IRVING, Texas– Count on the Cowboys to throw the schedule off, especially as we get late in the season. With all the different times and places this team gets asked to play, it's not surprising that I'd run my final notebook on Saturday, as opposed to Friday.
Here at Valley Ranch, though, Saturday is functioning as a Friday, as the Cowboys get ready for a Monday Night Football kickoff. As the players finish up their final practice of the week, here's a final look at what I'll be watching when Dallas and Washington square off at FedEx Field on Monday night.
Let's take a look:
- Look for Morris Claiborne to once again be at right cornerback Monday night with Brandon Carr shifting back to the left side. This means that Byron Jones will be paired with Barry Church at safety to start the game.
- Expect a better game from Dez Bryant this week – it is the first time since opening day where Bryant was able to fully practice the game plan. The Redskins are likely to travel Bashaud Breeland with him, so I would believe that we will see Bryant line up all over the formation since he has had a chance to practice those plays.
- The Redskins love to use screen plays when on offense. The key for the Cowboys in dealing with those will be the play of Rolando McClain and Sean Lee. Jay Gruden likes to call them on all levels with different personnel. Defensively, the Cowboys have to be ready for those screens on any down and distance as well as field position.
- A big key in this game will be to make Kirk Cousins have to throw the ball more than 28 times – when he throws that number or less the Redskins usually walk away with a win. Another key will be to pressure him. There are starting quarterbacks that handle pressure well and can function, and he's not one of them. The majority of his turnovers come when he is having to deal with pocket pressure and he is falling away.
- Matt Cassel needs to make it a point to find Cole Beasley in this matchup. Redskins cornerback Will Blackmon struggles, but surprisingly he still has a job playing in the slot. Beasley can work Blackmon -- as can Dez Bryant when he goes in there.
- Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry has made an interesting adjustment to his scheme. He has taken long time cornerback Deangelo Hall and has been playing him at safety. Hall missed several games earlier in the season with a toe injury, but he is now back in the lineup. This might be Barry's way of dealing with Jason Witten by having Hall carry him from the inside instead of one of the other safeties.
- Speaking of carrying tight ends, I don't expect you will see Byron Jones just completely taking Jordan Reed in this game. Jones will be back at safety this week, but Reed moves all over the formation, which makes him difficult to cover. Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath are all likely to get a shot at dealing with him. We saw this the last time the Cowboys played in the way they handled Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.
- This was the first week since La'el Collins took over as the starter from Ronald Leary where they actually split snaps during practice. Collins struggled last week against the Panthers and this might be Jason Garrett's way of keeping him on his toes. I would be surprised if Leary was active this week, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward.
- The Redskins defensively suffered a huge blow when linebacker Perry Riley was hurt during practice. Riley has to have surgery on his foot and will be out three-to-six weeks. Riley has been outstanding so replacing him will not be easy. Mason Foster was added in October and will take his spot. The Redskins have struggled in trying to stop the run, and with Riley out that task just became even more difficult. Look for Scott Linehan and this offense to test these linebackers -- especially Foster -- in the running game. Dallas has been inconsistent running the ball but this matchup could get them back on track.
- My guess at the Cowboys inactives: Tony Romo, Brice Butler, Ronald Leary, Chaz Green, Geoff Swaim, Mark Nzeocha and Deji Olatoye.