FRISCO, Texas – Here are my two big keys to this divisional matchup between the Cowboys and Redskins on Sunday afternoon.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Defensively, the Cowboys are one of the best in the league when it comes to getting opponents off the field for a three-and-out. Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard just don't allow opposing offenses to drive the ball on them.
This really starts on first down, where they've been outstanding holding opponents in check by forcing them into long yardage attempts. This is exactly what they want to see happen, because this allows them to turn to their pass rush, including their blitz package. As a unit they will take some risks due to the fact that they know they can get that rush home.
The coaching staff and players know that the Redskins are hurting at receiver without Jamison Crowder. Their leading pass catchers are a running back and a tight end. Both Chris Thompson and Jordan Reed have been outstanding, but if that's the route the Redskins must travel, then it could be a tough day for them to consistently move the ball. Last week against the Panthers, they were able to build a lead and hang on.
The Cowboys defensively have been stingy on all levels, and this will be the best defense that the Redskins have faced up until this point of the season. The Panthers were able to knock Alex Smith around and got his eye level down to where he was looking at the rush. Smith has studied the Cowboys' blitz package all week and he knows that he's going to have to get the ball out of his hand quickly and when that's the case, he's not as accurate.
The Cowboys win this game by winning on early downs, which allows them to harass Alex Smith into some poor throws.
Washington Redskins Win If:
For the Cowboys, there is no secret to victory when it comes to playing the Redskins. When they run the ball, they win. In the last four meetings against their NFC East foes, they have pounded the ball at this Redskins an average of 35 times a game without much resistance. In all four of those meetings, Washington left bruised, battered and on the short end of the score board.
When you study this current Redskins defense, the area where I feel they've made the most improvement is with their run defense. It started when they went out and drafted two legitimate defensive linemen from Alabama in Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne, back-to-back. The Redskins now have two guys that can be difficult to move and will challenge the inside blockers for the Cowboys. It was clear that their plan against Carolina was for Allen and Payne to hold the middle while Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith were focusing on crashing to the inside, with Mason Foster and Zach Brown scraped to the outside to handle Cam Newton when he pulled the ball. The plan worked well, allowing the Panthers a season low 81 yards rushing for the game.
The Cowboys and Panthers are similar in the way they want to run the ball. For the Redskins to win, they're going to need to control the front much like they did against the Panthers. Handle Ezekiel Elliott's power and force Dak Prescott to beat them by pulling the ball all game.