The Cowboys’ new-look offense debuted in Week 1, and while the motion and misdirection wasn’t as heavy as we’ll surely see over time, there were plenty of pre-snap shifts and a decent amount of deception aimed at getting the defense out of position and allowing Dak Prescott to read the defense more easily. As a result of all this, Dak attacked 8.7 yards downfield on average (top 10 in the NFL in Week 1), while passing on play-action on 47% of his drop-backs (only Lamar Jackson had a higher percentage of play-action passes in Week 1). Per PFF, Dak went 14 of 15 for 207 yards and three touchdowns off of play-action, and now he gets a Washington defense that had some communication issues and was out of position a number of times last week against the Eagles.
The matchup for Dallas is not particularly daunting, as this is a Washington team that is pretty much average across the board on defense. Nose tackle Jonathan Allen is out as well; and while Allen is no world-beater, the matchup for the Cowboys would tilt slightly in favor of the pass game if Allen were playing. Now, instead, the Cowboys can attack with equal opportunity for success both on the ground and through the air — and while this makes it slightly more difficult to target guaranteed volume from one side of this Cowboys offense, it should also open up more opportunities for big plays both on the ground and through the air, as Washington’s back end will have to respond more forcefully to the run without Allen, which will open more chances for big play-action plays.
The biggest concerns in this game?
Firstly, there are concerns that Washington simply cannot keep pace. This is a very real concern, as the issues on the Redskins’ offensive line are well-documented, and they will be playing with a pair of one-dimensional backs now that Derrius Guice and his multi-dimensional skill set is sidelined. Only five teams allowed fewer points per game last year than the Cowboys. And whereas Washington capitalized last week on the speed of Terry McLaurin to roast the overmatched Philly secondary, the Cowboys can typically put a cap on big plays, which should force the Redskins to stick to the underneath areas of the field.
We’ll get back to Washington, and what all of this means for their fantasy-relevant (“fantasy-relevant”) players in a moment, but if Washington is unable to get anything going, there is a chance that we see the Cowboys throttle down in the second half on the road to protect their franchise quarterback (“franchise quarterback”) against unnecessary hits in what they hope will be a deep-into-the-playoffs season.
The piggyback concern on this is that the Cowboys seem intent on easing in Ezekiel Elliott for at least one more week. It seems likely that Zeke ramps up to around 80% of the snaps; but as he’s still priced for 95% of the snaps, he’s a “hope for big efficiency” play barring more news on his playing time.
Are these concerns a concern?
Although Washington did have losses at home last year of 12 // 24 // 34 // 24 (vs Colts // Falcons // Giants // Eagles, respectively), this game being played on their home field helps the chances of them keeping things close. Interestingly, however: the clearest path for Washington keeping this game close is for the game to stay fairly lower-scoring, as it’s hard to find many paths to the Redskins putting up a big score and keeping pace with a big score from Dallas.
All of this — the uncertainty on Zeke’s workload, and the limited ways in which this could turn into another five-touchdown Cowboys performance — makes Dallas more speculative than a strictly matchup-based look would cause them to appear. With that said, however: the mismatch is such that you could make some of those speculative plays in tourneys and not feel like you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.
In order to squeeze maximum value from this game in tourneys (i.e., in order to target slate-winning scores, instead of just “rostering a guy and hoping he gets a good score”), you would ultimately want the Cowboys to A) play well on offense, and B) put up points fairly quickly (as — again — we should assume that the Cowboys ease off a bit on the road if they have a big lead heading into the final quarter). In this scenario, Amari Cooper could produce as one of the better wideouts on the slate, and Michael Gallup would be fundamentally underpriced on both sites. (Honestly, Gallup is probably fundamentally underpriced on both sites regardless…) This would also lead to the Redskins chasing points again, against a defense that is designed to push targets to running backs and tight ends. If Jordan Reed misses again, this would once again make Chris Thompson one of the more overlooked/intriguing tourney options to consider. And if Reed plays, Thompson becomes a bit more speculative, but Reed would become an interesting (if less-likely-to-hit) pivot off the more popular cheap tight ends.
JM’s Interpretation ::
I’m not all that interested in betting on Amari or Dak outside of rosters that bet on the scenario laid out in that last paragraph, as each should be in line for a “solid, but not slate-tilting” score in most other scenarios. I’m also not all that interested in the Cowboys’ backfield unless more news comes down the pipe, as this situation introduces more guesswork than we need at the level where Zeke is priced. Given that he’ll almost certainly go over-owned for the uncertainty, the +EV play is to just let others absorb the unnecessary risk. I do like Gallup independent of any game flow scenarios/thoughts, as he’s just underpriced on both DraftKings and FanDuel for his role in this sharp-looking offense.
On Washington’s side of the ball, Thompson is intriguing in tourneys once again (DraftKings only) if Reed is out. I felt comfortable enough last week to include Thompson on even some of my tighter builds, and I could see doing that again if Reed misses. If Reed plays, Thompson becomes a bit more speculative, while Reed — as noted above — becomes an intriguing, though less-likely-to-hit pivot off guys like Hockenson and Waller. (Vernon Davis, of course, isn’t likely to carry the target load Reed would carry, and is just a completely speculative play if Reed is out.)
A shot on Adrian Peterson would be guessing and hoping for a couple touchdowns, unless you completely build your Peterson roster around a scenario in which Washington dominates this game. Trey Quinn is the best bet at wideout for Washington in the shorter areas of the field, though you’ll need a touchdown for him to really pay off.