IRVING, Texas – A look at the two matchups I think will go a long way in determining whether the Cowboys can stay alive in the NFC East race.
Here's a look at what I'll be watching this Monday night:
Cowboys OT Doug Free against Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan
Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry likes to move Ryan Kerrigan around in his scheme, allowing him to rush from different spots. So with that being said, Barry is going to view a matchup with him and Tyron Smith as one that Kerrigan will not have the upper hand in. Look for Barry to take Kerrigan and work him against Free in order to get some pressure on Matt Cassel.
If Free does have an advantage in this matchup, it's that he has faced Kerrigan enough to know his strengths and weaknesses. It is well documented the type of player Free is going to face in Kerrigan. He is a relentless, mentally tough athlete. There is no quit in his game. His playing speed and short area quickness are good.
Where Kerrigan gives blockers the most trouble is with his technique. There have been countless snaps over his career where you see him breaking down blockers and finishing plays. He has outstanding hand use and balance when dealing with blockers, and he will surprise you with the power that he is able to play with. I have seen him capture the edge with quickness, but I have also seen him lower his head and just walk the blocker straight back.
He's a hard guy to fool on the edge despite how aggressive he is. Very aware in the way he goes about his job. To have success against him, Free is going to have to make sure that he finishes him off. Type of player that you can't leave unblocked or allow to escape, because he will get to the ball. Have to be aware of him attacking the pocket and forcing a turnover but also playing the screen and getting a cheap interception that way. He is always around the ball.
Cowboys CB/S Byron Jones against Redskins TE Jordan Reed
My gut feeling is that we will see Morris Claiborne in the lineup come Monday night. With him back in the mix, this will allow Jones to once again resume his role at safety and match up with the opponent's tight end – in this case Jordan Reed.
Where Kirk Cousins has made a living this season is throwing the ball to Reed, and the way you handle him dictates the way you play the other skill players on this Redskins offense. Reed has been targeted 17 times in the last two games and has come up with 14 receptions. In him, you have a big body that is a combination of speed and quickness with receiver-like hands.
As a route runner he is able to separate at all levels down the field. When covered, he can make the contested catch. It might not be his favorite thing, but he will be used as an "H" back and be asked to block inside. He's better when he can work along the line trying to tie his man up.
He is athletic enough to stay on his feet and take the defender whichever direction he'd like to go. Not going to get a ton of movement at the point of attack – more pass receiver than run blocker. He has two games this season where he has had multiple touchdowns. If not managed correctly, Reed has the ability to make those plays that keep the chains moving.