By Matthew Postins
The Dallas Cowboys (8-7) will face the Washington Redskins (9-6) on Sunday. Here’s a look at the Redskins entering the contest.
On Offense: If the Cowboys were hoping the Robert Griffin III might miss the game with the injury he sustained in Week 14, well that was unfounded. Griffin came back last week and looked quite good in piloting the Redskins to a win over Philadelphia. Head coach Mike Shanahan revealed earlier this week that Griffin was 100 percent last week but that the Redskins didn’t install the full game plan to minimize potential for re-injury. Expect the kitchen sink in this winner-take-all game. In their first meeting the Cowboys proved they had the defensive game plan to contain Griffin on the ground, but he absolutely torched the secondary for four touchdown passes. Griffin isn’t as big a problem as rookie running back Alfred Morris, who has been on a tear since rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown against Dallas. Morris has rushed for at least 87 yards in each of his last four games and scored four times. Morris is proving to be an adept inside runner. The Redskins remain the top rushing team in the NFL and that makes its passing game dangerous. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon returned from injury in the first game against Dallas and since then has gained at least 65 yards receiving and scored three touchdowns in the last five games. The ageless Santana Moss is a Cowboys killer and must be accounted for. Four different wide receivers have at least 37 receptions, meaning that Griffin isn’t locked in on one player. Plus, the Redskins now know that their other rookie quarterback, Kirk Cousins, can handle things in a pinch. This offense excels because it commits few turnovers. The Redskins’ 14 turnovers are the fewest in the NFL. Oh, and by the way, the always dangerous Chris Cooley is back.
On Defense: Not much has changed statistically since they last met the Cowboys. The Redskins are still great against the run and horrible against the pass. But the one thing this Redskins defense does well under coordinator Jim Haslett is force turnovers. The Redskins have forced two or more turnovers in 11 of their 15 games this year. That includes the three it forced against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. This is in spite of the loss of some of their big-time defensive players to injury, including defensive end Adam Carriker and linebacker Brian Orakpo. The Cowboys can relate, but they can’t compete with the 27 turnovers the Redskins have forced this season. The Redskins run the same 3-4 the Cowboys run and still have linebacker London Fletcher and pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who is coming off a two-sack game last week. One player to keep an eye on is young linebacker Perry Riley. He’s the second-leading tackler, has 3.5 sacks and is making a big leap in his first year as a full-time starter. The good news for the Cowboys is that against good offenses the Redskins give up plenty of yards. The bad news is that the Redskins don’t give up many points. After giving up more than 30 points in each of their first three games this season, the Redskins have only given up 30 or more points once since then. That opponent was Dallas.
On Special Teams: Kai Forbath has been perfect since taking over as placekicker in Week 6. Punter Sal Rocca is nearing 40, but is averaging 44 yards per punt. Return man Brandon Banks is a consistent, but not explosive, returner on kickoffs and punts.
Overall: The Redskins’ formula is pretty clear. Run the football with Griffin and Morris, use that consistent run game to trigger the play-action pass and do just enough defensively to not let the game get out of hand. That has carried the Redskins through their six-game winning streak and earned Griffin a Pro Bowl berth in his rookie year. There are holes on this team and the Cowboys found them the first time around. But to beat the Redskins you have to find a way to make them one-dimensional, and that’s something no opponent has figured out yet.