The Dallas Cowboys are once again playing a division rival in week 17 of the NFL season to determine who will be crowned Champions of the NFC East. This year, the Cowboys face their old and hated rivals, the Washington Redskins. Both teams face the same reality: win this game and they are in the NFL playoffs, but lose this game and their season is finished. Washington is 9-6 and the Cowboys are 8-8, so neither team has been dominant in 2012. But don’t forget that in week 17 of the 2011 season, the Cowboys were 8-8 and the NY Giants were 9-7 as they battled in week 17 for the NFC East Crown; the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Redskins beat Dallas in Cowboys Stadium in week 12; the Cowboys scored 18 points in the 4th quarter to make an attempt at a comeback, but they fell short and the game ended 38-31. This week the Cowboys travel to Fed Ex Field in Washington where it is sure to be cold, so the weather could play a factor, especially if there is snow.
The First Game in Week 12:
The Dallas Cowboys fell behind early in the game after a 68 yard TD pass to Aldrick Robinson (that was his only catch of the game). The Cowboys also gave up a 59 yard TD on a catch and run by Redskins WR Pierre Garcon in the first half. In addition to these two long and quick scores, the Cowboys committed 2 costly turnovers; one was a fumble by WR Dez Bryant, and the other was an interception by QB Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys were losing 28-3 at halftime. The Cowboys offense played much better in the second half, eventually making a game out of it, but they were ultimately doomed by a common problem this season: failing to score TD’s in the redzone and settling for FG’s. The Cowboys were unable to stop the Redskins rushing or passing attack on a consistent basis. Redskins rookie QB Griffin completed 19 of his 27 passing attempts for 304 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Redskins also ran for 149 yards and averaged 4.7 yards a carry.
The lesson for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff from the first game against the Redskins is fairly simple. They can’t afford to let the Redskins score quick TD’s, so Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has to ensure that his secondary prevents the long ball, even if it means giving up short passes over the middle (which the Cowboys have been very vulnerable to since all of the injuries to their ILB’s). On offense, Head Coach Jason Garrett has to ensure that his squad protects the football. If they don’t to those two things, winning the game is unlikely.
Also, remember that the Dallas Cowboys were without five of their offensive starters for their first game against the Redskins: LT Tyron Smith, C Ryan Cook, WR Miles Austin, WR Kevin Ogletree, and RB DeMarco Murray. All five players are expected to play this week.
On offense, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins are 5th and 6th in the NFL in total yardage; the Redskins offense averages 384.7 yards a game, and the Cowboys offense averages 379.9 yards a game. But the similarities end there. The Redskins lead the NFL in rushing with 162.3 yards a game (their QB has 752 yards on 114 attempts for a 6.6. average); the Dallas Cowboys are the second worst in the league at running the ball (77.7 yards per game). The Redskins are 4th in the NFL in scoring at 27.2 points per game. The Cowboys are 14th in scoring at 23.9 points a game.
The Redskins are the second most penalized offense in the league. They have been penalized for 965 yards this season; the Cowboys offense has lost 847 yards due to penalties. It hard to believe that with all the holding calls and pre-snap penalties that Dallas fans watch their team commit every week, that the Redskins have been penalized for more yards. The Dallas offense has fumbled the ball 20 times and lost 10 of them. The Redskins have fumbled 25 times, but only lost 6 of them. Washington QB Griffin has only thrown 5 picks. Cowboys QB Tony Romo has thrown 16. The Cowboys have allowed 34 sacks, the Redskins 32. The Dallas Cowboys offense successfully convert 43.2% of their 3rd down attempts (86/199). The Redskins offense manages a first down on 35.1% of their 3rd down attempts (63/179).
On defense, the Dallas Cowboys compare a bit better with the Redskins. In total yards surrendered the Cowboys are 19th (355.1 yards a game) and the Redskins are 28th (383.1 yards a contest). But when it comes to points given up, the two teams are much closer: the Redskins defense has allowed 370 points this season (24.7 per game), and the Cowboys have given up 372 points this year (24.8 a game). The interceptions that give the opposing offense short fields is probably why the Cowboys give up so many points compared to the yardage surrendered.
