Some final thoughts as the Cowboys prepare for the Redskins:
Despite what we all saw the Cowboys offense do last week against the Broncos, I do not believe that we will see Tony Romo drop back and throw it 40 or 50 times this game. It is clear that with all the weapons this offense has, along with an offensive line that is doing a better job of holding up protection wise, Jason Garrett still believes that offensive balance is the way to go with his squad.
Miles Austin is once again back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, and, along with Dez Bryant, will be starting on the outside. My sources that watch practice told me that there were several times this week when Romo and Austin connected on some productive plays down the field and Austin was moving around well. The combinations that we will see along with Bryant and Austin will be dictated by down and distance. What we have learned about Derek Dooley’s group is that no matter who is in the game, there is the flexibility to line up in different spots.
Terrance Williams has impressively caught 84 percent of the passes thrown his way through five games this season. Williams will play on the outside when Austin goes to the slot, or Cole Beasley will line up in the slot with either Austin or Williams on the outside. Beasley has also received some work on the outside. Dwayne Harris can play either in the slot or outside, so he is an option there as well. One of the most successful formations the Cowboys used last week was “Empty” but I don’t expect to see it that much this week, because the Redskins pass rush is better than what the Broncos had last week. Look for the Cowboys to get back to their “12” personnel groups with Witten, Hanna and Escobar in the mix and attack the Redskins that way until Garrett and Bill Callahan get a read on what Jim Haslett is trying to do to them.
Take Their Best
Last week against Denver, Monte Kiffin decided to match his defensive backs with the receivers of the Broncos in an effort to best handle their skill players. This week against the Redskins, there are some talented players on the outside and I would expect Kiffin to once again shuffle his defenders around. The one matchup that I believe we will see is Brandon Carr on Pierre Garcon, who has been Washington’s biggest threat this season. Where Garcon has been so dangerous is in the middle of the field, but also catching quick screens and getting up the field. Carr has been comfortable when he has had to play bigger receivers throughout his career, and Garcon is just that. There have been some snaps this season where Carr has not been as physical as he has needed to be, but Kiffin and this staff have confidence that he can get the job done and not allow Robert Griffin III to feed his favorite target. It’s going to take all that Carr has to cover Garcon and deny him those balls.
Block It Out
I am always interested in a good matchup when it involves offensive and defensive lines. One of my keys of the week was about pass protection and how it would factor into this game. I liked the matchup of Doug Free and Ryan Kerrigan, but also keep an eye on Tyron Smith and Brian Orakpo. There have been some games this season where Smith has struggled at times with his technique, but there have been others where he pitched a shutout. This week against Orakpo, he is going to have to be ready for a variety of pass rush moves.
Orakpo is smart in the way he rushes and really does a nice job of getting the tackle off balance. Where Smith has to be careful in this game is to not allow Orakpo to set him up on the outside then come underneath. Smith has to be quick to adjust and play with patience in his set. If Smith lunges or overextends against Orakpo, he will be by him in a hurry. Teams have had success running the ball more at Orakpo than Kerrigan, and he will struggle when Smith locks up on him. Smith has too much power and he should make Orakpo fight that all day.
The front office made a roster move by releasing Will Allen on Tuesday and replacing him on the roster with rookie linebacker Cameron Lawrence. There were some thoughts potentially that the spot would go to Jakar Hamilton, but with Jeff Heath and Danny McCray in the mix, Lawrence got the nod. Lawrence will help on special teams at a couple of different spots for Edgar Jones, who will miss his second game with a groin injury. If something were to happen to either Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox, look for Heath to get the call before McCray.
The coaches really like Heath’s smarts, toughness and coverage skills. If there is going to be a group that needs to play great, it needs to be these safeties. To a man they are going to have to play a significant role in this game against the Redskins, not only in coverage in the middle of the field, but when they go down into the box as the extra man to play the run. If they play poorly, you will notice very quickly.