clutches, buying himself enough time to find Patrick Crayton in the end zone to score in what would turn out to be a 7-6 win.

This game had several nice Romo scrambles that set up big plays: with 14:51 left in the fourth quarter, he sensed the pocket collapsing but was able to roll out left, giving Laurent Robinson enough time to come from the opposite side of the field to catch a 7-yard TD catch; on the 3rd-and-8 play at 9:01 left in the fourth, Romo spun backwards out of the pocket and then moved left, allowing Witten enough time to get wide open downfield for the TD catch; and, on the 3rd-and-15 play in OT at 7:48, he was able to side-step quick pressure up the middle by again rolling left before hitting Bryant for the pass that put them in position to kick the game-winner. Got to give the Redskins’ defense credit for sacking him four times though, Romo is not easy to get on the ground.

 

Run defense rebounds

The Cowboys run defense has been a weakness lately, giving up 100+ yard games to LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson in consecutive weeks. They had a chance to improve this week against a Washington rushing attack that has been non-existent since they lost Tim Hightower for the season, and they did just that. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff led the way in stuffing the Redskins in his best performance of the year with four stops, while also finding time to pressure Grossman twice. OLB Anthony Spencer had his best performance in this department of the year with three stops, while ILB Bradie James, who has struggled defending the run, also had his best day in this regard, contributing with two stops. This squad prevented any of the Redskins’ linemen or tight ends from having a positive run blocking grade, while only two of them graded negatively in run defense, with one being Sean Lee (-0.7) who is playing with a cast on one hand.

 

Tony Fiammetta, get well soon!

The Cowboys were without fullback Tony Fiammetta in this game, who was reported as having an illness and their running game suffered as a result. They tried to use TE John Phillips as a FB; his -2.5 run blocking grade would suggest that this was a mistake. Sometimes the Dallas running backs would get a decent gain in spite of his struggles; check out 13:02 left in the first quarter, where Phillips is immediately stood up in the hole upon contact by Riley, causing a logjam from which Felix Jones is somehow able to squeeze out of for a few extra yards. Fiammetta was also missed in pass protection, giving up no pressures in nine pass blocks, while Phillips gave up two QB hits in just five pass blocking attempts in this game. Romo’s already been injured this year and can’t afford to have to worry about his fullback’s ability to keep him upright – which is just another reason why Dallas will hope that Fiammetta will healthy enough to return soon.

 

Game Notes

- The Redskins’ defense missed a combined four tackles, while the Cowboys’ defense only missed two

- Former Dallas DE Stephen Bowen did his part against his old team in terms of pass-rushing, getting a sack and three QB hurries

- Hall has given up game-deciding plays on third-and-long to Bryant in both games against the Cowboys this year.

 

PFF Game Ball

It has to go to Tony Romo. With the running game stalling and the Redskins defense providing consistent pressure, Romo had to be at his best, and he was with nearly 300 yards passing and none of the turnovers that have plagued his worst performances.

 

Follow Trey on Twitter at @PFF_TreyC  and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed @ProFootbalFocus

 

Comments are closed.