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First-and-Ten - Redskins @ Cowboys - A (5-6) Football Party!

November 29, 2017
The Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys get together for a second  and final time (we think) in 2017 on Thursday Night Football in Arlington.

Essentially, it’s a playoff game. The winning team improves to (6-6) while the loser drops to (5-7) and while still mathematically alive, you can pretty much turn out the lights, because the party would be over.

It’s time to break things down with our “First-and-Ten” feature and our “Monumental Matchup!’

First ….

The Cowboys pass protection vs. the Redskins pass rush is our “Monumental Matchup” of the week because it will be up to the Redskins front to get consistent pressure against a banged up offensive line of the Cowboys, without having to blitz a lot.

For Dallas, stud right guard Zack Martin suffered a concussion last week and a good part of the loss to the Chargers. He’s likely back but that is far from a guarantee that he’ll absolutely be in the lineup or that he’ll be able to play the whole game.

At right tackle, the Cowboys are likely going to be without starter La’el Collins, who struggled miserably against Ryan Kerrigan and the Skins a few weeks ago. It’s likely that veteran Byron Bell will get most, if not all the action.

Dallas’ offensive line has allowed 24.0 sacks this year in 11 games including the disaster in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Last year, they allowed only 27.0 and that was over a full 16-games. Even if you take away that 8-sack performance by the Falcons, Dallas has still allowed six sacks in the last two games.

In the three games since Ezekiel Elliott has been suspended, Dak Prescott has been dumped 14 times. Before that, it was 10.0 sacks in the first eight games.

Clearly, opponents are trying to jack up the pressure on Dak (and getting home) because they don’t fear him making them pay.

Washington’s Junior Galette finished strong last week with sack, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit, just abusing Ereck Flowers. He’s had four QB hits, a sack and a forced fumble in the Redskins last two games. He looks fresh and spry and could be a huge advantage for Washington down the stretch, although he’ll face the stud like Tyron Smith a bunch on Thursday night.

And Ten…

1 – Ryan Kerrigan has been good for Washington this year, as we’ve pointed out many times. Last week, as we outlined in this space before the game, was a perfect opportunity for him and he cashed in with two sacks and two quarterback hits. Kerrigan now has 9.0 sacks on the year and has played the run reasonably well. Kerrigan also drew a holding penalty rushing from the right side and is starting to crank it up again after a couple of mostly quiet performances.

2 – Preston Smith has been good this year as a pass rusher and helping to seal the edge, but he absolutely must be disciplined this week in not only protecting against Dak Prescott rolling out of pressure but also not taking any bad penalties. Like the one he took against New Orleans two weeks ago, which killed the Redskins, or the ones he took on the road at Kansas City. Those also helped the Redskins beat themselves.

3 – The Redskins, in my opinion, have to generate their pass rush pressure without having to blitz a lot. Sure, Greg Manusky (pictured above) will have some timely blitzes  that will be needed and warranted but it should be limited, as it has been for the most part.

If the Redskins blitz Dak Prescott a lot, he will beat them via either a quick pass or by escaping that pressure. Washington is now third-worst in rushing yardage allowed to opposing quarterbacks per at 238 yards allowed, just behind the Bengals and Falcons.

I would expect the Redskins are going to play a lot of zone coverage with their eyes and body facing Prescott.  It also makes it tougher on younger quarterbacks to identify coverage concepts and it could force a mistake.

4 – One area that is still and always will be a concern when it comes to the Redskins defense is defending Jason Witten in the passing attack. The Redskins continue to allow the most pass yardage to opposing tight-ends with 783 yards 62 receptions and six touchdowns. That’s the third-most receptions and the fifth-most touchdowns in 2017

The ten-time Pro Bowl tight-end has 50 receptions for 429 yards and three scores this year but only had three catches for 31 yards in Washington. Lifetime against the Redskins, he’s had 128 receptions for 1,438 yards, an 11.23 average and eight scores.

5 – Zach Brown will be an interesting player to watch Thursday night, because he’s so good at stopping the run and using his speed to get him in position, yet he’s struggled all year long in pass coverage. Last week against the Giants, he was targeted six times for three completions and 15 yards per (PFF) which isn’t bad, but as they note, New York had a drop and an overthrow for two of the non-catchable targets against him. Witten could have a lot of success and so could the Cowboys if they can isolate Cole Beasley on Brown.

6 – One of the reasons to feel confident in the Redskins this year instead of last year is the advancement of Kendall Fuller and the re-evolution of Bashaud Breeland.

Kendall Fuller
Fuller had the game sealing interception on a pressure by Galette. It should have been his second game-ending pick in less than five days, because of the New Orleans situation, but the Redskins will take it. He also had key interceptions against San Francisco and Seattle. Last week, he wasn’t officially targeted per PFF in 22 coverage opportunities.

Last year, in Dallas, the Cowboys knew the Redskins weren’t moving Josh Norman inside to the slot or even Breeland and they absolutely abused Fuller. This year should be very different.

Breeland still missed an occasional tackle (nine on the year per PFF) but he’s been very good in coverage on the year, outside of perhaps the Minnesota loss. Last week, he was targeted five times and only allowed one reception for four yards with a pass defended per PFF. In New Orleans, Breeland was the top graded Redskins player in the game at 90.4/100 where he allowed six receptions on 11 targets for only 58 yards and three passes defended.

7 – Kirk Cousins continues to lead a mash unit on offense and while being far from perfect, the Redskins offense has still been productive. He was ranked as the ninth-best quarterback by PFF after week 12 for the entire 2017 season, somehow behind Marcus Mariota and Tyrod Taylor.

A couple of highlights: Cousins is # 1 vs the blitz at 121.7 passer rating and the fourth best passer at a 121.5 rating when throwing deep, per PFF. He’s also the fifth best passer by rating when facing pressure overall.

8 – The Redskins are in the top-third of the NFL (top 11) in yards per game, yards per play, passing yards per game and per play. They are tied for eighth in red zone percentage and tied for 12 th in points per game.

One area they MUST improve on is third-down offense. Washington is # 25 overall at 35.7%. Last year, they converted at a 45.2% clip.

9 – Special teams is always so important and nobody ever focuses on it, except in this space. The Redskins very UN-special teams has been a major contributor in recent weeks to losses at New Orleans and at home against the Cowboys. It just can not happen again. Period. They have very little margin for error and the Redskins need every inch they can get. 

10 – Washington needs to play this game with a sense of urgency and as if their hair was on fire. No slow starts (usually not a problem although last week it was) and they need to run the ball well to reduce the clock and make the game shorter. All you need is a win and one more point than the Cowboys. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but they need to be effective. This is general speak for 1. Win the turnover battle 2. Don’t kill yourself with penalties 3. Convert in the red zone 4. Don’t keep burning timeouts & treating them like they’re a disease. 

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN