WSH-DAL grades: Improved O-line play powers Washington
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Washington’s 34-23 win over the Cowboys:
— Kirk Cousins (+1.9) only played 24 snaps in this meaningless game for Washington, however he had only three incompletions and one of those was a drop on third down. The Washington game plan was a stark contrast to the last time these two teams played, where Washington tried to take shots down field and were taken apart from the Cowboys blitzing in the A gap over and over again, This week Cousins got the ball out at 2.05 seconds per play on average (the lowest in week 17), compared to 2.62 seconds the last time they played.
— Over the course of the season the Washington offensive line has been a fascinating group, with major struggles at center from both original starter Kory Lichtensteiger then Josh LeRibeus (+4.1). One of the biggest improvements on the Washington team has been rookie right guard Brandon Scherff (+1.3). Over the first nine weeks Scherff graded out at a -7.7, but since then is the 12th-highest rated guard at +11.1. The improvement at left guard has also taken place in that same time span with Spencer Long (+3.4) — since Week 10, Long is one spot below Scherff at +10.4. Against the Cowboys four of the five starters all graded above +1 with only right tackle Morgan Moses (-1.0) having some issue in the run game. The Washington line only gave up four hurries against Dallas, as Washington beat up on their rivals to pile on to the Cowboys’ woes this season.
— With Washington already sealing a playoff spot, it was a given they would begin to rest several important starters. The team is looking better every week thanks to the huge improvement in play from Kirk Cousins — over the past three weeks, Cousins is the second-highest graded QB at +11.3. The question will be if this is just a career high moment or if he can take that level of play into the playoffs and perform well, then turn that play into continued success next season.
P Tress Way (+5.3)
C Josh LeRibeus (+4.1)
G Spencer Long (+3.4)
WR Jamison Crowder (+2.7)
QB Kirk Cousins (+1.9)
— With the Cowboys down 24 early they abandoned the run game and allowed Kellen Moore (-0.3) to drop back 52 times. Moore was only blitzed on 13 of those 52 drop backs but was able to complete 4 of 11 passes for 49 yards and a PFF grade of -1.9 against the blitz. With Washington winning early and resting most their key players, they were happy to play soft zones and only send four rushers most of the game. When the Cowboys line gave Moore time he was very efficient, completing 79.5 percent of his passes for a healthy +2.4 PFF Grade and 405 yards passing.
— Coming into the season the Cowboys’ offensive line was held up as their strength. The three stars — Tyron Smith (+2.6) Travis Frederick (+1.9) and Zack Martin (+3.0) — all finished as top three players in their position. While rookie guard La’el Collins showed some hugely impressive blocks, he did have his struggles in the past few weeks as teams were able to give him issues in the pass game and prevent him from being the consistent run blocker he showed in the middle of the season. Against Washington, all six lineman that played graded positively as they opened up some nice holes when the Cowboys chose to run, and gave Moore a lot of time to complete his many passes.
— In the first round the Cowboys drafted defensive back Byron Jones (+1.3) who has performed in many roles this season as an outside corner, slot corner and even as a safety. As a rookie, Bryon Jones has managed to at least perform each of his various roles at a solid level, while having moments that show his potential to excel. While he hasn’t hit that level on a consistent basis during his rookie season, it will be fun watch if he’s able to make that leap in his second year.
WR Terrance Williams (+3.3)
G Zack Martin (+3.0)
TE Jason Witten (+2.8)
T Tyron Smith (+2.6)
G Ronald Leary (+2.3)