Washington and Dallas both boast winning streaks and is the premier matchup of Turkey Day football. Two of the best most explosive offenses in the NFL will be on the same field. The Redskins have the second best offense in the league and are third best in passing, while Dallas has the fourth best offense and second best in rushing. Here’s what the Redskins are looking at when evaluating the Cowboys offense and defense.
Dallas is first and foremost led by one of the best offensive lines of this current decade, followed by the two rookies in the backfield in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot. This side of the ball for Dallas is one of the most efficient offenses in the league, it’s also one of the most balanced attacks in the NFL with about a 50/50 run to pass ratio. Elliot is one of the NFL’s MVP candidates this season as he has already topped over 1,000 yards for the season which leads the NFL and has been a headache for every opponent they’ve faced. Early in the season, Elliot had to get adjusted to the pro game as he struggled to have patience when finding and hitting the holes his offensive line gave him. It essentially clicked in the Chicago Bears game in Week 3 and has not been an issue since, he’s grasped the concepts and principles of their run game and has become a formidable threat to defenses. With Zeke playing great, it has taken a great load of pressure off of their quarterback. The Cowboys have the best average time per drive offense in the NFL, as they average 3:21 on each drive. That’s not all as they also lead in the best average of plays, yards, and points per drive.
Their passing attack is not to be slept on just because they don’t pass that often, they are ranked in the middle of the league in yards per game. Dallas boasts several playmakers at the wide out position, the first being one Dez Bryant. It took some time, but he’s started to become the Dez of old, making plays for his quarterback. Dak has been the biggest surprise for their offense for many, not just how he’s performed in replacement of an injured Tony Romo, but the fact that he’s played so good. He’s replaced Romo for the immediate future as Romo has been available for the past two weeks. The rookie signal caller has completed 67% of his passes for 2,640 yards and 17 touchdowns, while throwing just two interceptions. So, to say Dak has been good to this point is an understatement.
In the passing game Cole Beasley has emerged this season as a top weapon for this offense, excelling in the slot and has been Prescott’s favorite target. Of Beasley’s 53 receptions, 66% of his catches have been for first downs, and he’s moved the chains with 84% of his third down receptions resulting in first downs. Bryant has been just as good with over 70% of his catches being for first downs, and 100% of his receptions on third down resulting in first downs. Although it should be mentioned that Dez has missed time and has under 30 receptions on the season.
The Cowboys offense does a great job of protecting the football, as they only have just seven turnovers on the season. Stopping this offense is going to be a tough task for the Washington defense, defensive coordinator Joe Barry faces a pick your poison type of situation. However, when dealing with a young quarterback it is important to take away his comfort zone, eliminating Jason Witten and Cole Beasley should be a focal point for this defense. That is yet another tough task for rookie cornerback Kendall Fuller who has struggled the last two weeks along with whichever linebacker or safety will be put on the future Hall of Famer tightend.
I do expect a lot of zone coverage against Dallas, coupled with star coverage which means cornerback Josh Norman will be traveling to whichever side Dez Bryant lines up offensively ( as long as it is not in the slot). The key for the Redskins defense will be to force mistakes from Prescott, limit their own mistakes, and get off the field on third down. With the Cowboys rushing attack it is a tough task , but execution and being in the right position gives the Redskins a chance defensively.
The Dallas defense is solid statistically, 13th in total yards and third in rush defense. The unit is disciplined and does not make many mistakes, but this is a big credit to their offense. The defense of Dallas hardy sees the field because of the time of possession their offense has. When facing top tier offenses, which they haven’t faced many, they’ve given up over 400 yards against the Steelers and Redskins. The front seven is led by linebacker Sean Lee, who when not injured is their best defensive player. His group has struggled to stop the run season long, 21st in yards per attempt defensively giving up over 4 yards per carry, which bodes well for the Redskins who have surprisingly emerged as one of the best rushing teams in the NFL. Running back Matt Jones has struggled to hold on to the ball which has limited his snap count as of late this year seeing the field had excellent games with the help of the offensive line. Robert “Fat Rob” Kelley has had an even better season and has taken over the starting position averaging 5-yards per carry after his 137 yard performance against Green Bay. He’s provided balance to a once pass heavy offense earlier in the season and has made quarterback Kirk Cousins an even better threat to defenses as offensive coordinator Sean McVay can dial up plays that keeps his offense unpredictable.
When looking at the secondary of Dallas they have above average players that have performed well in defensive backs Byron Jones, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick. With the leads their offense gives them they have been passed on a lot, they rank 21st in passing yards per game, but 18th in yards per attempt. With the lack of sacks from their guys up front, the big play opportunities will be there for the Redskins offense. The Cowboys defense does a good job avoiding giving up the big play, but the flaws in their defense creates big play opportunities for an offense like Washington’s.
The Cowboys struggle to force turnovers and stop the run, the Redskins mindset coming into this game is to avoid the offensive penalties while playing keep away from the offense of Dallas by staying committed to the ground game. As said in weeks before, the Skins are at their best when implementing a two-tight end set that gives the defense four threats to account for in the passing attack. That gives Kelley great looks on the ground as loading the box becomes a bad idea for the Cowboys. A shootout is expected by most, at one point including me, but the best strategy for both teams is to win the ball control battle so each team must make their drives count.