The Dallas Cowboys should send a big thank you note to the Baltimore Ravens. Once Dallas lost to the Saints in the early game last Sunday, their playoff chances certainly looked bleak and they lost control of their own destiny, but then the Ravens completely wrecked the Giants, thus putting destiny back in Dallas’ control. Beat the Redskins Sunday night in Washington and you win the NFC East and will more than likely host the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. So yeah, that was a tough loss versus the Saints, but in the end, it pretty much didn’t mean anything. Even with a victory over New Orleans, Dallas would not have clinched a playoff spot, they just would’ve had a better chance at getting a wildcard spot if they lost this week. So in the end, no harm, no foul, beat the Redskins in Washington and all is well in the world.
As for the Saints game, it turned out pretty much the way most pundits thought it would. Lots of offense with very little defense. The Cowboys came out playing mostly a two deep zone coverage, and Saints QB Drew Brees picked them apart. Dallas once again had little to no pass rush allowing Brees plenty of time to find receivers wide open underneath the coverage. Defensive coordinator was trying to protect his secondary from the deep ball, force the Saints to drive the length of the field, problem is Brees isn’t greedy, he had no problem doing that. On offense the Cowboys scored 31 points so it would seem to be cruel to knock them but they had one huge problem, time of possession. The Saints thoroughly dominated TOP, holding the ball almost twice as much as the Cowboys. Why you ask? First, they went on long drives. The Dallas defense could not get off the field on third down. Brees constantly converted over and over, keeping drives alive. Dallas on the other hand seemed to strike quickly when they scored as WR Dez Bryant had two 58 yard touchdown receptions. The scores are great, but the quick strikes along with the lack of a running game kept the Cowboy defense on the field. Eventually this caught up to the Cowboys. The other problem, turnovers. For the second straight week RB DeMarco Murray fumbled the ball away in the red zone, this time his own RZ, giving the Saints an easy six points. Dallas needs to re-establish their running game, not so much to score points, they can do that in the passing game, but because they need to keep their defense off the field as much as possible.
Now onto Sunday night’s game. This is pretty simple for Dallas. Win, and you claim the NFC East title. Lose, and it’s yet another long off-season. Washington played Dallas on Thanksgiving and pretty much had their way with the Cowboys, eventually winning 38-31. Game wasn’t really as close as the final score would indicate. Washington was up 28-3 at halftime before a furious second half comeback by the Cowboys. Dallas actually did come within one score of tying the game, but the defense couldn’t come up with a key stop late in the fourth quarter to get the ball back to the offense for a chance to tie the game. There is a chance the Redskins could have a playoff spot locked up before the game if a couple of earlier games go their way, but even so, they will still want a win here so that they can play at home on Wildcard Weekend.
The big question for the Redskins will be the health of QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII played last week after missing a week with a sprained knee. Now he beat the Eagles but he did so with his arm, not his legs, only rushing for four yards. This would seem to tell you that the knee is still bothering him. If he is forced to stay in the pocket against Dallas and not be a running threat on the outside, this would certainly play into the Cowboys favor. Even as a pocket passer though, RGIII shouldn’t have much problem avoiding a Dallas pass rush that has been absent for most of the season. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware is pretty much playing with one arm as he has elbow and shoulder problems. It’s unlikely he makes it through the entire game. His partner Anthony Spencer has had a better all around year, but has always played the run better than the pass. The Dallas cornerbacks match up well against the Skins receivers, but the safeties don’t match up with anyone when it comes to the deep ball. There is a reason DC Rob Ryan played a two deep zone last week versus Brees and the Saints. He was afraid of getting beat deep down the middle. RGIII can also take advantage of this. Much has been made of what the weather might be like Sunday night in D. C. As of this writing it looks like it will be cold, around freezing, but with no precipitation. Could be windy at times though. This is more than likely good news for Dallas because if this game turned into one that had to be won on the ground, I like the Skins and Alfred Morris more than I like the Cowboys and DeMarco Murray. Not that I don’t like Murray, I do, but Morris has had an All-Pro year, and it’s hard to trust the Dallas defense to stop him.
In the end this game will more than likely come down to who plays better, Tony Romo or RGIII. Romo is as hot as they come and is more than capable of putting up 30+ points, but in the end, as we saw at home last week against New Orleans, that just may not be enough. Washington 31 Dallas 27