Writer's Blocks: The Dallas Doppelganger in DC


FRISCO, Texas – The talk this week has centered on the road struggles, but I'm honestly not trying to hear it.

The Cowboys have been bad on the road, to be sure. They're 0-3, they're averaging 12.3 points in those games and they've managed just three total touchdowns away from AT&T Stadium.

This isn't your average road trip, though. As far as I'm concerned, this is home away from home. It might not always have been this way, but the Cowboys have owned FedEx Field in the five years I've covered them.

Way back in 2012, the Cowboys lost a gut-wrenching playoff elimination game to Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. Since then, Dallas has been 5-0 when they've gone up to Landover, Maryland.

Most of them have been exciting games. Tony Romo found DeMarco Murray on fourth down to win a thriller in 2013. Dan Bailey kicked a 54-yarder with nine seconds to play to win in 2015. The Cowboys batted down a Hail Mary to escape with a 27-23 win in 2016, and Byron Jones' pick-six capped off a sloppy win last year.

Even still, they've all been wins. And what's more: they've felt like home games. As sure as I know the sun is going to rise tomorrow, I'm 100 percent confident the stands at FedEx Field will be at least halfway filled with Cowboys fans from all over the Virginia area.

This won't be your average road game, so I'm honestly not here for the average road game excuses. If this Cowboys team is as good as they looked last week, this shouldn't be too big of an obstacle in their way.

1. The names are different and the schemes vary a bit, but man if these Dallas and Washington teams aren't awfully similar to each other.

The statistical similarities jump off the page at you. This is the 29th overall offense traveling to FedEx Field to take on the 25th overall offense. The Cowboys run the ball incredibly well, averaging 145 yards per game – but the Redskins aren't that far off, putting up 116 rushing yards per game behind the resurgence of Adrian Peterson.

Washington throws the ball a bit better, largely thanks to Alex Smith's edge in the experience department, although the presence of Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis doesn't hurt – because the Redskins' wide receiver corps has not done much to distinguish itself. Sound familiar?

For the sake of the bit, it's a shame that Washington lost Derrius Guice and Trey Quinn to injury before the season could even start. Guice is the natural counterpart to Ezekiel Elliott, while Quinn is a short-statured, sure-handed receiver who can create matchup nightmares in the slot. What an eerie similarity that would've been.

2. The personnel doesn't look that similar on defense, but the results sure are.

Given the amount of resources they've spent up front – Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne were all top 40 picks – it'd be surprising if the Redskins weren't stout in the front seven.

They aren't currently getting a ton of sacks, but they're no joke against the run. Washington is ranked sixth against the run right now, allowing 90 yards per game. That's better than any rushing defense the Cowboys have faced this year, including a Houston front that absolutely stifled them.

The back seven isn't loaded with all stars, but you wouldn't know it based on how they're playing. Josh Norman and Co. are ninth against the pass, which is just one spot behind this surprising Dallas pass defense. Zach Brown and Mason Foster might not possess the same caliber of freakish athleticism as Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, but they're incredibly instinctual linebackers who make plays.

3. Here's what I'm getting at:

There's a lot of talk here in Cowboys Country that this is a beatable Redskins team. If the Cowboys are "for real," the common logic says, they can go up to D.C. and come back with a manageable win.

Of course, you'd have to be crazy to think the Redskins don't see it the exact same way. Washington's got a pair of absolutely ugly losses on its resume: one no-show at home against a sorry Colts team and one absolute drubbing on the road at the hands of the Saints.

That's fine. I'm sure the Redskins see the Cowboys' road performances against Carolina, Seattle and Houston and suddenly feel much better about themselves. Dallas has probably played the most impressive game between the two, with its 40-7 beating of Jacksonville, but I'd argue Washington's wins against Green Bay and Carolina are more impressive than anything on the Cowboys' resume.

So I guess my point is simply that these matchups always have two sides. I think the Cowboys are going to win, but we're lying to ourselves if we don't think this matchup is equally favorable to their opponent.

4. Another week, another trade rumor.

That's the news cycle in the NFL, particularly when a team is struggling somewhere – as the Cowboys so clearly are at the wide receiver spot.

All credit in the world to Cole Beasley, who was fantastic against the Jaguars. And I realize the Cowboys ran for 200 yards against Jacksonville, so passing production takes a backseat. But man, it's a bit concerning the the second-best Dallas receiver behind Beasley was Michael Gallup – who caught one pass for 27 yards.

