ReFo: Cowboys @ Redskins, Week 16
Ben Stockwell discusses a high mark for a Dallas defensive end and a Washington receiver making good among other points in this review of the Cowboys-Redskins Week 16 matchup.
ReFo: Cowboys @ Redskins, Week 16
The Dallas Cowboys flirted with another December disaster yesterday in Washington D.C. Needing the win to ensure they stayed alive in the hunt for the NFC East, a solid first half effort was thrown away with a wasteful third quarter display which the Washington Redskins converted into a nine-point lead.
Rather than fold, the Cowboys narrowed the lead and came up with the big play at the big time with Tony Romo finding DeMarco Murray for a 10-yard score on 4th-and-goal. This may not be the big December win that the Cowboys and Tony Romo needed to get but they dug themselves out of a hole against their biggest rival to come up with a come from behind win to keep their playoff hopes alive, a welcome change of fortune.
For the Redskins this was just another loss in a season to forget, but as with any heated rival the schadenfreude of delivering a knockout blow to your fiercest rival cannot be under-estimated and the late reverse will have hurt Washington’s fans. There were noteworthy performances on both sides of the ball, but the key plays in the key moments slipped away. The countdown to the offseason and the next stage in the Washington pantomime is now only one week away.
For the Cowboys they may have stumbled, they may not have been remotely as convincing as the Eagles were in setting up the divisional decider but they got there. It all comes down to next week, at home, for the NFC East and a home playoff game. Can the Cowboys hold their nerve and perform with it all on the line?
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Selvie Stout Up Front
Though he earned his sixth straight negative grade as a pass rusher Dallas defensive end George Selvie notched his highest run defense grade of the season (+4.4) to earn his highest overall grade since the season opener against the Giants (+3.3). He didn’t quite match the five defensive stops he registered last week, but he was a consistently disruptive force against the Redskins’ ground game both in terms of taking down runners and disrupting them to give others the opportunity to make plays around him.
Alfred Morris has had great success against the Cowboys throughout his young career, but Selvie was a big part in why that wasn’t the case this time around. One of the few times Morris and the Redskins got something going on the ground was on a short, punishing drive midway through the second quarter when they rode a power attack running and pulling linemen to the left side of the offensive line.
Selvie first made his mark with the Cowboys with some strong run defense against the Dolphins in pre-season. After an inconsistent mid-season run Selvie has returned to that pre- and early-season form with a pair of strong games in the last two weeks. With the Eagles’ ground game running into town next Sunday night, the Cowboys will need Selvie to keep his form going for at least another week.
Williams Kick Starts the Final Drive
Though he failed to come up with a low grab on the opening play of the final drive Terrance Williams didn’t let that take him out of the game’s final drive, redeeming himself on the very next play to get the Cowboys started, working back towards Tony Romo down the left sideline for a 15-yard gain to get them out from their own 20. Two plays later, following a pass break up by DeAngelo Hall, Williams came up with the big play that ensured there was no nervous accumulation of yards edging towards scoring range.
Romo got the time to throw and move out of the pocket as Williams improvised a double move to get behind the slipping and sliding Josh Wilson to break wide open for a 51-yard gain that sent the Cowboys immediately into scoring range, an earlier that doesn’t make him wait might have put the Cowboys up prior to the two-minute warning. Slips by the Redskins’ defense played their part in the final drive and Williams reinforced the commonly held belief that in conditions with poor footing the offensive player has the advantage; he knows where he wants to go.
Williams made his big contributions in the receiving game on the final drive but also contributed as a run blocker chipping in with two blocks on one play to help DeMarco Murray spring a 43-yard gain midway through the second quarter.
Rare Rough Outing
After a disastrous opening display against the Giants, Mackenzy Bernadeau has returned to the Cowboys starting lineup since mid-season as a consistently strong performer at right guard with strong showings in both pass protection and opening lanes for the ground game. Yesterday’s display however was more of a return to his season opener. Bernadeau let up an equal number of pressures (five; 1 Sk, 4 Hu) to earn his lowest pass protection grade since Week 1 struggling to control the power of Barry Cofield and Kedric Golston while surrendering his sack to Ryan Kerrigan thanks to a slow pick up on an inside stunt by the Washington outside linebacker.
As a run blocker Bernadeau again struggled to get to grips with the Washington to defensive line surrendering plays to his inside and getting stood up to disrupt runs as well. His performances from Week 10 to Week 15 (positive grades every week) would suggest this was a blip. Facing off with the likes of Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox next week who can hurt the Cowboys against both run (especially so in Thornton’s case) and pass, the Cowboys will need this to be a one-off.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
Of Kirk Cousins’ 34 targeted passes yesterday, 17 were aimed the way of Pierre Garcon on the day that he set a new franchise record for catches in a single season, surpassing Hall of Famer Art Monk in the process. Garcon spread his targets and catches around five different defenders but did most of his work up against Brandon Carr snagging six of his 11 catches and 85 of his 144 yards against him. As you’d expect with Garcon he did a lot of his work after the catch splitting his receiving yards for the day down the middle with 72 coming “through the air” and 72 coming after the catch.
With 6.2 yards after the catch per reception Garcon is inside the league’s Top 10 (tied with Kendall Wright for 10th place) and after a second consecutive strong outing (+2.3 receiving) he is repairing the damage done to his grade in a tricky spell of games from Week 12 to 14. This has been a season to forget for Washington but Garcon has stayed healthy and provided the sort of performances and production the Redskins were investing in last offseason.
Struggling for Traction
I’ve already touched on the strong display by George Selvie up front for the Dallas Cowboys but he wasn’t alone in causing troubles for a Washington offensive line that really struggled to get the upper hand. In recent times they have been used to getting the better of the Dallas run defense but on the edges of the offensive line Trent Williams (-2.9 run block) and Tyler Polumbus (-4.4 run block) each had among their lowest-graded games of the season as run blockers.
They were all too often stood up at the line of scrimmage which meant that the Redskins didn’t get the lateral movement that we are used to seeing to open the vertical creases in the Dallas run defense that they have exploited so well in the last two seasons. Were it not for a couple of missed tackles by Dallas defenders beating blocks by these two, Washington’s rushing stats would have been even lower than the mediocre display a 3.7 yard per carry average would suggest.
Golston and Cofield Provide the Pressure
Considering some of the showings we have seen from the Washington defense this season this performance was somewhat of a step in the right direction with a balance between positives but the negative to end the game surrendering the 87-yard game-winning drive to end the game. Up front, Barry Cofield and Kedric Golston brought some solid pass rush with six of the Redskins’ 11 pressures, but that solid showing inside wasn’t paired with any real presence off of the edge from either Ryan Kerrigan (the one stunt for a sack aside) or Brian Orakpo prior to his departure, to really bring any menace at Tony Romo.
In the secondary both DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson made their plays on Tony Romo but also gave up their plays (Wilson slipping for Terrence Williams’ big game) and benefited from some missed opportunities by the Dallas passing games with drops and off-target throws.
– For only the second time this season (Week 7 against Chicago) neither Perry Riley nor London Fletcher missed a tackle in the same game.
– After a stunning start to the season Jason Hatcher’s quiet spell continued with another average performance (+0.3) yesterday. Since Week 7 Hatcher has only one game with a grade of +1.5 or above compared to five in the first seven weeks.
– On 10 intermediate targets yesterday Kirk Cousins completed only two passes for 33 yards including his interception targeted for Santana Moss.
PFF Game Ball
The Cowboys got the right plays at the right time from their offense to escape this near disaster but credit must go to George Selvie who was their most consistent player throughout the game.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.