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The NFC East title is on the line in this winner-take-all matchup between long-time rivals
The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins will write the latest chapter in their historic rivalry when the two face off at 8:20 p.m. ET tonight on NBC. The winner of this game, the 106th overall meeting between the two, will lay claim to the NFC East division title, which would be the Cowboys’ (8-7) first since 2009 and the Redskins’ (9-6) first since 1999. The Cowboys must win to get into the playoffs, while the Redskins have a chance of securing their first postseason berth since 2007 even if they lose, provided Minnesota and Chicago both lose their regular-season finales today.
When the Dallas Cowboys have the ball:
Dallas’ offense has been plagued by a mostly non-existent running game all season. Even though the Cowboys are sixth in the NFL in total offense with nearly 380 yards per game, they are second-to-last in rushing offense at less than 78 yards per game. Much of this can be attributed to a foot injury sustained by running back DeMarco Murray, which caused him to miss six games. Since his return in Week 13, Murray is averaging less than 65 yards rushing per game. He has scored three rushing touchdowns in four games, however, and could be a difference-maker tonight since he didn’t play in the Cowboys’ Week 12 loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day. With Murray sidelined for a significant part of the season, the Dallas offense has mainly been courtesy of Tony Romo, who is third in the league in passing yards with 4,685 and tied for sixth in touchdown passes with 26. Wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten have been Romo’s most productive targets this season, especially Bryant lately. Bryant has scored a touchdown in seven straight games and leads the league with 12 touchdown receptions. Witten is fourth in the league with 103 receptions and is just 17 yards away from the fourth 1,000-yard season in his 10-year career. The Cowboys are ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to scoring (23.9 ppg, 14th), but they have been hurt by turnovers throughout the season. They have turned the ball over 26 times, which is the fourth-most giveaways in the NFC, including 16 interceptions thrown by Romo.
Washington’s defense has been solid against the run, but extremely susceptible to the pass. Overall, the Redskins are 28th in total defense, giving up more than 383 yards per game, and 21st in scoring at 24.7 points per game. They are fifth in rushing defense (95.5 ypg), but 30th in passing (287.7 ypg). The Redskins have allowed 29 touchdown passes this season, which ties them for the second-most in the league, but have been able to mitigate the damage somewhat thanks to 28 turnovers forced, including 18 interceptions. They haven’t been able to produce consistent pressure on the quarterback, as evidenced by their 30 sacks, which places them in the middle of the league in that category.
When the Washington Redskins have the ball:
Washington’s offense has been one of the NFL’s most productive this season, despite the fact that it’s led by a rookie quarterback and running back. The Redskins are fifth in the NFL in total offense at 384.7 yards per game and fourth in scoring at 27.2 points per game. The Redskins have the top rushing attack in the league at 162.3 yards per game, as rookie Alfred Morris is fourth in rushing with 1,413 yards. The ‘Skins’ “other” rookie phenom, quarterback Robert Griffin III, ranks 21st in the league in rushing (752 yards) and he and Morris have combined for 13 of the team’s 18 rushing touchdowns. The Redskins are 18th in passing offense at 222.3 yards per game, but have 24 passing touchdowns, so while the aerial attack may not be prolific, it has certainly been productive. One of the reasons for the ‘Skins offensive production is that they have taken care of the football. For example, Griffin has just five interceptions to go along with his 20 touchdown passes. As a team, the Redskins have turned it over just 14 times, including only six fumbles, and their +14 turnover differential is the second-best mark in the NFC.
Dallas’ defense has played fairly well this season, but it has had its struggles more recently. On the season, the Cowboys rank 19th in the league in total defense at 355.1 yards per game and 23rd in scoring at 24.8 points per contest. However, they have given up 388 or more yards in four of their past five games, including a season-worst 562 in last week’s home overtime loss to New Orleans. The Cowboys are 17th against the run (117.3 ypg) and 21st versus the pass (239.8 ypg). What has really hurt the defense this season is the lack of sacks (33, tied for 17th) and turnovers. The Cowboys have generated a total of 16 turnovers, including just seven interceptions, which is the second-fewest among NFC teams.
Even though Dallas holds a commanding 62-41-2 overall lead in its series against Washington, the Redskins are 1-0 with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. The rookie signal caller threw four touchdown passes and tossed just one interception in Washington’s 38-31 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, and has shown incredible poise and overall presence in his first season on the NFL stage. Overall, the Redskins enter tonight’s matchup on a six-game winning streak, while the Cowboys are coming off of last week’s gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss at home to the Saints. Even with Griffin under center, the Redskins have demonstrated they are more than a one-man show, as Alfred Morris has been just as impressive, if not more so, in his rookie campaign. Morris piled up 113 yards rushing against the Cowboys the first time around, and I think he and Griffin’s mobility will prove to be the difference against their hated NFC East rivals once again. Together the two rookies, along with a late key turnover produced by the defense, will lead the Redskins back to the playoffs by winning the franchise’s first division crown in more than 20 years.
Redskins 30, Cowboys 27