NFC East archrivals headed in opposite directions will wrap up the Week 8 slate when the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys face off on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Cowboys (6-1) look to maintain the NFL’s best record with a seventh straight victory, while the Redskins (2-5) will apparently turn to their third-string quarterback in hopes of winning back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Dallas holds a 64-40-2 edge over Washington in this historic rivalry, including last season’s sweep. The Cowboys beat the Redskins 31-16 at AT&T Stadium in Week 6 last season even though the visitors doubled up the home team on offense (433 total yards to 213).
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Dallas -10
Three Things to Watch
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1. Washington’s Quarterback Carousel
Robert Griffin III is close to returning from the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2. So close in fact, that he might be out there tonight, although head coach Jay Gruden has publicly said that third-stringer Colt McCoy would be the starter. If McCoy gets the call, he would be the Redskins’ third starting quarterback through eight games. Griffin’s injury is what started this carousel spinning, as Kirk Cousins replaced RG3 in the team’s second game. But after enjoying some early success, Cousins’ struggles led to Gruden benching him last week. Collectively, Washington’s quarterbacks haven’t exactly filled up the box score. The trio has combined for 2,143 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, for a passer rating of 91.3. Most of this production belongs to Cousins, who went 1-4 as the starter in relief of Griffin. The ironic thing when it comes to that win-loss record is that the win Cousins gets credit for was last week’s against Tennessee, a game in which McCoy came on in relief and led the second-half comeback. Likewise, Griffin gets credit for the Week 2 win in Jacksonville even though it was Cousins who got the Redskins on the board first after RG3 got hurt in the team’s second offensive series. The bottom line is that Washington enters tonight’s game 2-5 thanks in part to inconsistent quarterback play. Will that change with McCoy at the helm? Or will RG3 make a miraculous comeback and reclaim not only his starting job, but also make a statement that this is still his team?
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2. DeMarco Murray’s Historic Run
Murray leads the NFL in rushing by nearly 300 yards and he’s the first player in history to start a season with seven straight 100-yard games. Running behind arguably the league’s best offensive line, Murray is the engine that makes the best rushing offense (159.7 ypg) churn. A legitimate MVP candidate, Murray is on pace for 427 carries and 2,086 yards rushing. As magical as 2,000 yards is for a running back, 400 carries is just as concerning. Murray is averaging 27 carries a game and he entered Week 8 with more rushing attempts than 20 entire teams. Can the Cowboys afford to keep handing it off to Murray at this pace or should they turn to backup Joseph Randle and call a few more pass plays to take some of the load off of their workhorse? On the other side of the field, Washington has done a pretty good job against the run thus far with the exception of one game. Seattle ran for 225 yards in a 27-17 Week 6 victory at FedEx Field. Outside of that game, the Redskins have allowed an average of 83 yards rushing per contest. Of course, it should be pointed out that the Seahawks’ big ground game came on a Monday night. Either way, Washington’s defense will have its work cut out for it as it seeks to do what no other defense (including Seattle’s at home) has been able to yet – prevent Murray from breaking the century mark.
3. Dallas’ Deceiving Defense?
The Cowboys are 6-1 and entered Week 8 with the NFL’s best record. Is Dallas the league’s best team? Perhaps, but as well as the Cowboys have played and looked, Jason Garrett’s team still has its flaws. For one, its turnover margin is only plus-one. The real concern moving forward, however, is can this defense continue to hold up, especially when the offense struggles? Dallas boasts the No. 2 offense thanks in large part to the most productive running game in the league. Besides picking up a bunch of yards, the Cowboys’ ability to effectively run the ball has allowed them to chew up a lot of clock. Entering Week 8, the only offense that has held the ball longer than the Cowboys (average of 34:35 per game) is Andrew Luck and the Colts (36:56). So while Tony Romo and company are running an average of 66 offensive plays per game, the defense has only been on the field for 57. That difference of nine may not seem that big, but consider that Dallas’ defense was on the field last season for 1,094 plays or 68 per game. That’s a big reason why the Cowboys finished dead last in yards allowed in 2013 at 415.3 per game. This season, Dallas’ defense has fared better, but it’s still giving up nearly 344 yards per game, a number that likely would go up if opponents had more opportunities with the ball. So despite their sterling record, the Cowboys’ margin of error still appears to be rather thin. The offense may be championship-caliber, but the jury is still very much out on this defense.
The Cowboys may no longer be “America’s Team,” but there are still plenty of Dallas fans across the world thoroughly enjoying this season. Jerry Jones is smiling and talking Super Bowl, Jason Garrett has gone from the hot seat to leading Coach of the Year contender and Tony Romo is no longer the most talked about player. The Washington Redskins meanwhile are struggling to find their identity, not to mention a starting quarterback, under rookie head coach Jay Gruden. The Cowboys have won six in a row, but this team still has some question marks, most of them on defense. However, Garrett’s team doesn’t have near as many holes as Gruden’s. What happens with Dallas come December and January remains to be seen, but for now, Cowboys fans should just sit back and enjoy this ride.