The Nemesis: Jason Hatcher
If there has been a player over the years that has been a problem for Washington to deal with other than DeMarcus Ware on defense, Jason Hatcher has been that guy. In 15 career games against the Redskins, Hatcher has produced 43 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 16 quarterback pressures and forced a fumble. If there was a game that this Cowboys needed that same type of production in a game from Hatcher, this is the one. With Kirk Cousins at quarterback, the Redskins are different in the way they use their scheme. There are more snaps from underneath center and this should give Hatcher more of an opportunity to use his quickness to get up the field and be disruptive in the passing game. I see a favorable matchup if Hatcher can take some rushes over Chris Chester on that right side. Chester doesn’t have the athletic ability to handle a guy like Hatcher and with no Griffin III in the lineup, Hatcher can be right in the middle of the action. With Alfred Morris in the backfield, there are going to need to be some plays made at the point of attack in the running game before he has a chance to get going. I haven’t felt like Hatcher was at his best these last couple of weeks but that has a chance to change against the Redskins.
The Weapon: Jason Witten
In 21 games played against the Washington Redskins, Jason Witten has caught 97 passes for 1,087 yards and six touchdowns. Throughout his long career, Witten has always been a thorn in the side of the Redskins, who have found it very difficult to match his ability to get up the field. In this game on Sunday, Witten should once again get those opportunities to find space in this secondary that has really had their share of problems defending the pass. With the injuries to Terrance Williams and Dwayne Harris, I expect Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan will go with more “12” personnel in this game and look for ways to get Witten and Gavin Escobar in space. The Redskins safeties do struggle in coverage with both Brandon Merriweather and Reed Doughty. If you had to pick one that might be better, it would be Doughty and that is who Jim Haslett will most like put with Witten. I also expect Haslett not to allow Romo to get comfortable in this game as well which means plenty of blitzing from the linebackers and secondary. If that would be the case, then Witten becomes you “Hot” guy in routes that has always been a solid option in this scheme. Witten has also been a key in this running game seeing the success they have with his point of attack blocking.
Under The Radar: DeVonte Holloman
With Sean Lee once again out of action as he continues to recover from his sprained ligament in his neck, DeVonte Holloman will get the opportunity to make his first start at Mike linebacker in the NFL. Holloman was due to make his start his first start earlier in the season but he too had to deal with neck and spine issues and missed several weeks. Holloman did play a large number of snaps at the Mike last week against the Packers when Justin Durant reinjured his hamstring and has since been put on injured reserve. For not taking a snap at Mike since those days in Oxnard, he was able to hold up well and has a little something to build on there. As the team gets ready for the Redskins this week, Holloman has taken the majority of the reps at Mike with the first team and with Bruce Carter back in the lineup, it helps him to have a veteran player there by his side but one that can make the defensive calls, which should free him up to just go out and make plays. What Holloman proved in the preseason is that he is a player that is always around the ball and there were times where the ball found him. Without Lee in the lineup, this is where you miss his ability to create turnovers. Maybe Holloman can bring that to this defense.
The Nemesis: Alfred Morris
I still have that image of Alfred Morris carrying tacklers in that final game of the 2012 season at FedEx Field with so much on the line for both teams. I have a great deal of respect for what he brings each time that Kyle Shanahan hands him the ball. There is violence in the way he carries the ball and if you don’t stop him before he gets going, he is a nightmare to deal with. Once again this will be a huge test for this Cowboys defense to handle this guy. I worry about Shanahan just loading him up and hammering the ball at this Cowboys front seven, then working his play action passes off it with Kirk Cousins. I might be totally off base with this thought but if he was smart to protect his secondary against Tony Romo, it would be the right thing to do. The Cowboys have not been able to stop an opponent from running the ball on them and just like last week against Green Bay and Chicago the week before, you can still find ways to move the ball and score while doing it. With Morris it is a pretty simple attack, you are going to get zone or stretch runs left and right, you are going to get the toss sweep and a new wrinkle is the toss that is run between the center and guard with a pulling linemen like a power play.
The Weapon: Pierre Garcon
If I were on the Cowboys defensive coaching staff, I would be very concerned about how we were planning on how to deal with Pierre Garcon in this game. Offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan has done a really nice job of creating plays to get the ball in Garcon’s hands and allowing him to do the rest. With Garcon, it has not mattered who has been the quarterback for the Redskins, Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins, the ball is going in his direction regardless whether he is covered or not. What has been impressive about Garcon is how much power that he plays with when they get him the ball. You will see him catch a quick screen and he explodes up the field, leaving tacklers in his wake. Garcon likes to also work the middle of the field and not just on simple routes, but those deep crossing routes between the linebackers and the safeties. He is not afraid to catch the ball in traffic and will compete, if he has too. When you play Garcon, you have to be physical with him because if you don’t, he will try and beat you up. Brandon Carr who missed practice on Thursday with a touch of the flu, should draw the assignment after holding him in check the first time these two clubs met in October. Carr understands the physical nature in which he has to play in this matchup and that is important.
Under The Radar: Chris Baker
There are times where you are studying a game on tape and a player that you have no idea, who he is, jumps out at you. I had that experience with Redskins defensive end, Chris Baker when watching him play against Atlanta. It happened so much, that I had to go and look up his background information. Sounds like his days at Hampton, he played both as a nose and end but what interesting is that he started his career at Penn State which tells me a little bit of the type of player that he is. I was impressive with how physical he was at the point of attack and how powerful he played with his hands. The Falcons guards and tackles really had no answer for how to handle him. There were several times where he was playing on their side of the ball. Where these Cowboys offensive linemen have to be careful, it that he really does a nice job of playing with his hands. You could see him several times, fire his hands inside, control the blocker, then shed. They will need to match his power, but also stay after him because he will find his way to the ball, whether it is going inside or out. Has the size and power of what the Cowboys faced against the Packers at end, but is much more active in the way he plays the game for his size.