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Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Prediction

Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III

The Washington Redskins will look to make it three wins in a row over the Dallas Cowboys tonight when these long-time NFC East rivals face off at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The Redskins are rested, coming of off their bye week, while the Cowboys are looking to regroup after dropping two in a row, including last week’s high-scoring affair against Denver.

After a sensational rookie season for Robert Griffin III that included a division title and AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, the quarterback is looking to rediscover that form. For the Cowboys, Tony Romo is putting up impressive numbers, but is getting little help from a defense that gave up 51 points to the Broncos last week and more than 400 yards passing in back-to-back games.

3 Things to Watch

Which RG3 Will Cowboys See?
In winning the NFC East last season, Robert Griffin III led his Redskins to 10 wins, including a 5-1 mark in divisional play. RG3 won both of his games against Dallas, including this first game against the Cowboys, which was on the road and took place on Thanksgiving Day. In the full spotlight of one of the most coveted time slots during the season, a poised RG3 threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns on the road to lead his team to a 38-31 victory. This season, highlights like that have been few and far between, as the ‘Skins are off to a 1-3 start and RG3 hasn’t made as many plays with his arm (6 TDs, 4 INTs) and hardly any with his legs (72 yards rushing, 4.0 ypc). The talk around the league is that he just isn’t the same player following offseason knee surgery and to this point, there’s definitely proof of that. Whether he’s just not fully confident in his surgically repaired knee is a question only he can answer, but RG3 just hasn’t been as explosive and dynamic to start this season. The Cowboys had their hands full trying to defend against RG3 last season. So which version will the defense see on the field tonight – last season’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year model or the quarterback that has looked a step slower and been slightly out of sync to start this season?

A Quarterback’s Best Friend…
is a consistent, productive running game. Washington won its first division title since 1999 last season behind the strength of the NFL’s top rushing offense, while the Cowboys finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs in part because they had the second-to-worst ground game. This season, even though Tony Romo is throwing the ball extremely well to start the season, he is coming off of a game in which he threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns, and lost. In fact, the Cowboys have averaged 140 yards rushing in their two wins and just 60 in their three losses. The point is, no matter how successful you are slinging the football around the field, a team still needs to be able to run it if they want to win consistently. For Dallas, DeMarco Murray is off to a great start running the ball, as he entered Week 6 fourth in the league with 399 yards rushing. In the three games where’s he gotten at least 14 carries he’s averaging 110 yards rushing. In the other two games, he’s averaged 12 touches and has a total of 68 yards on the ground. After getting off to a slow start, Washington’s Alfred Morris has picked things up and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. However, he’s only averaging 14 carries per game. Both teams may want to do whatever is necessary to see that their running back gets at least 14 carries tonight, if not more. Why is that, you ask? Well for one, Washington is allowing 142.3 yards rushing per game thus far. Only one other team (Jacksonville) is giving up more. On the other hand, Dallas is fourth in the league in rushing defense, allowing 82.8 yards per game. That said, the Redskins need to feed the ball to Morris for two reasons. First, in two games against the Cowboys last season, he rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns. Second, the more touches he gets, the fewer possible hits RG3 will take in the pocket or outside of it should he have to scramble. So while the spotlight may be on RG3 and Romo tonight, the opportunity is there for the running backs to play a starring role as well. The only question is, will they get the chance to take the ball and run with it?

Fixing the D
Washington is last in the NFL in yards allowed at 440.5 per game. The Redskins are giving up more than 140 yards rushing and nearly 300 yards passing in each game and have just two interceptions. The Cowboys are holding up pretty well against the rush, but are giving up too many big plays in the passing game. Three different quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning) have thrown for more than 400 yards against Dallas and the Cowboys gave up 51 points last week to the Broncos at home. Needless to say, both defenses have some flaws and it’s no surprise both come into this one with losing records. While games with lots of offense are entertaining for the fans, they also put a lot of pressure on the offenses, especially the quarterbacks. Robert Griffin III just hasn’t been the same dynamic player he was last season, and the Redskins’ dip in offensive production is a reflection of that. Tony Romo threw for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns last week, but even that wasn’t enough as Denver was able to march up and down the field at will. While these two quarterbacks are capable of carrying their team to victory, they shouldn’t be expected to. Whichever defense rises to the occasion and either gets that critical stop on third down or makes that big play late will not only get a pat on the back from the offense, it will probably walk away victorious.

Washington Key Player: Pierre Garcon, WR
Since Robert Griffin III is making many plays with his legs, he will need to more productive as a passer. Although Griffin’s accuracy leaves something to be desired so far (62.4 percent), he also needs his playmakers to help him out. Garcon is certainly doing his part, leading the team in targets (44), receptions (29) and yards (339). Garcon has two touchdown receptions and is averaging 11.7 yards per reception. More telling is that he has 189 yards after the catch (YAC), which places him fourth in the league entering Week 6 although he has only played four games because of the Redskins’ bye in Week 4. Garcon has three catches of 20 or more yards and his big-play and after-the-catch ability could come be a factor tonight. Dallas is allowing 326.4 passing yards per game, which places them next to last ahead of only Denver in the NFL. The Cowboys have been susceptible to the long pass plays, as 15 different players in five games have recorded at least one reception of more than 20 yards against them. If there’s any Redskin who is capable of blowing the top off of the Dallas defense tonight it’s Garcon.

Dallas Key Player: DeMarcus Ware, DE
While Dallas’ defense has struggled to stop the pass, the switch from a 3-4 to 4-3 has produced results against the run. The Cowboys are fourth in the league in rushing defense, giving up less than 83 yards per game. The switch in defensive scheme meant several players had to learn new positions entering this season. Ware was foremost among those, moving from linebacker to defensive end. So far, he has handled the transition smoothly with four sacks and an interception in five games. One way to help the Cowboys’ struggling linebackers and defensive backs in coverage is to get more pressure on the quarterback. That has been Ware’s specialty throughout his career and if he can get past the Redskins’ offensive line, he should be able to break down Robert Griffin III, especially since the quarterback has looked a step slower in his return from knee surgery. Washington has done an excellent job of protecting RG3 early on, as he’s been sacked just seven times, but Ware presents a new challenge for both the offensive line and Griffin, who better have his head on a swivel tonight looking out for No. 94.

Final Analysis

This is one of the best rivalries in the NFL and this game doesn’t lack for star power and early-season importance. No team in the NFC East has roared out of the gates, and with the exception of the New York Giants, the divisional race is wide open. The Redskins need a win or will fall to 0-2 in the division, while a victory would be second NFC East win in as many tries for the Cowboys.

As is usually the case, the focus will be on the quarterbacks, but this season has already shown that neither Robert Griffin III nor Tony Romo can be expected to carry the load all by themselves. First and foremost, the defenses need to play better, the Redskins in general and the Cowboys against the pass. One of the keys tonight will be which running back – Alfred Morris or DeMarco Murray – gets the most carries and what they are able to do on the ground in them.

Dallas came oh so close to knocking off Denver last week, and has played better than its 2-3 record shows. Washington is not the same offensive team it was last season, while the defensive issues are still very much prevalent. Romo won’t go for 500 yards and five touchdowns again, but he will make his share of plays, as the Cowboys put together another nice offensive performance. This week, however, the defense also shows up and puts the clamps down on RG3 and the Redskins in the second half as the home team pulls away for a relatively easy victory.

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Dallas 34, Washington 24