3TFO: Redskins @ Cowboys, Week 6
The last time the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys met, the NFC East title and the league’s final playoff berth were on the line. This Sunday night the stakes, and the bar in the dreadful NFC East, have been set much lower. Washington rebounded in Oakland to earn their first win two weeks ago, but they’ve yet to look anything like the team that won its final seven games last games en route to a division title. The Cowboys were encouraged by their “moral victory” last week against the Denver Broncos, but how often have we seen Jason Garrett’s troops look great one week only to have a letdown the next? In such a light-hitting division, a win this Sunday night could make a huge difference in a late-December tiebreaker. Let’s examine the matchups that will likely decide the outcome.
“A Hell of a Football Game”
Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall is already hyping his matchup with Dallas receiver Dez Bryant as “a hell of a football game,” and for good reason. Hall didn’t track Bryant when the Redskins and Cowboys met on Thanksgiving last season, spending much of his time inside guarding the Cowboys’ various slot receivers. Bryant instead burned the other Washington defensive backs for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys top wideout then entered the Week 17 rematch on fire with a seven-game touchdown streak. With the NFC East title on the line, the Redskins trusted Hall to follow Bryant everywhere. Bryant still caught four passes for 71 yards on eight targets, but Hall had two passes defensed on those targets and didn’t allow a score. Hall doesn’t always back up his words, but he certainly did that day.
Bryant has carried his strong 2012 finish into this season, and is coming off a monstrous 141-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Denver Broncos. With six touchdowns and no interceptions, Tony Romo has a 134.5 QB Rating when targeting his top receiver this season. Washington’s secondary has struggled mightily this season and all of its regulars are “in the red” in our coverage grades, Hall included. Relying on a team effort to stop Bryant didn’t work out well for Washington in the past, so expect them to again roll the dice with their veteran corner, hoping Hall can step up one more time against one of the league’s most dangerous receivers.
Holding The Edge
The Cowboys’ decision to swap Doug Free and Tyron Smith between left and right tackle last season seemed misguided, as both took a big dip in production while trying to adjust to their new position. But a year later, Dallas seems to be reaping the benefits as both appear much more comfortable. Free’s +15.7 grade is the highest of any tackle this season, and his 97.5 Pass Blocking Efficiency also ranks near the top of his position. After being one of the league’s most penalized linemen in recent seasons, he’s seen just one flag in 2013. Save for a rough encounter with Robert Quinn in Week 3, Smith has been solid as well. Sunday night they’ll have to stifle a Redskins edge rush that is the only Washington unit that’s been playing up to par so far this season. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have accounted for 46.2% of the Redskins’ total QB pressures, and both are coming in off strong performances against the Oakland Raiders. They combined for four sacks and another seven quarterback pressures in that Week 4 game, showcasing the dual threat that the Redskins were missing after Orakpo’s season-ending injury last September. The Cowboys’ tackles have done a good job of keeping Romo clean this season, but they’ll face a tough test Sunday night.
Alfred Morris vs. Cowboys Run Defense
That Week 17 Cowboys loss produced plenty of fodder for Romo’s detractors and those who enjoy debating vagaries like “the clutch gene.” But an underlying story that played just as much of a factor in the Redskins’ win was their sheer dominance of Dallas in the running game. Alfred Morris, in a performance that would make his idol Earl Campbell proud, gained 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries with five forced missed tackles. Even with Robert Griffin III’s injury making the read-option less of a threat, Washington often won up front with excellent blocking by right guard Chris Chester, center Will Montgomery, and fullback Darrel Young. Nearly every Dallas defender shared the blame, as the Cowboys’ starters earned a collective -16.1 run defense grade.
However, there’s reason to believe Dallas will fare better this time around. DeMarcus Ware valiantly played hurt in that Week 17 game and graded poorly because of it. Now healthy, he’s our third-highest rated 4-3 defensive end this season. Sean Lee, the Cowboys’ best run-defending linebacker, is now back from a toe injury. His 14 run stops are tied for the seventh-most among inside linebackers. And new starter Barry Church’s +4.1 run defense grade this season is second only to Troy Polamalu among safeties. The Cowboys still have to contend with an offensive line that’s been one of the league’s best so far this season, but the odds will be more stacked in their favor this time around.
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