Cowboys receivers not named Beasley combined for three catches and 33 yards last week.

5. So again, I understand why people are clamoring to add talent at wide receiver. This week the suggestion is that the Cowboys go after Amari Cooper, who has just 22 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown on 32 targets this season.

During last weekend's beatdown loss to Seattle in London, Cooper was targeted once and finished with no catches. It makes sense why he's being mentioned in a boatload of trade rumors.

If one of those rumors involves the possibility of obtaining Cooper for a second or third-round pick, then I'm all for it. I think he'd immediately be the best receiver on this team, and he'd open things up a bit for Dak Prescott.

Not only would he provide a big-play option on the outside, you have to imagine he'd open things up in the middle for both Cole Beasley and Ezekiel Elliott to function more freely. I don't know if he'd magically unlock this passing game, but it'd be a start.

Having said that, I balk a little bit when you start talking first-round picks. That's a high price to pay for a guy who is about to enter the fifth year of his rookie contract, which will cost his team roughly $14 million.

So if you acquire Cooper, you get about 10 more games at an affordable price tag. Then, not only does the price shoot up, but you'd assume the Cowboys would want to do an extension, if they want to get their money's worth.

The alternative sounds much more appealing. Regardless of how this season plays out, the Cowboys will have a chance to draft a great receiver next spring and get him under contract for five years. And the early success of Leighton Vander Esch only serves to highlight their track record in the first round.

I'm not trying to convince anyone the Cowboys' receiver situation is good right now. It's not. But if I've got to use a first-round pick to improve it, I'd rather make the long play in the offseason than the short play right now.

6. It's hard for me to lose much sleep about Tavon Austin's impending absence, given how reluctant the Cowboys have been to get him involved this season.

Austin injured his groin in the Jacksonville win, and it sounds like he's not going to be available for a while. The sad truth of the matter, though, is that Austin was only participating in 27.7 percent of the Cowboys' snaps this year. That's an average of 17 snaps per game.

Simply put, that's not enough. Not when you consider the speed and the misdirection that Austin can bring to an offense.

Before he got hurt, Austin had carried the ball six times for 55 yards – an average of nine yards per carry. He also had seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, but that's honestly beside the point.

Considering how much defenses love to key on Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas run game, I absolutely loved the way Austin was able to hurt them as a runner. Not only was he ripping off nine-yard gains as a runner, he had the speed to freeze defenders who wanted to charge down hill to stop Elliott. Even when he was simply a decoy, Austin had an impact.

The Cowboys have to find a way to replicate that while Austin is sidelined. Deonte Thompson and Michael Gallup seem like the logical options to replace that production. Thompson is a burner who can move downfield in a blink, while Gallup is a natural with the ball in his hands.

It doesn't matter to me who does it, but it's an important element of the Cowboys' offense, and I think it'd be a mistake to shelve that just because Austin is unavailable.

7. Someone, please stop me. Don't let me do this anymore.

Last week was a failure on multiple levels. I was awful at picking games across the NFL. Big deal, that's been the story of my season. Every time I think I know what I'm doing, C.J. Beathard plays like a Pro Bowler at Lambeau Field and the Chicago Bears lose a game to Brock Osweiler.

Even worse: I couldn't have been more wrong with my Cowboys pick. I thought the Jaguars were going to sneak out of Dallas with a hard-fought win – which, nope. Instead, we saw one of the dominant Dallas efforts in recent memory, making me look even dumber than I already am in the process. At least my Cowboys is a respectable 4-2. Can't say the same about my NFL record.

Undaunted, I press on.

Broncos (-1.5) over CARDINALS

Titans (+6.5) over Chargers (LONDON)

Patriots (-3) over BEARS

COLTS (-7.5) over Bills

Lions (-3) over DOLPHINS

Vikings (-3) over JETS

Panthers (+4.5) over EAGLES

BUCCANEERS (-3) over Browns

Texans (+5) over JAGUARS

RAVENS (-2.5) over Saints

Rams (-9.5) over 49ERS

Bengals (+6) over CHIEFS

FALCONS (-5.5) over Giants

LAST WEEK: 4-9-1

THIS SEASON: 31-56-4