IRVING, Texas – It's a new year, but the process remains the same. We've looked at Washington's weapons, and we know what kind matchups the Cowboys need to be mindful of.
Given that it's Friday, for the last time this season, here are the two biggest keys I'll be watching on Sunday when the Cowboys host the Redskins.
Dallas Cowboys Win If:
Last time these two teams met, the Cowboys defensively were able to get consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins. This time I am not sure how much Cousins will play in this game due to the Redskins already clinching the NFC East. If Cousins does play or Colt McCoy gets the start, the situation should be the same – get to them before they have a chance to get the ball out.
The Redskins have a talented group of skill players in Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed. With the injuries to the Dallas secondary, completely matching up will be an issue. Terrance Mitchell and Deji Olatoye don't have much NFL experience, and if Brandon Carr has to travel with Jackson, that leaves Mitchell, Olatoye and Byron Jones to have to win in the backend.
Look for Rod Marinelli to come with a similar plan to the one he had four weeks ago: make this Redskins offensive line have to deal with movement up front and have the linebackers attacking gaps until Bill Callahan shows him that he can handle the stunts. This type of pressure will likely cause Callahan to have to adjust by keeping blockers in.
The Cowboys win this game by making Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy have to make throws under duress --which in turn allows this young secondary the opportunity to work to deny the ball on the outside. Pressure limits what the Redskins skill guy can do.
Washington Redskins Win If:
The Cowboys as an offensive unit struggle -- especially on third downs and in the red zone. For the season they are converting right at 35 percent, whereas in 2014 they were one of the league leaders. No matter the distance, they have been poor, and it's even more alarming how they have handled situations of two yards or less.
In the red zone, only Cleveland struggles to score more than the Cowboys. With Kellen Moore as the starter last week, the offense did improve on third down, but the red zone chances did not. I expect that we will see Scott Linehan continue to try and stay balanced with Darren McFadden and Robert Turbin in order to protect Moore. Linehan ideally would like to stay ahead of the chains and not put Moore in any of those situations where he is having to convert on long down and distances.
With no Dez Bryant in the lineup the Redskins catch a huge break and can focus on dealing with Terrance Williams and Brice Butler. Where Washington has proven to have problems is when opponents have matched up against cornerback Will Blackmon and have hit some plays down the field.
For the Redskins to win this game they are going to need to put the clamps on Cole Beasley and Jason Witten -- especially on third down -- and continue to frustrate this Dallas offense.