The Dallas Cowboys (8-4) will be headed to D.C. this Sunday to take on the Washington Football Team (6-6). It will be the first divisional game since week five for the Cowboys and will be the first of four NFC East games to wrap up the season for Dallas in the final five games.
Dallas has lost three out of five while Washington has pulled off four in a row to become relevant in the NFC playoff picture. If the Cowboys win this game, they will be in first by three games in the NFC East with four to play, all but locking up the division.
The good news for Dallas is Dak Prescott is 7-1 in his career against Washington.
Washington will not be an easy out, though, as they have played very well the past month on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they have not given up more than 21 points in their last five games and have not allowed more than 310 total yards in that same span while accumulating nine sacks and four turnovers as well.
On offense, Taylor Heinicke has played very efficiently and not made many mistakes, only throwing two interceptions during the Washington winning streak. Heinicke ranks first in several advanced statistics since week nine, including EPA+CPOE composite, EPA/play, and success rate while completing 79.3% of his passes.
The 79.3% completion percentage is overwhelmingly good. However, Heinicke does play close to the vest and excels when throwing the ball 10 yards or fewer. He is just the 20th ranked quarterback per PFF when throwing the ball 20 or more yards down the field, though. It will be imperative for Dallas to stop the short passing game.
The running game for Washington has also been producing as of late as they have run for over 100 yards three of the last four games, and in two of those games, the Washington offense eclipsed 150 rushing yards. The run blocking for Washington has been stout as they lead the entire NFL in run-block win rate at 77% throughout the whole season.
Washington running back Antonio Gibson is no stranger to the Cowboys. He shredded the Dallas defense last year to a tune of 243 yards and four touchdowns over two games. He will look to repeat those performances on Sunday against a somewhat beleaguered Cowboys rush defense. Dallas has let up 715 yards on the ground at a clip of 4.7 yards per carry over their last five games.
This could be a doomsday scenario for Dallas as Washington will try and establish the run on Sunday. They average 29.5 rushes per game on the season, and over the last three games, Washington has averaged 37.7 rushes per game. The Football Team has averaged almost 3 minutes and 45 seconds per drive since week 8, which is the most in the NFL. Stopping the run on early downs will be critical for the Dallas defense.
The Cowboys will be getting back Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore barring any setbacks, and DeMarcus Lawrence returned last week against the New Orleans Saints. The return of these three players should help Dallas in their attempt to stop the Washington rushing attack.
However, it should be asked how big of an impact Gallimore realistically makes, as he will be playing his first snaps of the season. There is a good chance he will be on a pitch count.
The addition of Gregory should help this pass rush out that has already been playing well, averaging 2.7 sacks per game over their last three games. Washington has allowed five sacks combined their past three games and sport a pass-block win rate of 67% on the season, which is fourth-best in the NFL.
Another huge matchup to watch for is Trevon Diggs on Terry McLaurin. McLaurin is a true number one receiver and can cause the Cowboys fits. Although Diggs has nine interceptions on the season, he has allowed the eight most catches in the league of any cornerback with 47 and only has a 59.6 coverage grade per PFF.
When the Cowboys are on offense, they will need to be very aware of their two heavy hitters up front defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, who have combined for nine sacks on the year and do a great job clogging up the middle on the run game.
It will be a test for the interior of the Cowboys offensive line that has struggled as of late. The battle between the two Washington studs and center Tyler Biadasz and left guard Connor McGovern will prove vital in deciding the outcome of this matchup.
Ezekiel Elliott may have to play a more significant role on Sunday as Tony Pollard is questionable with a foot injury. Zeke has been hobbled as of late and has not been playing well. He only has 143 yards in his last four games, averaging only 3.17 yards per attempt in that span.
Washington holds the sixth-best rushing success rate on defense and allows just 91.3 rushing yards per game, the third-best in the NFL. So there could be some more struggles for Zeke come Sunday.
Dak Prescott will probably have to win this game for Dallas. If Prescott is afforded time in the pocket, though, he should be able to carve up this Washington defense. On the season, Washington is allowing 7.1 yards per pass attempt, the sixth-worst completion percentage against at 68.36%, and the second-worst quarterback passer rating allowed at 105.0.
Ultimately, if Dallas plays up to their potential, they are the better team and should be able to escape this game with a win and lock up the NFC East.
Dallas 27, Washington – 23