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Scout’s Eye: Handling Washington’s Front 7

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FRISCO, Texas – Here’s a look at the two biggest keys to this division matchup.

Dallas Cowboys Win If

A lot has changed for both teams since the previous time they met. Amari Cooper was acquired in a trade. Paul Alexander was relieved of his coaching duties, and Xavier Su’a-Filo replaced Connor Williams as the starter at guard. 

The Redskins have had their share of changes, but the one thing that has remained consistent for them has been their front seven on defense. As a unit, they’ve been outstanding and it starts with Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. The Cowboys didn’t do a good enough job of handling these two, as Kerrigan had two sacks and the big strip of Dak Prescott on the goal line -- which Smith recovered for a touchdown. 

As difficult as it is to deal with Kerrigan and Smith, having to block Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen has been no picnic for opponents, either. The Cowboys didn’t run the ball well enough in the previous meeting, due in large part to how well Payne and Allen played inside. Their power and strength at the point of attack led to several runs where Ezekiel Elliott was met in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. 

Where the Cowboys have had some success during this two-game winning streak is that they’ve been able to get Elliott going with the ball in his hands. It will be a key for them to create some running lanes for him in order to get the offense going. As a unit, they feed off his ability to gash opponents. 

The plan is pretty simple for the Cowboys: block the Redskins’ front seven and offensively they will be able to finish enough drives to win this game.

Washington Redskins Win If

Despite the injury to Alex Smith, I don’t see Jay Gruden changing the game plan all that much for Colt McCoy. From what I was able to gather when he came into last week’s game, Gruden did nothing different from a play calling perspective. He dialed nothing back, and with Adrian Peterson and the skill that he has on the outside, there really is no reason to change things. 

McCoy doesn’t have the arm strength to take those deep shots like Smith did, so the game plan should feature underneath and intermediate throws on the routes. The Redskins will use a ton of pick routes due to the amount of man coverage that the Cowboys play. McCoy is at his best when he can get the ball out of his hand quickly, so that plays into the use of Jordan Reed and Michael Floyd. 

If Gruden has a problem, it’s that his offensive line is compromised so he has to be mindful of that. McCoy is capable of making plays with his feet like Smith, and that will help when the pressure comes. 

For the Redskins to win this game they’re going to need more than just a “game manager” effort from Colt McCoy. This Cowboys defense has been playing too well to play for that style of game. Jay Gruden will need to trust his quarterback and offensive line, but more importantly he will need to lean on Peterson and his skilled guys to go win this.

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