FRISCO, Texas – These divisional matchups feel so much different from my perspective.
Yes, it's true that teams change a lot from year to year. Who would have thought the Cowboys would be looking for ways to slow down Adrian Peterson heading into this matchup? But at the same time, these clubs play each other twice a year. The personnel is largely familiar, and the same head coaches are still in place. We know what to expect from a Cowboys-Redskins game – much more so than a rare visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars, at any rate.
We also couldn't have predicted where things would stand right now. The NFL is all about expecting the unexpected, but most of us would never have guessed that Dallas and Washington would be playing for the division lead at the halfway point of the season.
This should be a fun one. Here are my final notes for the 117th meeting between these two teams.
· I believe we'll see Sean Lee back on the field this week in his starting role next to Jaylon Smith. From what I have been told, Lee had an exceptional week with no setbacks and is ready to go. According to Jason Garrett, Lee is receptive to the idea of being a part of a rotation that includes himself, Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Damien Wilson. Having a fresher Lee during these games, especially in the later stages, will pay dividends to closing out games.
· I was surprised to see Chidobe Awuzie on the game day roster last week against the Jaguars. The medical staff has a policy not to put injured players on the field for games, so Awuzie must have had something happen to his ankle during warmups. Last week for practice Awuzie was rested while Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis took his snaps, and their good work carried over to the game. We need to keep an eye on this situation again this week. I believe that Awuzie received more work than last week, but let's see if the coaches stick with the Brown/Lewis combination to allow Awuzie a little more time with the bye week coming up.
· The Redskins are really banged up at receiver. Jamison Crowder is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of the game against the Panthers last week. Paul Richardson has been missing practice time with both a shoulder and a knee. Josh Doctson has been able to practice with a heel -- but how will that feel on game day? I will be interested to see how Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard play this. Where the Redskins can hurt you is down the field with their tight ends. Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis both play like receivers, but the question is: do you cover them like receivers? I have always believed that you try and keep big on big. If you try to put smaller guys on bigger bodies, you tend to get worked that way. The one thing that the Cowboys have is size at safety and linebacker if they want to go that route.
· Connor Williams has improved every week that he's played despite being a little undersized. I have to admit that I was worried about the matchups he had with Malik Jackson and Calais Campbell last week, but he held up well. This week against the Redskins, it doesn't get any easier with Jonathan Allen and De'Ron Payne. Both of these guys are hard to move if you take them down the middle -- especially run blocking. Look for Williams to play a little half-man with these two. By that I mean I think Williams will try to get on their edges to seal them from the play. Williams has the quickness and agility to put himself between the defender and ball carrier to shield his guy. His plan should be to make these big tackles have to run through him to get to the ball. If he can do that, he once again has a chance to play well.
· Tip of the cap to the way the Cowboys' tight ends played last week against the Jaguars. As a group their blocking was outstanding, which helped in the running game. There were a couple of snaps where it was one of their blocks that was able to spring a play. Both Geoff Swaim and Rico Gathers ended up with a reception for a group that hasn't had many opportunities. The progress these tight ends are making prompts some questions for me. I don't know how they'd do this unless they want to take Blake Jarwin off the field, but I wonder if the Cowboys might try to work Dalton Schultz back into the lineup. Schultz was on the game day roster against Carolina in Week 1, but he has been inactive ever since. This might be a good time to get him back in the mix. He's had a chance to catch his breath these last five weeks and receive a little more seasoning to his game by practicing. With the way the others rookies are contributing it would only make sense to give him a look. If they don't do it on Sunday, perhaps it's something to watch in the coming weeks.
· According to Jerry Jones, the injured groin for Tavon Austin didn't sound to promising for a return any time soon. There is a chance that the front office could carry him another week to exhaust all of their tests, or they could put him on injured reserve. If Austin does go on that list, we could see the club make a move to start the clock for Noah Brown, who has been working with the training staff throughout the season -- or we could see them elevate Lance Lenoir Jr. from the practice squad. Lenoir Jr. is one of those players that troubles scouts, because he practices great and then, just when you think he's ready for the big time, he just doesn't make an enough plays. With this injury to Austin he might get an opportunity sooner than later.
· Offensively, the Redskins have only scored 24 total points in the second half of their five games. As a team they've been outscored, 48-24, after halftime, so keep that in mind as we work our way into the later stages of this game on Sunday.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, WR Tavon Austin, LB Joe Thomas, DT Caraun Reid, LB Chris Covington, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, TE Dalton Schultz.