COWBOYS // REDSKINS OVERVIEW
While the end of the season will likely find the Eagles outpacing these other AFC East squads, this division is wide open at the moment, and the result of this rivalry matchup will impact optics over the next few weeks, as Washington enters this game at 3-2, and Dallas enters at 3-3.
Unsurprisingly, this game has been given an Over/Under of only 41.5, with Dallas allowing the second-fewest points per game in the NFL, and with Washington allowing the eighth-fewest. Neither team has been dominant on offense, as they rank 25th (Washington) and 29th (Dallas) in yards per game, while ranking 24th (Washington) and 25th (Dallas) in points per game. That’s even with Washington notching a 31-point game a few weeks ago against the Packers, and with Dallas throwing up a 40-burger last week.
You also have to scroll to the bottom of the rankings to find these two in pace of play, with Washington at 22nd and Dallas at 29th. To further scream “conservative,” Washington ranks 24th in pass play rate and Dallas ranks 29th, while neither team challenges opponents downfield through the air. This shapes up as a slug-fest, with each team “passing to set up the run,” and with neither team in great shape to do a whole lot through the air.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL allowing a lower average depth of target than the Redskins, and with an average catch rate and average YAC per reception marks allowed, this team ranks a healthy sixth in fewest yards allowed per pass attempt. On the other side of this matchup, Dallas ranks 28th in yards per pass attempt, and Dak Prescott has topped 208 passing yards only once this season (255 yards against Detroit). The Cowboys are keeping a lid on volume for Dak, and he has yet to complete even 20 passes in a game.
Washington has been especially stingy against wide receivers, allowing the second-fewest receptions and the third-fewest yards to the position.
If for some reason you are feeling absolutely set on rostering a pass catcher against this stingy unit, your best bet would obviously be Cole Beasley. His Week 6 blowup is about as fluky as things can get, but he does see around five targets most weeks, and he does have five targets in the red zone.
Michael Gallup (mercifully) saw an 80.8% snap rate last week, as the Cowboys look to get something going through the air. Gallup is adjusting slowly to the NFL game, and he has maxed out at two catches (with only seven receptions on the season in all). He may be able to make a box score impact deeper into the season, and he is worth keeping an eye on as we move forward.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
By playing slowly and doing a great job sustaining drives on offense, Washington is managing to allow the fifth-fewest opponent plays per game, which is being felt by opposing running backs, as this is leading to the Redskins facing only 16.4 running back rush attempts per game. The Redskins’ offense has a solid setup for sustaining drives once again — making play volume the one potential concern for Ezekiel Elliott, who otherwise has an excellent matchup on tap.
Six weeks into the season, the Redskins are allowing 4.23 yards per carry to running backs, and they rank 30th in DVOA against the run and 28th in adjusted line yards. With sticky coverage on wide receivers, Washington is also filtering an above-average number of targets to running backs — facing 8.8 targets per game to the position.
Over the last two weeks, Zeke has played 83.7% of the Cowboys’ snaps, and he has touch counts on the year of 18 // 22 // 19 // 29 // 27 // 25. The only things that can really cause Zeke to fail are lack of volume and lack of red zone opportunities (Dallas ranks 24th in red zone scoring attempts per game — but if they are able to reach the red zone, they have a great setup vs an opponent that ranks 26th in red zone touchdown rate allowed).
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
Speaking of volume: only four teams in the NFL have faced fewer pass attempts per game than the Cowboys, which has led to Dallas allowing the eighth-fewest passing yards per game. Washington has been well below-average in passing attempts per game as well, and only eight teams have fewer passing yards per game.
When Washington does take to the air, they continue to focus on short and intermediate passes, with Alex Smith sitting on an average intended air yards of only 7.3. When Smith pushes the ball to the intermediate levels, Paul Richardson has been his primary guy, with target counts on the year of 6 // 6 // 2 // 5 // 5, and with a respectable aDOT on these looks of 12.0. As noted last week when the Jags took on the Cowboys: it’s not optimal to target receivers against this defense (less due to matchup, and more simply due to volume concerns), but if targeting a pass catcher against them, your best bet is guys who can run crossing routes and find openings while moving through this zone. Dallas allows below-average aDOT and YAC per reception marks, but only two teams are allowing a higher catch rate. Richardson is the guy likeliest to be moving through this zone on the sort of routes that can provide upside.
