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Gameday: Playoff Hopes Still Alive Vs. Reeling Redskins

Posted Dec 17, 2013


Cowboys: The Cowboys will be coming off one of their worst regular season losses in franchise history. It wasn’t a do-or-die game like some losses have been in the recent past, but surrendering a 23-point halftime lead to a team that could muster just three first-half points with their backup quarterback will go down as one of the biggest collapses. Head coach Jason Garrett has always taken pride in his team’s resiliency, and the Cowboys are going to need a lot of that if they’re to turn the page and get a win this weekend in Washington to force yet another sudden death game against a division rival in Week 17 with a playoff berth on the line.

There are a lot of areas of concern right now on a Dallas team that’s lost two straight and surrendered 37 points or more in each of their last two games despite facing backup quarterbacks. But one group the Cowboys haven’t had to worry about is the offensive line, which had been maligned the last two years. It’s now become one of the few, accountable strong spots of the Cowboys, paving the way for a Dallas running back to rush for at least 80 yards each of the past five games. DeMarco Murray’s rushed for at least 130 yards each of the last two games, but he doesn’t have 20 rushes in either contest. Dallas hasn’t found a way to finish after establishing themselves on the ground.

The reasons for that are multiple. Some blame the play-calling, others blame the players, and many put that on the defense, which still ranks worst in the league. Injuries continue to beleaguer the defense, particularly at linebacker, where the Cowboys are playing with backups to the backups. It’s possible they still don’t have Sean Lee this coming week, and with Bruce Carter and Justin Durant nursing hamstring injuries and Ernie Sims getting hurt last week, the defense is left with few options. The Cowboys will need markedly better performances from their defensive backs and top defensive linemen if they’re to win the division. 

Redskins: If it appears there’s turmoil in Dallas, Washington seems to be taking that to a different level. Head coach Mike Shanahan seems to be asked every day about his job security and whether or not he even wants to be coaching the rest of the year or next. The questions reached their peak after Shanahan ruled that Robert Griffin III would be shut down the rest of the year in favor of Kirk Cousins in order to protect the franchise quarterback who’d been sacked numerous times with the playoffs statistically out of reach. That means the Cowboys will be facing Cousins, who threw for 381 yards last week.

It’s possible the move to Cousins helps rejuvenate a Redskins team that lost last week by one point after a risky two-point conversion attempt failed after Washington scored a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining against the Falcons. That one-point loss was the closest the Redskins had come to winning a game since beating San Diego, 30-24, in overtime in Week 9. Cousins’ 381 passing yards also marked a season-high for any Washington quarterback this year. In addition, the Redskins continue to offer a running threat with Alfred Morris, who ran for 98 yards last week and had 81 yards rushing in the first meeting between these teams this year in Dallas.

As bad as the Cowboys’ defense has been this season, the Redskins’ group hasn’t fared much better. Washington ranks 20th in total defense and last in the league in opponents scoring average, giving up 31 points per game. The Redskins’ defense has allowed at least 20 points in all but one game this year. With only three wins this season, there’s not a lot left for the Redskins to play for, but a chance to knock the Cowboys out of playoff contention would probably be one of them. Dallas wouldn’t immediately be eliminated from the playoffs if Washington comes out on top, but if the Cowboys fall, a win from the Eagles would make Philadelphia the NFC East champs.

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