The Redskins have nothing to play for (and haven’t for a long time), while the Cowboys need a win and a Philly loss to miraculously right the ship on what will otherwise go down as an embarrassing and miserable season. We should see max effort from both teams in this game.
The Matchup ::
- Dak Prescott’s shoulder appeared to be an issue after all last week, as his downfield throws often died on him, and he managed to connect with Amari Cooper only four times (for 24 yards) in spite of feeding him 12 targets — with each of Amari’s catches going for exactly six yards
- Amari has averaged 14.6 yards per catch on the season, including 16.2 yards per catch at home
- The Cowboys have averaged 21 points per game on the road this year, compared to 30 points per game at home
- No team in the NFL has picked up more yards per game than the Cowboys, but seven teams have picked up more points per game
- Washington ranks bottom nine in both yards allowed per game and points allowed per game, while also ranking bottom nine in opponent red zone touchdown rate
- Only two teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Redskins, and only three teams have allowed more receiving yards to running backs, while six different running backs have gone for 95+ rushing yards and at least one touchdown in this matchup
- Dallas has thrown the ball on 60.69% of plays on the road, but this has dipped to 56.24% at home
- Case Keenum struggled this year against Minnesota and San Francisco, while hitting Philadelphia for 380 yards and three touchdowns, Chicago for 332 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cowboys and Dolphins for two touchdowns apiece
- In the games against Philly, Dallas, Chicago, and Miami (the first four games Keenum and Terry McLaurin played together), MClaurin went 5-125-1 // 5-62-1 // 6-70-1 // 4-100-2
- McLaurin is only 81 yards shy of notching 1000 receiving yards in his rookie year
- McLaurin entered the concussion protocol at the front end of this week and will be in a race against time to get cleared for this game
- Steven Sims has 28 targets and three touchdowns across the last three weeks
- Sims has turned these 28 targets into only 149 yards
- The Cowboys have allowed only two wide receivers to top 100 yards against them this year
The Game ::
In this game that the Cowboys need to win in order to keep their last-gasp hopes of a playoff appearance alive (and that the Washington players and coaches will be trying to win, while the Washington organization will be crossing its fingers and hoping for a loss that will keep them in prime draft position), the complexion will be heavily dictated by injuries.
We’ll start on the Washington side of the ball, where gunslinger Case Keenum will try to wrestle with Bill Callahan’s tendencies toward conservative play — but where he will only have a truly realistic shot at pulling off fireworks if Terry McLaurin is cleared from his concussion in time for this contest. As of Thursday, McLaurin is looking unlikely to play, which would leave Keenum with top weapons of Adrian Peterson and a short-area target in Steven Sims — likely leading to a “conservative until absolutely forced out of it” approach.
A McLaurin absence, of course, would play in favor of the Cowboys’ injury situation, where Dak Prescott has not thrown a football in practice in two weeks, with the Cowboys tentatively expecting him to pick up the ball and toss it around a bit on Friday for the first time. Last week, Dak had no zip on his downfield throws — looking clearly hampered; and if Washington is playing this game with their typical, conservative approach, it will open a clear path for the Cowboys to turn Ezekiel Elliott into the focal point of their offense (barring a complete coaching bomb) against a Washington team that has ranked bottom four this year in yards allowed to running backs both on the ground and through the air. Add it all up, and if McLaurin misses this game, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup become quite a bit more speculative (while even making Peterson slightly viable as a yardage-and-touchdown back with an outside shot at relevance), as it would be difficult for Washington to play anything but Callahan Ball, and this would make it much easier for the Cowboys to hide Dak’s injury and ride Zeke to victory.
On the flip side of all this :: if McLaurin does get cleared for this game, it could set up a situation in which the Cowboys try to tilt toward the run, but McLaurin hits on a downfield play or two that forces Dallas to get more aggressive. Realistically, the likeliest scenario even in this situation is that Dallas controls the game enough to lean on the run regardless, but there is an interesting setup to consider here in which McLaurin and the Dallas passing attack could be bet on as complementing components. In this scenario, Amari/Gallup would still come with the risk associated with Dak, but both would be more viable, while Zeke would still be the likeliest bet on the Cowboys to hit, but with a slim chance that his usage wouldn’t be there to the level it should be.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Kellen Moore is an excellent play designer, but he still hasn’t learned how to “win” — designing a game plan and calling the plays that will best equip his team to triumph in a particular game environment; and as such, there is at least some level of risk here that Dallas idiotically tries to win through Dak/Amari/Gallup even without game flow forcing them to do so. That’s really the biggest risk factor for Zeke, while the likeliest scenario here still has the Cowboys’ star back picking up 24+ touches and having clear paths to a strong game. Zeke’s price is high enough that he’s unlikely to be a “must have” piece even if he hits, but he’s a solid play this week if salary works to fit him.
The Dallas passing attack comes with all sorts of risk with Dak’s injury; and the matchup is more difficult than the one the Cowboys have on the ground; and game flow will likely tilt toward the run. But there is plenty of upside on these individual pieces if you want to go off the board, or if you load up heavily enough on Zeke that you end up wanting to hedge.
Washington is tougher to bet on, as elite scores so rarely emerge from this team; but McLaurin is obviously viable if he plays, while Peterson will have an outside shot at closing out the season strong as the Cowboys lean on the run and the game stays close enough for Callahan to do the same.