Underneath, Jamison Crowder will soak up some targets if he returns to the field (he has exactly four targets in three of four games), while Vernon Davis and Maurice Harris will see elevated snaps if Crowder is out. Last week, Davis played 51.4% of the snaps and hauled in a season-high three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. Harris played a quiet 44 out of 70 snaps, turning four targets into three catches for 13 yards.
Even with Crowder and Chris Thompson off the field last week, Josh Doctson continued to underperform — turning six targets into only three catches for 20 yards. Doctson has yet to top 37 receiving yards on the year.
This group rounds out with Jordan Reed, who has target counts on the year of 5 // 8 // 7 // 2 // 9, though almost all of these targets have come within about three to seven yards of the line of scrimmage, making it difficult for him to pop off for the big games we should be getting from a guy this good.
REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE
I’m honestly a bit surprised that Vegas gave us a line on this game without knowing whether or not Chris Thompson will play, as the complexion of this game changes entirely depending on whether or not he is on the field. The Cowboys rank second in the NFL in yards allowed per carry and fifth in DVOA against the run, and if Thompson is out, Washington’s run-heavy approach could stall out a few times early — creating a few extra opportunities for Zeke throughout the first half, while also creating more opportunities on this side of the ball for targets to flow to Richardson and Jordan Reed (a season-high nine targets last week), as Smith will be without his security blanket. If Thompson plays, on the other hand, he should see heavy work against a Dallas team that has allowed the fourth most running back receptions in the NFL. Thompson would also make it easier for Washington to keep drives going — which would reintroduce the “volume” concerns on the Dallas offense. Thompson has target counts on the year of 7 // 14 // 2 // 8 — with the two-target game coming in a game the Redskins controlled from start to finish, an unlikely scenario this week.
If Thompson misses, Adrian Peterson will lead the way in a difficult matchup. His limited role in the pass game makes him a “touchdown and yardage” option.
With Thompson on the sidelines last week, Kapri Bibbs played 37.1% of Washington’s snaps, turning three touches into 17 yards.
While research on the Vikings/Jets game confirmed Thielen as a lock-and-load option for me this week, the same cannot quite be said for Zeke. Given the state of this slate, he’s still likely to turn into a top three play in terms of raw projections, but there are some concerns here regarding volume, against a Washington team that does a good job slowing down the game, sustaining drives, and limiting opponent volume. With this also being the approach that Dallas favors, this game could fly by, with plays limited on either side. Zeke’s floor remains intact no matter what — as an ultra-talented back with a large snap rate and plenty of guaranteed touches in a great matchup — and he can hit for ceiling even if he gets stuck on around 19 to 21 touches. But his likelihood of reaching ceiling will be quite a bit higher if he’s able to climb up to 25 to 27 touches. If rostering him, hope the Dallas defense is able to shut down some of these slow-paced Redskins drives quickly, in order to create extra opportunity for Zeke.
I won’t have interest in any other pieces on the Cowboys, and I won’t have interest in Adrian Peterson, Alex Smith, or Josh Doctson on the other side, but Jordan Reed will retain solid floor if Thompson is out again this week, and his talent gives him some ceiling, while Paul Richardson is surprisingly interesting as a guy who should see around five to six targets, with most of these looks coming more than 10 yards downfield. As a salary-saver on DraftKings, he’s an interesting pivot in tourneys off someone like Jermaine Kearse. Kearse is likelier to hit, but Richardson isn’t too far behind him, and the ownership gap will likely be massive — creating an opportunity where you could soak up a nice tourney edge if Richardson hits and Kearse disappoints.
If Thompson plays, Reed and Richardson will likely come off the table for me, but Thompson will become intriguing for his likely seven to 10 targets. Game flow is always a scary variable when rostering a guy like Thompson, but the matchup tilts in his favor, and he is likely to see a decent chunk of work if healthy.
FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Paul Richardson is doubtful for the Redskins, which leaves them with very little to work with. The safest bet here is to simply assume the Washington offense struggles (while slowing down the game as much as possible in order to keep Dallas from creating too much separation) — but if chasing here, it’s a good bet that Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson (expected to play) both see a rise in workload. Each carries upside in tourneys.