IRVING, Texas – Another week, another opponent, another writer to bother for information.
The Cowboys continue their division schedule with a primetime matchup against the Washington Redskins on Monday, so I asked for some insight from Andrew Walker, the lead writer and editor at Redskins.com.
Here are five questions previewing the Redskins, from the opposing perspective.
1. It hasn't been the best start for Washington, but it was just two seasons ago the Redskins ripped off seven-straight to win the division. What needs to happen if they are to make a similar turnaround?
You're right — the season certainly hasn't started the way the Redskins envisioned after they invested quite a bit of money in some key offseason acquisitions and seemingly had a productive offseason, training camp and preseason slate of games.
What hasn't helped matters is that the Redskins have been battling the injury bug the first half of the season, but because that's pretty much the norm across the league, it's pretty easy to see that their team depth has been tested and exposed, to some degree.
Despite this fact, Washington — other than their 45-14 loss to the Giants — has been within striking distance each and every week, losing to an improved Texans team Week 1, blowing out the Jaguars, dropping a nailbiter to the Eagles at their place, and then having a shot in the fourth quarter but coming up short against the Seahawks and the Cardinals, before last week's 19-17 victory over the Titans.
I think because they've been competitive in almost every game — and because of the aforementioned seven-game winning streak just two seasons ago — head coach Jay Gruden has never let that feeling of hopelessness creep into the facility.
[embeddedad0]One thing that strikes me about this roster, in particular, is that they are honestly a really close group of guys, and when you have vocal leaders like Ryan Clark, Jason Hatcher, Robert Griffin III and others, it's easy to see why, at 2-5, the team looks at their schedule for the rest of the year and believes that they could still reel off a few more wins and put themselves in position to make another late-season push — or, at the very least, play that spoiler role and use the momentum to surge into next season.
2. What is the prognosis surrounding the Redskins' quarterbacks right now? It looks like Colt McCoy is going to start at AT&T Stadium on Monday, but what is the outlook for Robert Griffin III and his eventual return?
Jay Gruden has been pretty clear that the team is moving forward with Colt McCoy as its starter Monday night against the Cowboys, but the team is letting Robert Griffin III fully test out his left ankle in practice — which includes getting some first-team reps — to see exactly where he is.
Considering the circumstances, McCoy did a tremendous job in relief of Kirk Cousins in the second half of Sunday's game against the Titans, completing 12-of-13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, but, perhaps most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over (which had been plaguing backup Kirk Cousins) and he was able to lead the team on a final 10-play drive that ended with a game-winning field goal from Kai Forbath to snap his team's losing streak and give it a little momentum heading into this Cowboys matchup. If McCoy does get the start Monday, it'll be his first in 1,054 days, when he started for the Cleveland Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers. So you can bet his juices are going to be flowing — especially in his home state.
Griffin III, meanwhile, is one of those freak athletes who just seems to recover from major injuries much quicker than the average person. When he suffered the dislocated ankle in the first quarter of the team's game Week 2 against the Jaguars, the immediate outlook didn't look good at all. Some feared he was done for the season. But after quickly shedding his crutches, then his cast, and then his boot, Griffin III has put in lots of work with team trainers off to the side, and last week, all of a sudden, there's No. 10 taking snaps on the practice field.
There's chatter that Griffin III could return for the Nov. 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which is after the Redskins' bye week. But you can be rest assured that if Griffin III has a good week of practice next week as the team prepares for the Minnesota Vikings, that he'll let Gruden know his wishes to return even sooner.
3. A lot of Cowboys fans are sure to focus on Jason Hatcher, who is playing his first game against Dallas since leaving for Washington. How has he played since returning to a 3-4 scheme?
Jason Hatcher essentially hasn't skipped a beat since coming over from Dallas and returning to the defensive end position in Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme. Through seven games this year, Hatcher has 29 tackles, three sacks, 12 quarterback pressures and one pass deflection, and although those numbers might seem like a step down from his Pro Bowl year in 2013 with the Cowboys, Hatcher is just one dominating game away from catching right back up — and there's no reason to believe he can't get that done.
Hatcher has battled through a couple injuries to his knee and his hamstring and says he is just now starting to feel as if he's playing at 100 percent, so we'll see how that bodes for Tony Romo and the improved Cowboys offensive line. But, beyond that, Hatcher has been a tremendous leader for the Redskins' defense, and certainly gives a lot of the younger defensive linemen someone to model themselves after as they begin their own careers.
4. The Redskins have the best run defense in the NFC East, allowing a little more than 100 yards per game. Who has to step up if they're going to stop DeMarco Murray's streak of 100-yard games?
DeMarco Murray is absolutely killing it, isn't he? I mean it's been so impressive to watch him turn in these monster performances week after week. I don't think anybody is surprised, because Murray is obviously a very talented player and has displayed flashes of this before, but to be so consistently great week after week has really been something. So, going into the game, you know the Redskins would like nothing more than to put the clamps down on Murray and, perhaps, lead him into asking his offensive linemen to return the iMacs he gave them this week.
When you look at the Redskins' run defense, it begins with the middle linebackers: Perry Riley Jr. and Keenan Robinson. Now, Riley Jr. — who has been one of the more underrated tacklers in the league the past couple seasons — has missed the last two games with a knee injury, but he's expected to return Monday against the Cowboys. But Robinson has really been impressive to watch this season. Last week against the Titans, he was absolutely everywhere on the field and collected a career-best 14 tackles, leading to his NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. I think one advantage for the Washington defense and Riley Jr. and Robinson is that they practice against a one-cut-and-go runner in Alfred Morris every day in practice. So when Murray does it on Monday night, it really won't be anything new. I'm definitely interested to see this particular matchup at AT&T Stadium.
5. Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have all enjoyed success against the Cowboys at different points in the past. Who's got the best bet to get going on Monday night?
I think when you look at those three guys, Alfred Morris is the one I'd look at to really standout Monday against the Cowboys.
Despite the fact that he's still a Top 10 running back in the league as far as yardage goes, Morris hasn't put up the numbers he's accustomed to the past three weeks, with 29-, 41- and 54-yard performances. He also has a 3.9 yards-per-carry average this year, which is very un-Alfred like. So I think the Redskins try to get to Morris early and often to get his confidence going, because once he starts initiating the contact and making a few moves here and there, he's awfully hard to bring down.