As the Eagles Capital punishment neared its unedifying conclusion at the hands of RG3 and his rampant Redskins outfit, fans could be heard breaking into joyous choruses of ‘WE WANT DALLAS!!’
The Cowboys may have evened out their record at .500, but it came in highly fortuitous fashion in overtime against a Cleveland Browns outfit that rank in the bottom half in every major category.
24th against the run (125.3 points per game), 22nd in yards allowed through the air (248.8), and ranking 18th overall in total defense. Worse still, Dallas allowed that same Browns team, a team ranking 27th in total offense, to beat their average of 18.9 points per game.
Rather worrying. If that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite of the Washington faithful come Thursday, they’ll be positively salivating at the prospect of a Dallas offensive line, comprising of the much maligned Doug Free, a man ESPN analyst Jon Ritchie likened to a ‘turnstile’, who in conjunction with Tyron Smith (out of Thursdays game with a high left ankle sprain, and will be replaced by Jeremy Parnell), Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, and Derrick Dockery, have given up 24 sacks, including 7 against the Browns.
Leaving Tony Romo on a career high for single game sacks…The ‘Magnificent Seven’ they are not.
However, it’s another seven that will be equally integral in deciding the outcome of this tasty inter-divisional showdown – The front seven of the Dallas defense.
Especially when it comes to their ability to nullify the Washington run game, a run game that ranks 2nd in the league and is piling up 165.0 - yards per game, due in no small part to rookie sensation Alfred Morris (184 carries, 869 –yards, 4.7 per carry, and 5 touchdowns) and the extravagantly gifted Robert Griffin 111, who during week 11 ran up more yards (84) than both Lance Dunbar (in for the injured DeMarco Murray) and Felix Jones combined (53).
Paramount to their bid will be counteracting Mike Shanahan’s zone blocking, more specifically a derivative known as the ‘stretch play’.
The stretch play is designed to provide a blocking lane for the runningback to break into the open field. The idea being that a single back (in this case, Morris) lines up 6 - yards behind the line of scrimmage, and a hand off takes place at least 3 - yards to the right and 3 - yards behind the quarterback, therefore allowing the line man to execute their blocks, leaving a path 45 degrees to the right.
However, under Shanahan’s tenure in D.C, the threat tends to come from the left. Left Tackle Trent Williams, Guard Kory Lichtensteiger, and most likely, 6ft.5 261 pound Tight End Logan Paulsen providing the blocking for Morris.
It’s a particularly effective scheme against a 4 -3 defense, (utilized by the Detroit Lions for example), as it can often overwhelm the three Linebackers used in the formation, therefore it will be intriguing to see how Shanahan and his scheme fare against Dallas and it’s 3 - 4 system, upon their arrival in ‘Jerry World’.
The aforementioned system may be designed to ask questions of an opponent’s run game by using four as opposed to three, of your quicker, more athletic Linebackers (Anthony Spencer/Victor Butler, Bruce Carter, Ernie Simms, and of course DeMarcus Ware) but Alfred Morris and the Skins ground attack may be posing plenty of questions of their own, especially against a Dallas defense that despite including a DeMarcus Ware, who’s third in the league in total sacks with 10.0, are ranked 13th against the run, conceding an average of 106.6 - yards per game.
Many analysts claim Dallas will do well limiting Washington to 100. Cleveland ran over Dallas for 119…
Despite this quite concerning statistic, the Cowboys still rank 7th in total defense overall, and sit 21 places above a team that some bookmakers are tipping as favourites to win Thursdays match-up, rather bizarre when you take into consideration that Washington on average are conceding 25.4 points a game.
Be that though it may, the favourites tag may turn out to be anything but misplaced, especially if Washington prey on rookie Cornerback Morris Claiborne’s propensity to give away penalties, 5 of which coming in a nightmarish display at Lincoln Financial Field; a performance that yielded two off - sides, two defensive holding penalties, and a flag for pass interference on Riley Cooper.
Given Dallas will face an offense ranked 8th in the league, another appearance of ‘Calamity Claiborne’, could well spell the end of Dallas’s play - off aspirations, all the more so against a triggerman that decimated, an albeit suspect Eagles defense, to the tune of 31 points.
Throwing 4 touchdowns passes, one of which being a 61 - yard missile to Santana Moss, and achieving a passer rating of 158.3 (101.0 over the season) in the process. Quite extraordinary.
Romo on the other hand, though not exactly Brandon Weedon circa week 1, has been the epitome of inconsistency, as though over the 10 games played so far, he’s churned out more yards than his rookie counterpart, but thrown as many picks as touchdown passes - 13, one away from making no.9 the joint league leader in turnovers with San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
If Romo and the Cowboys offense, without a run game (29th in the league, 83.1 – yards per game) to speak of due to the absence of star back DeMarco Murray, (out of action following a sprained foot sustained in week 5), receivers Kevin Ogletree and Miles Austin will have to come to the party, if Dallas is to match RG3 and the Redskins offense blow for blow.
Bryant will undoubtedly have to match or better his breakout performance against the Browns where he conjured a season best 145 - yards from 12 receptions. Also, following a quiet outing against the Browns, where he had only 58 - yards on 12 receptions, Miles Austin will have to provide support along with a Kevin Ogletree, who in the aftermath of that 114 - yard, 2 touchdown effort against the Giants on opening night, has been on the periphery of late.
If Dallas can get Jason Witten, so often Romo’s safety valve (playing with the after effects of a lacerated spleen, causing him to miss a month of practice) into the game, and telling contributions from the aforementioned receiving corps, Dallas may yet have a more significant say in proceedings than initially thought.
The Cowboy’s cause may be further helped by the likely absence of Inside Left Linebacker London Fletcher, whose participation is highly questionable due to an ankle injury, and Safety Brandon Meriweather, whose season is over following a torn ACL.
However, the possible non - participation of the aforementioned could well be offset by the presence of Ryan Kerrigan, who through ten games of his second NFL season, has amassed 63 tackles (41 solo, 22 assists) and 7.5 sacks, and forms part of a pass rush could seriously threaten the fluidity of the Dallas offense.
With all things being considered, despite the cowboys being at home, and in possession of the 7th ranked defense, the Redskins offensive potency, courtesy of an imperious run game and a quarterback with the ability to make plays via Santana Moss (the Skins most productive receiver with 6 touchdowns) Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, and Logan Paulsen (although there may be question marks over his participation, he condition has been upgraded to probable, so he should play) irrespective of situation, I would have to favour Washington, especially with ever present concerns over the solidity of the ‘boys’ offensive line.
The secondary may be improved, but with a run game that pales in significance to the one currently in operation in D.C, Washington may be about to serve Dallas a thanksgiving they won’t forget in a hurry.
In response to a provocative tweet from ESPN’s Trey Wingo, light heartedly mocking his failure to complete all 15 of his 15 passes against the Eagles, RG3 retorted with ‘Looking at film now’. Romo may want to say Grace…
*Surprise Factor: Watch out for Dallas Special Teams player Dwayne Harris, who returned a 78-yard punt for his first career touchdown against the Eagles in week 10…
image: © ddyates