The Dallas Cowboys defense has given up 29 first downs by penalty, and the Redskins have give up 28 by penalty. The Cowboys defense prevents their opponent from gaining a 1st down on 39.7% (76/191) of third downs; the Redskins stop their opponent from converting a first down on 43.5% (88/202) of their 3rd downs.The Cowboys defense has been penalized for 706 yards (doesn’t include penalties that were declined), and the Redskins have given up 810 yards because of penalties. The Cowboys defense has sacked the opposing QB 34 times in 2012, the Redskins defense has tallied 32 sacks.
One of the few important categories where there is a big discrepancy is turnovers: the Cowboys have 16 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries; the Redskins have 8 picks, 17 forced fumbles and 6 fumble recoveries.
The Dallas Cowboys have a minus 10 turnover ratio, and the Redskins have a plus 13 turnover ratio. One of the biggest differences here is that Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo has thrown 16 interceptions, while Redskins QB RG3 has only thrown 5 picks.
The first thing that sticks is that the Redskins are leading the league in rushing yardage and the Dallas Cowboys are average at best when it comes to defending the run (they give up an average of 115.3 yards a game on the ground). The Cowboys were fairly stout against the run early in the 2012 season, but a multitude of injuries to defensive lineman and ILB’s has seriously hindered their ability to stop the run.
The rushing attack of the Redskins is led by RB Alfred Morris who has amassed 1413 yards on 302 carries for an impressive average of 4.7 yards per carry. If Dallas DC Rob Ryan can’t find a way to stop Morris early in the game, expect the Redskins to feed him the ball until the Cowboys prove they can stop him. If the Cowboys have to commit a safety or eighth man in the box to stop the run, expect to see Redskins QB Griffin use the play action to try to go long.
The problem for Rob Ryan is that even if the Dallas Cowboys can contain Alfred Morris, they still have to worry about the QB running the ball on designed plays and on any play when RG3 has the ball in his hand. Griffin is averaging over 6 yards a carry, but he also has 6 rushing touchdowns, and he is a threat to score once he is in the open field (his longest TD run this year was 76 yards).
When you consider the strength and versatility of the Redskins rushing attack, the potential for snow in D.C., and the Cowboys injury problems at ILB, it seems that the Dallas Cowboys defense could be in for a long day. If the Redskins can run the ball and then utilize the play-action for a quick score or two, it will be very difficult for the Cowboys to win the game.
The other statistic that really stands out is the two teams’ respective turnover differentials. RG3 has only thrown 5 picks this entire season, and the Redskins are +13 in turnovers. The Cowboys are -10. Dallas can not count on the Redskins committing turnovers, so it is imperative that they avoid turning the ball over. If the Cowboys commit turnovers in Redskins territory that eliminate scoring chances, or they turn the ball over to provide the Redskins with easy scoring chances, it is hard to see how they can win this game.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to beat the Washington Redskins, they will have to do at least three things. First, they can not give up long, quick, and easy TD’s like they did in the first game. They can not afford to fall behind because it forces their offense to become one dimensional and it allows the Redskins offense to play conservative, pound the ball and punt if necessary. Second, they can’t turn the ball over. It was partially turnovers that led to the huge first half deficit the first time these two teams met. Moreover, Redskins QB RG3 rarely throws picks and RB Alfred Morris has fumbled just 4 times, so it is not like they can hope/expect to get a turnover back. Third, the Dallas Cowboys have to stop the rushing attack of the Redskins or they will just pound the ball on the ground all day.
The good news for Dallas Cowboys fans is that the Redskins secondary is banged up. They have suffered several injuries throughout the year, and they are giving up almost 290 yards a game through the air (3rd worst in the NFL). Hence, if the Cowboys can give QB Tony Romo time to throw the ball and WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten continue to play like Pro Bowlers, the Cowboys offense should be able to move the ball and score points. If the Dallas Cowboys defense can do the three things enumerated above, there is a good chance that Romo and his talented receivers can lead this team to victory.