Tha Sports Junkies 101

Washington Redskins Week 12 Preview: Defend the East



The Washington Redskins head to Arlington, Texas to renew their rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys in a key NFC East showdown on Thanksgiving.

Scouting the Boys’

The Dallas Cowboys are not only the best team in the NFC East but the entire NFL. Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are” and Dallas is good as their 9-1 record suggests. Most of their success stems from the play of their dominant offensive line. For the first time in history, an entire offensive line may win the NFL MVP. Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot have infused the Cowboys with youth and athleticism.

Ezekiel Elliot has rushed for 1,102 yards on 223 carries through 11 weeks. Elliot averages 4.9 yards per carry, has nine rushing touchdowns and is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Elliot has 22 catches for 280 yards. Elliot’s 83-yard receiving touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a prime example of his receiving ability.

Fourth-round pick Dak Prescott is the steal of the 2016 draft. Prescott entered the draft process without much fan fare but now he is the future at the quarterback position for “America’s Team”. What makes Prescott so impressive is that he’s beyond his years. In the fourth quarter this season, Prescott is at his best completing over 90 percent of his passes. (24/26) Through 10 games Prescott is completing nearly 68 percent of his passes for 2,640 yards, 17 touchdowns and two interceptions. His 108.6 passer rating ranks third in the NFL.

Keys for Washington

For the Washington Redskins to have a chance at defending their NFC East championship, they’ll have to do two things first and foremost, stop the run and rush the passer. Although the Redskins struggle stopping the run, ranking 22nd (112.1 ypg) they did an excellent job of limiting Zeke Elliot to 21 carries and 83 yards in week two. Elliot also fumbled twice, losing one. For what it’s worth, Elliot has yet to top the 100-yard mark against a team from the NFC East.

“You can try different coverages and different things in the secondary and maybe blitz-wise, but still it comes down to stopping the run and Zeke,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said on Tuesday.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry should have taken a good look of the Cowboys-Redskins matchup two years ago. In that game, the Redskins were able to sack Tony Romo five times. Romo is no longer under center but the Cowboys feature the same starting offensive line from that game. Former Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett blitzed Romo on 61.8 percent of his dropbacks in that game.

Like most rookies, Dak Prescott struggles under pressure. When facing pressure in the pocket, Prescott has a rating of 63.5 when facing a pass rush. The Redskins were unable to rattle Prescott in week two as they only blitzed him a measly six times. Prescott ended the game 22/30 with 292 passing yards no interceptions and a rushing touchdown. Now ranked fourth in the NFL with 27 sacks the Redskins, will need strong games from Preston Smith, Trent Murphy, and Ryan Kerrigan.

On offense, Kirk Cousins will be looking to bounce back from a horrible week two performance against Dallas. Cousins struggled mightily that day overthrowing at least two touchdowns, and also threw a red zone interception in the fourth quarter. The rushing attack for Washington at the time was pretty much non-existent. Now, Robert Kelley has provided a legit threat in the ground game and Kirk Cousins has been on a tear as of late.

Three X-Factors

LB/S Su’a Cravens: Cravens has earned more playing time as of late within the Redskins defense. He earned his second career start against the Green Bay Packers, and had a solid performance notching five tackles (one for a loss) and a pass deflection. He also served as spy on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Dak Prescott is a dual-threat so the Skins would be wise to implement Cravens in the same manner.

One player that gave the Cowboys offensive line fits in that game two years ago was former Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather. Meriweather finshed the game with two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Expect Joe Barry to utilize Cravens the same way Haslett used Meriweather two years ago.

The Redskins Offensive Line: Former Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan, has had a major influence on Washington’s offensive line. After struggling to run the ball in 2015 (97.9 ypg), the Redskins rank 10th in rushing averaging 117.1 rushing yards per game. The Cowboys’ run defense has been susceptible allowing 4.2 yards per carry. The Baltimore Ravens only ran the ball 16 times against Dallas but gained 101 yards. The Ravens rank 27th in rushing offense, averaging 87.4 rushing yards per game.

Washington’s offensive line is among the NFL’s best in protecting the quarterback as they are tied for third with Dallas allowing 14 sacks on the season. The Cowboys have one of the more lackluster pass rushes in the NFL. Dallas is 31st in pass-rush pressure percentage, applying pressure on 24.3 percent of dropbacks.

Redskins TE’s vs Cowboys LB’s: On paper, Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed are matchup nightmares for the Dallas’ linebackers. According to Pro Football FocusSean Lee is the Cowboys highest-graded linebacker with a grade of 81.7, their next best linebacker Justin Durant has a grade of 50.1. After taking a back seat to the receivers on Sunday night, Reed and Davis both could be in store for big games.

Who Wins and Why

When the two team met back in week two, Kirk Cousins and the Redskins offense were out of sync. Now the offense is among the leagues best. The offense for Washington is peaking at the right time and although the defense has it’s faults, they can rush the passer. Now that Prescott has 10 games under his belt, the defense should have a better gameplan for him.

Two of Dallas’ closest losses of the year have come against quarterbacks who have excelled without facing a pass rush. Washington’s Kirk Cousins ranks eighth in the NFL in passer rating on dropbacks not under pressure this season, while Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger ranks fifth. Dallas won both of those games by a combined nine points.

Dallas lacks a pass rush and will be without Morris Claiborne and Barry Church. Both Claiborne and Church had huge games for the Cowboys in week two but both will miss the game due to injuries. Also, the road team has won the past three meetings in the series. With that being said, I like the defending NFC East champions for the upset. Dallas 28 Washington 31.