IRVING, Texas – In preparing for this Monday Night Football matchup, the three things that stood out to me the most were all on the offensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys have had success against the Redskins offense in recent outings between the two. But it's hard to overstate exactly how much has changed for Washington, even just in the last year or so. Taking that into account, this is my preview of the NFC East's current leaders – as surprising as that might be to say.
Here's a look:
Nemesis: DeSean Jackson, WR
Jackson has been quiet this season while he deals with a hamstring injury, but this is still one of the most dangerous big play receivers in the league. He is a go-to player for Kirk Cousins in this scheme – he's not afraid to throw him the ball at any level.
His playing speed and initial quickness makes him difficult to deal with, as he can get on a defender quickly. He will eat up cushion in a hurry. As we have seen so many times, he is able to get vertical separation in a heartbeat – a real home run type of receiver.
Plays with outstanding body control and balance – he can start and stop an instant. Is able to change directions with explosive quickness. Can sell a route hard, hit the brakes and be in a total other direction before the defender has a chance to react. This is not the type of receiver that is going to win many jump ball situations, as his size limits how he plays in the air. He's much better when he can get the ball on the move. Can sell routes but its more about speed than being precise. Will run routes in the middle of the field but hasn't always been a receiver that has been consistent when it comes to making that contested catch. When he gets knocked around and has to fight for the ball – he will struggle.
The Cowboys need to be physical with him, because he is so dangerous when he has space to operate. He's a big run after catch player. For that reason, this is a game where you are going to miss Orlando Scandrick. Jackson has been playing more on the outside than from the slot.
He can be difficult to deal with when he gets in a rhythm. The more plays that he makes – the more he starts to take over a game. I promise that Jay Gruden will take a vertical shot down the field with Jackson in order to get some quick points. Need to frustrate him or he will be a factor in this game.
Weapon: Kirk Cousins, QB
It is amazing where the Redskins have come with their quarterback situation in just this last year. Jay Gruden won a battle with ownership in the offseason and is playing with the quarterback he feels gives him the best chance for success.
Kirk Cousins might not have the ideal quarterback traits, but there is no doubt that with him in the lineup the offense is playing better. Where Cousins makes up for his shortcomings is through his physical and mental toughness. His willingness to hang in there and make plays when the situation calls for it is impressive. He plays the game with poise and confidence. Despite not having the top arm talent, he is able to make accurate throws. His anticipation and instincts help him in this area, as well.
Under center he is able to process information quickly and correctly. He sees the field well and does a nice job of delivering the ball where it needs to be. His drop and pocket mechanics have improved, and he is one of those rare quarterbacks in this league that play the game from underneath center. He will take the snap, drop and get rid of the ball.
He can throw the ball on the move when he has to. Part of his scheme requires him to have to make throws on the move and he is comfortable executing that. Cousins will not remind you of Cam Newton in the pocket strength-wise, but I have seen him shake off tacklers and makes throws.
Has done a better job with his decisions and protecting the ball -- especially at home. Has the confidence of his coaches but more importantly his teammates.
Under the Radar: Jamison Crowder, WR
This rookie is a much better pro player than he was a college player while at Duke. Crowder has better initial quickness than playing speed. He also shows lateral quickness, especially when he routes take him inside.
Washington likes to get the ball to him quickly and let him work in the open field. You will see him catch all kinds of screens. Because of this, he is always in motion. He is used in the running game on the Jet Sweep. He can change directions instantly. That same quickness helps him win off the line when he is pressed. From there, he can separate once he gets past his man.
Cousins likes to throw him the ball on the wheel route and will also use him running option routes. Crowder's hands appear to be more consistent than they were in college. He is currently third on the team with 45 receptions. When I watched his college tape last spring, he wasn't good at all making the contested catch, but that has now improved. He is not afraid to go get the ball for a small receiver. Will extend to catch the ball, but his smaller frame limits his catch radius. All of that said, he is not going to win many balls in the air due to his lack of height.
Plays with surprising strength and power. He is a red zone threat on screens and picks more than just lining up wide and winning a one-on-one battle. Used as the primary punt returner but has yet to really get untracked. Averaging right at six yards per return but also has a high number of fair catches. Have to be ready for a potential wrinkle or two with him in the game.