Jerry Jones's “moral victory” over the Denver Broncos will mean nothing if his Dallas Cowboys suffer a letdown against the Washington Redskins this Sunday night at AT&T Stadium (8:25, NBC). If the Cowboys are seeking any further motivation, other than taking another step toward ending a three year playoff drought, they should look no further than last season's games against the ‘Skins.
In a performance that made many Cowboys fans throw up their Thanksgiving dinner, the Cowboys put up a turkey when the Redskins came to Arlington last November. They fell behind 28-3 at halftime before making a comeback that fell just short, losing the game 38-31. As painful as the Thanksgiving loss was, the later Washington loss undoubtedly stung more. In the final game of the 2012 regular season, which served as a de facto NFC East championship game, the Redskins topped the Cowboys 28-18 to clinch their first division title since 1999, and their first sweep of the Cowboys since 2005.
The most polarizing and scrutinized figure on the Redskins is obviously QB Robert Griffin III. Griffin captured the attention of the nation with his amazing rookie season, but his shaky knee has temporarily grounded the explosive QB. To say he has had a sophomore slump is being friendly. After a five interception rookie year, he has already tossed four to opposing teams this season. His completion percentage numbers are also down (65.6% to 62.4%) as well as his rushing average (6.8 to 4.0). While I do believe Griffin will return to the form we saw last season eventually, I don't believe we'll see it this week, even though he's had an extra week to prepare thanks to the Week 5 bye.
However, even if Griffin is grounded, the Cowboys learned the hard way that the Redskins don't need Griffin to post monstrous numbers like he did on Thanksgiving (19-27, 304 yards, 4 TD's) to win. In the season finale last year, Griffin posted pedestrian numbers (9-18, 100 yards, 63 rushing yards, 1 TD), but the Cowboys were burned by RB Alfred Morris who ran for 200 yards and 3 TD's. Like Griffin, Morris has also struggled in his second year, but that could be attributed to the fact that Washington has fallen behind early in all of their games this season, leading them to ignore the run game. He has just one 100 yard game (He ran for 107 in a Week 2 loss to Green Bay), but his season high in carries came in Washington's last game against Oakland, when he had 16. One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys couldn't finish off the Broncos last week was that they couldn't stop Denver RB Knowson Moreno, allowing him to tally 150 total yards, not to mention the previous week's loss against San Diego, a game that saw RB Danny Woodhead tally 2 touchdowns in addition to 86 total yards on 10 combined carries and receptions.
Tony Romo cannot be blamed for last week's loss. Sure, last year's dreadful season finale was on him (he threw 3 picks) but when you score 48 points and still lose, put that one on the defense. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin told the media to point the finger at him. That's nice and all, but it means nothing if the defense blows it again. The Cowboys defense is coming off back to back rough weeks against top five offenses Denver (1st) and San Diego (5th). Washington's offense lacks the firepower of 2012, but they still rank 8th in the NFL in total offense with 390.8 yards per game.
The Cowboys have already sent a message through the release of safety Will Allen that defensive duds will not be tolerated. The defense must step it up this week. As we've seen this season, the fragile Griffin makes bad choices when the pressure is on him. After failing to sack Peyton Manning once last week, it's important the Cowboys get to the quarterback early. The defense does a get a break when it comes to Washington's receivers. Other than Pierre Garcon (29 receptions, 339 yards, 2 TD's) nobody in the Washington receiving corps is particularly frightening, although Santana Moss always seems to save his best stuff for Dallas.
On the offensive side of things, the Cowboys have a golden opportunity to expose a Washington defense allowing a league high 440.5 YPG, in addition to 28 points per game, which ties for 6th with Chicago. With so much of the media focused on his one gaffe from Sunday this week, you may have already forgotten that Romo threw for 506 yards and 5 TD's in a valiant effort to stop the Broncos. After four weeks of conservative football, none of which saw Romo reach the 300 yard plateau, Romo was allowed to revert to his gun slinging ways on Sunday, and, interception notwithstanding, it paid off. Three receivers tallied 100 plus yards and the Cowboys scored 48 points.
We all know that the Cowboys have receivers capable of putting up outstanding numbers, like Dez Bryant (6 receptions, 141 yards, 2 TD's on Sunday), Jason Witten (7 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD) and Miles Austin, who has been practicing this week and could return from a hamstring injury on Sunday. However, it was guys like Terrence Williams (4 receptions, game high 151 yards, 1 TD) and Cole Beasley (4 receptions 47 yards, 1 TD) that stood out last week. With the Redskins no doubt focusing on the big names, it will be important for the “other guys” to keep playing at this level on Sunday night.
The Washington Redskins will always be a rival to the Dallas Cowboys. The rivalry started before the Cowboys had played a down of NFL football, as Cowboys founder Clint Murchison Jr., seeking revenge on Redskins owner George Preston Marshall for changing terms of a deal that would've sold the Redskins to Murchison at the last second, bought the rights to the infamous Redskins fight song “Hail to the Redskins” from the song's composer, who had a falling out with Marshall. Murchison agreed to return the song to Washington only when Marshall, the one naysayer against a pro football franchise in Dallas, gave his approval to award the NFL's 13th franchise to Dallas. Since then, the Cowboys have enjoyed more of the rivalry's better moments, leading the all time series 62-44-2, though the Redskins have had their moments…like the two wins in 2012 that knocked Dallas from the playoffs.
The Cowboys, despite their 2-3 record, have been crowned the class of the NFC East by many pundits, and it's time to live up to that statement. Standing strong against the mighty Broncos is cute and all, but this isn't college football, where a game like that will get you some respect in the latest rankings. A team needs wins to make the playoffs, and with a visit to Philadelphia on the docket next week, the Cowboys better get one against a Redskins team that ranks last in defense. There's no reason to think the Cowboys couldn't be 5-0 entering this matchup with a hated rival. It's time to start playing like the undefeated team they could've been.
Prediction: Cowboys 37, Redskins 21