Keys To The Game: Limiting Washington's Underneath Passing Game

FRISCO, Texas – Strange as it seems, it's already time to break down the keys to this game. After all, kickoff is already just two days away.

So here are the two biggest factors I see playing a role in who gets the win on Thanksgiving Day:

Dallas Cowboys Win If:

The misconception is that Kirk Cousins is this lethal down field passer, but if you check his passing splits, that not the case at all. Of his passes of 41 or more yards, Cousins is actually 2-of-6 (33 percent) for 101 yards, one touchdown and one interception. As a matter of fact, his accuracy is slightly better in that 21-to-30 yard range, where he is 13-of-27 (48 percent) for 399 yards. In that range he has thrown four touchdowns without an interception.

Where Cousins is at his best is when he can throw the ball underneath inside 10 yards and let his receivers run after catch. In those throws, he's 173-for-216 (80 percent) for 1569 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. As much as we all want to believe the ball going down the field for the Redskins -- it's really about their four receiver packages and working in the middle of the field. Of Cousins' 17 touchdown passes, 11 of those have been while in this personnel group.

When Cousins can work left, middle and right of the field, he is a 75 percent passer. Make him throw to the left or right sideline and that percentage dips to 59 percent. The Redskins have had two games this season where they had five plays of 25 or more yards – Green Bay and Dallas.

If the Cowboys win this game, I don't see the deep ball as their problem – I believe it's how they limit the underneath routes and their ability to get these talented receivers on the ground quickly.       

Washington Redskins Win If:

This game is likely going to come down to which defense can make two stops, considering the way that these offenses are playing. The plan coming into the game for the Cowboys is always the same: run the ball and finish drives. The last time that these two teams met, Dallas had scoring drives of 76, 94, 75 and 80 yards.

Where the Redskins have made the biggest improvement defensively is handling the run. In the last five game they've allowed 94 yards a game, whereas in those first five games, opponents were at 130 yards. What is interesting is they have had this success against teams that statistically have been able to run the ball this season. The Bengals have been the only team during that stretch who pounded them.

If the Redskins are going to win this game they are going to need to limit the Cowboys' ground game like they were able to do in Week 2 -- but do a better job of defending their passing game. The Redskins sacked Dak Prescott a season high four times, but that didn't stop him from spreading the ball around. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley accounted for 15 receptions on 22 targets for 228 yards.

If the Redskins learned anything from watching the Ravens game last week, it's that choking the running game is good -- but you had better be able to cover on the backend when you do that. I don't see them giving Dez Bryant the freedom off the ball that he had in the first meeting.    

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