Given the way the Cowboys defense has made backup quarterbacks look like all stars in recent weeks the appearance of Kirk Cousins is no longer a welcomed sight. Cousins had his first start of the season last week against the Atlanta Falcons and was able to produce putting up 381 yards and 2 touchdowns. The fact that Cousins did this against the Atlanta Falcons renders it less meaningful as the Falcons rank 25th in opposing passing yards per game and have given up the 6th most points per game this season. What makes this even more frightening for the Cowboys is that they rank 32nd giving up 42.5 more passing yards per game than the Falcons. There is some hope in this match up as Cousins threw two interceptions and had one fumble in his lone start of the season. Turnovers are one area where the Cowboys defense has been good this year as their 26 takeaways ranks 6th in the NFL.
The past two weeks the Cowboys have been shredded by Matt Flynn and Josh McCown. Another big difference between these two backup quarterbacks and Kirk Cousins is whose receiving the passes. The Bears have one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey and the Green Bay Packers have the luxury of throwing to Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Pierre Garcon has shown flashes of greatness but has been no where near as dominant as Nelson or Marshall, and he does not have any other viable option to grab some of the attenti0n from the defense, especially with the emerging young tight end Jordan Reed shut down for the season. Pierre Garcon should see a heavy dose of Brandon Carr this Sunday. Brandon Carr has been just one of the many disappointing aspects of the Cowboys defense but Pierre Garcon is far from his scariest foe this year having seen the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Recent weeks have left the Cowboys with absolutely no confidence in their passing defense what so ever. However, the Redskins is one of the easier match ups they have had in recent weeks.
Where the Redskins are more threatening is in their third ranked rushing offense that averages 140.9 yards per game. Robert Griffin III was no where near as much of a threat in the rushing game this year as opposed to last. Nevertheless he surely benefited their running game as a whole, more so than Kirk Cousins will. Alfred Morris ranks 5th with 1125 rushing yards on the season and is getting 4.8 yards per carry. With Sean Lee still missing Alfred Morris is undoubtedly the biggest threat on the Redskins. Bruce Carter is expected to return this week. However, he’s been inconsistent at best against the run this season and it’s becoming very difficult to find a reliable run stopper in the absence of Sean Lee. The Cowboys give up 129.9 rushing yards per game and just saw Eddy Lacy run all over them for 141 yards on 21 carries. Alfred Morris is another big physical back and with Kirk Cousins starting the Cowboys defense is going to have to find a way to slow down Morris who is going to see as many carries as he can handle.
As bad as the Cowboys’ defense has been this year, they have actually given up less points per game than the Redskins. Offensively this is a great match up all around. Tony Romo will be throwing against a secondary that gives up a 21st ranked 251.9 yards per game and Murray will be rushing against a defense that has given up 110.9 yards per game. With Murray’s 5.5 yards per carry, a favorable match up and the collapse that stemmed from a total abandonment of the run, Murray should be expecting more carries than he’s been used to in recent weeks. The Cowboys offensive line is also giving Murray the highest yards gained before contact. In recent weeks Murray and the offensive line have been the most consistently good aspects of the team and because of that the Cowboys should look to their best units to find a win. Even though Romo and the Cowboys passing offense can surely move the ball against the Redskins this should be a run first game. Unless the Cowboys find themselves trailing to the Redskins, there is no reason not to feed Murray as much as he can handle.
In a game that features two of the worst defenses in the league, especially in the passing game, this match up may feature much less scoring than expected. Both teams have running backs that are having good seasons and are both around 5 yards per carry. Unless one team pulls away and establishes a double digit lead, there’s no reason for either team to resort to dropping back on every down.
A must win game for the Cowboys who hold their own fate could see themselves eliminated from the playoffs with a loss and an Eagles win. Despite continuing to see support from Jerry Jones Jason Garrett cannot afford another year with a record of .500 or lower. The opposing coach, Mike Shanahan also has a lot on the line. Very few see him returning as the Redskins coach next season. However finishing the season with a couple wins and having success with Cousins could salvage some of Shanahan’s reputation with the Redskins. With jobs and the playoffs on the line the Cowboys cannot afford a repeat of last week and Murray may be the best way to get the desired result.