Some final thoughts as the Cowboys prepare to face the Redskins on Sunday night:
Assistant coach pressure?
I was asked the other day by a friend who covers this league who has more pressure on them , Kyle Shanahan or Rob Ryan? After a minute of thought I answered, Shanahan does and here is my reason why.
Even though Shanahan had some early success against Ryan on Thanksgiving, it wasn't something that he could sustain the entire game. Ryan and his defense did a really nice job in the second half holding the game in place which allowed Garrett and Romo to fight their way back. These Cowboys defensive players now understand what they are up against with Griffin III and what he is able to do ball handling wise.
They have experienced the power of Alfred Morris and they have seen Pierre Garcon run routes. As a defensive coordinator, it is one thing for Ryan to study film on this offense but to actually experience it live, it will give him a better understanding what he has to do game plan wise. Ryan knows he has to be ready to defend the entire field but he also knows that Shanahan has to be careful with his quarterback in exposing his knee to a physical pounding because he clearly wasn't the same player against the Eagles last week as he was before the injury.
I believe this is a game where Ryan can really cut it loose and see what happens. I don't see this defense playing tight or cautious just because they have a better understanding of what they are up against.
Breaking down Redskins' D
This is where numbers lie a bit. The Redskins are a top five run defense but a bottom 30 pass defense. Are the Redskins that good against the run or do teams just figure that going against a defense that doesn't put pressure on the passer and gives up over seven yards per attempt worth running on?
I believe that teams feel that throwing the ball is the route to go. As much as I would like to see Tony Romo and these skill players for the Cowboys light up this Redskins secondary, I just feel giving DeMarco Murray the opportunity to pound this game out is really the way to go. I am not saying the Cowboys need to run it 40 times in this game but we always talk about how Jason Garrett strives for balance in a ball game but I believe they are going to need it.
Something to note going into this game, the last time these two teams met, there was no Murray, Tyron Smith or Ryan Cook and Austin got banged up early. It was an offensive line that had it's right guard starting at center and a backup guard missing a twist stunt for a sack. The score at half was 28 to 3 which put the Cowboys in scramble mode giving them no chance to even think about running the ball, this time around I think things will be different.
I can't stress enough what Murray means to this offense and the way they attack opponents. If given the chance, Garrett needs to take advantage of that.
Morris just as important
I know that Robert Griffin III is an outstanding football player and he is clearly the reason the Redskins are in the position they are now. As much as we focus on him, we should not miss what running back Alfred Morris brings to this attack.
There is nothing flashy about his game but when you study him down after down, it is clear that he allows this offense to stay ahead of the chains making Griffin III job much easier. He brings a physical toughness to this team and his ability helps the offensive line function the way they do. There are plenty of times where plays are not blocked cleanly at all and he makes a cut or bounces off defenders for positive yards.
Toward the end of the game when these two teams met in November, it was Morris that hammered at this Cowboys defense that allowed them to protect the lead. Morris is one of those backs that as the game wears on, defenders do not want to tackle him anymore.
There is plenty to worry about scheme wise for the Redskins with Griffin III or Garcon or Moss but when the Cowboys line up on Sunday night, I expect Kyle Shanahan to test this front seven early with Morris to see how ready they are to play this game. Shanahan will try and set the tone early with Morris and see if the Cowboys respond.
Something I don't normally talk about and that is special teams play but this game could very well come down to that. Both offenses have proven they could score from any point on the field but don't discount what field position can do both on the positive and negative side. When conditions are cold, kicking and punting become difficult.
Together Dan Bailey and Kai Forbath have made 45 field goals between them. This grass at FedEx Field is not the best in the league this time of the year so placements for kicks can be an adventure. How Dwayne Harris and Brandon Banks handle the ball during returns will also be a key as well not only catching but securing the ball.
We all know too well what these kicking balls are like to try and handle in cold weather. They are slick and cold hands make it even more problematic. Harris got some work on Thursday outdoors in cold conditions but the pressure will be intense on Sunday night so keep an eye on that as each possession and play becomes critical.
The team that manages the way they play on special teams could very well be the difference in whether their team moves on or is home for the New Years.