What the Dallas Cowboys must do to beat the Redskins

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Kirk Cousins
LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 18: Quarterback Kirk Cousins /

The Dallas Cowboys must do these things to Kirk Cousins if they hope to top the Washington Redskins this Sunday at FedExField.

After a disappointing start to the season, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in early season “must-win” games. One could argue every week in 16-game schedule is “must-win”, but all should be able to appreciate the urgency for a team entering the eighth week of the NFL season WITHOUT a winning record.

Lucky for the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins are beatable. Beatable as long as the Cowboys can stop Kirk Cousins, of course

Not so fun fact: Dallas only has three wins this season. There are only two teams in the entire NFC who have less than three wins. Yes, this is another must win week for the Dallas Cowboys.

Kirk Cousins

As Kirk Cousins goes, so go the Washington Redskins. Playing the most important position in all of professional sports has a tendency to make that kind of impact. And the hot/cold nature of Kirk Cousins is certainly no different.

Cousins divides his fanbase nearly as much as the analysts who cover him. Is he good or is he bad? Is Kirk Cousins a star or a product of a talented environment? People haven’t been so divided and so passionate since a guy named Colin Kaepernick dominated the headlines…what now? He’s still dividing and dominating? Let’s not digress…

Kirk Cousins is statistically great. Only a handful of passers have been better over the last couple seasons and Cousins has been able to find that success without long-term job security. But denying the system he’s working in, the linemen around him, and the weapons at his disposal is irresponsible.

But instead of belittling his success, simply because he plays with talented people (like so many love to do with Dallas’ own, Dak Prescott), let’s talk about what he does well at and what he struggles with. Let’s particularly state what the Cowboys must do to beat him.

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Strengths and Weakness

According to Football Outsiders, Kirk Cousins’ best passes are the “curl” and the “dig”. The aptly named “curl” is a short pass to a tight end or receiver, curling back towards the line of scrimmage. The play takes timing rather than arm strengths and is executed between the harshmarks.

The “dig” is nothing more than a deeper version of the curl so it stands to reason if a passer is good at one, he’s probably good at the other. Last season, Cousins ranked No. 1 in the NFL in both of these.

His weakness are anything that involves arm strength. Equipped with a below-average arm, Cousins labors to send passes across the field. “Outs” and “comebacks” are almost out of the question given his ability and usually rely on broken coverage to succeed.

This isn’t to say Cousins can’t throw the deep ball, though. He’s consistently been one of the best QBs in the NFL on post routes and seam routes because what he lacks in strength, he makes up for in touch.

Cousins also struggles with pressure. When standing in a clean pocket, he delivers the ball consistently. If rushed and forced to improvise, Cousins makes mistakes.  He also avoids progressions, preferring instead to choose a target before the ball is snapped.

What the Cowboys must do

The Cowboys know they have to push receivers to the sidelines and take away those curls and digs to Jordan Reed in the middle. Give him what he hates (small windows and out patterns) and take away what he likes (Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder and the middle 10-yards of the field). That and pressuring Kirk Cousins early and often should be the top priority of Rod Marinelli’s defense.

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When pressured, Cousins has a tendency to dump the ball off to his first read, consequences be damned. Since Cousins is already known for committing to targets before the snap and staring down said targets after the snap, pressuring him will only further his transparency. And hopefully lead to some interceptions.

He’s wants to work between the harshmarks so the Cowboys must disguise coverage in the middle of the field and take those passes away. That means mixing in zone and man coverage as well as doubling up on Jordan Reed. If he wants to beat the Cowboys it will have to be by beating the single coverage on the outside.

Controlled blitzing

The Washington offensive line is beat up but that doesn’t mean they’re bums. They shut down the Eagles pass-rush last week so relying on the Cowboys’ front-four to get things done may be a mistake. If Rod Marinelli can create pressure by running some early stunts and blitzes (please don’t use Orlando Scandrick to blitz), Cousins will be uncomfortable all game long. Because often times, once Cousins gets rattled, he stays rattled.

Once Cousins is uncomfortable, the Cowboys would be wise to dial it back and dedicate players to coverage. That will jam the middle of the field and create small windows in which to work. Dallas can let the mistakes come to them because Cousins will want to get rid of the ball ASAP and it will probably be to his desired presnap read.

Next: Why the Cowboys offense will continue to thrive

Kirk Cousins has clear strengths and weaknesses. It will be up to the Cowboys to force Cousins to beat them by playing to his weaknesses.