REDSKINS // COWBOYS OVERVIEW
As Jason Garrett makes a push for his job and another year of mediocrity in Dallas, this game shapes up as an important tilt in the still-wide-open NFC East, with the 5-5 Cowboys hosting the 6-4 Redskins. From what I’ve heard from Cowboys fans and how ready they are for change, it might be better for the Cowboys to lose this game and be in worse shape for the playoffs — but this injury-ravaged Washington team will do its best to make life easy on their rivals, and we could have a first place tie when this game wraps up.
Both of these teams rank near the bottom of the league in pace of play and pass play rate, and each team has featured a below-average number of total plays per game, with Washington ranking middle of the pack in plays per game and the Cowboys ranking near the bottom of the league, and with both sides allowing a below-average number of opponent plays per game. This is an anti-shootout environment, with neither team capable of (or interested in) quick strikes. Expect a tight, methodical game on either side of the ball — old school football that, in a way, is a perfect fit for one of our country’s strangest (and most classic) holidays.
Vegas has seemingly overrated the impact of the loss of Alex Smith, as they have installed the Cowboys as healthy 7.5 point favorites to kick off the week. This game carries a depressingly low Over/Under of 40.5 — and given that Dallas has allowed the third fewest points per game and Washington has scored the sixth fewest points per game, it’s not crazy to think that this game could fail to reach even that mark. When these teams played in Washington a few weeks back, the Redskins won 20-17.
REDSKINS PASS OFFENSE
As noted last week, the Cowboys have been average against the pass — with season-long numbers that look better than the per-play reality, as this team shortens games, and opponents have chosen to attack on the ground rather than attacking through the air (a confusing setup, given that Dallas is allowing the third fewest yards per carry in the league). Two weeks ago the Eagles flipped the script and threw on 75% of their plays, setting up Carson Wentz to throw for 360 yards, and last week the Falcons threw on 67% of their plays, setting up Matt Ryan to throw for 291 yards (the league-average pass play rate so far this year is 59.4%).
Of course, Colt McCoy is not Wentz or Ryan, and the Washington passing attack is nothing like the passing attacks of the Eagles or the Falcons. Even with Alex Smith under center, this team ranked 29th in yards per pass attempt, 25th in passing yards per game, and 27th in passing touchdowns. In spite of the Cowboys playing most of the year with backup wide receivers and tight ends and the least creative play-calling in the NFL, this team has chugged to a 5-5 record in large part due to a defense that ranks third in red zone touchdown rate allowed. No team in football has allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Cowboys.
Even on a three-game slate, we could probably wrap this writeup there, but since I am a detail-oriented perfectionist, I have to keep writing even if no one keeps reading…
My forever-favorite description of Colt McCoy is the oft-used RotoWorld tag of “popgun-armed” (a term they apply rarely — but have been using for years for McCoy). In his four starts (and a few other appearances) for Washington over the last four years, McCoy has a strong completion rate of 68.9%, with a respectable line of six touchdowns, three interceptions, and a yards per pass attempt of 8.2 (compared to Smith’s pathetic mark this year of 6.6). To frame that another way: McCoy is not “bad” (he’s not an NFL starter, but he’s one of the better backups in the league), and he should be able to match what Smith was doing in this offense before him (with a few more turnovers down the stretch, but also with a few more aggressive throws). Of course, what Smith was doing was not much.
The most exciting piece on the Redskins is Jordan Reed, who went 7-71-1 last week on 11 targets and has a matchup this week against a Cowboys team that has been below-average against tight ends, allowing the fifth most catches and the 15th most yards to the position. It should be pointed out, however, that Reed’s route tree did not change at all last week, and he will continue to struggle for true upside. Six of his seven catches this last week carried him toward the sideline, rather than carrying him up the field.
The next most exciting piece is upside rookie slot receiver Trey Quinn, who was finally activated from I.R. this last week and drew the start in the slot — playing 53 out of 75 snaps and kicking Maurice Harris to the outside. Quinn went 4-49-0 on only four targets and has a chance to see more work this week.
On the outside, Josh Doctson will try to top 50 yards for the first time all year, and Harris will try to top 42 yards for the first time all year.
REDSKINS RUN OFFENSE
Only nine teams have leaned on the run more often than the Redskins — and the only reason they don’t rank even higher in rush play rate is because they sometimes fall behind and are forced to throw. Last week against the Texans’ number four run defense, this squad still ran the ball at a league-average rate, and a similar expectation should be in line in this spot. When these teams last met, Adrian Peterson managed 99 yards on 24 carries (4.1 YPC — aided by a 23 yarder that bumped him up from 3.3 YPC on his other 23 totes). Peterson has seven total catches across his last six games, so he will need a multi-touchdown game (or a complete breakdown from the Cowboys’ defense) to become truly useful in this spot.
COWBOYS PASS OFFENSE
As we talk about every week in this space, Washington’s pass defense forces short throws (only four teams have allowed a lower aDOT than the Redskins), but they allow an above-average catch rate and an above-average YAC/R rate, which has led to them ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per pass attempt, while sitting right in the middle of the league in fantasy points allowed per game to the quarterback position.
Dak Prescott has played serviceable but unspectacular football since a rough start to the season, finishing between 240 and 275 passing yards in four of his last seven games, while rushing for 30+ yards three times in that stretch. The Cowboys rarely use Dak on designed runs; he has only 11 passing touchdowns on the season; and it is all but guaranteed that he will not top 300 yards through the air; but with his rushing work and his respectable 64.6% completion rate, he should finish with non-poor production once again. He has a 7:1 TD:INT ratio at home, compared to 4:4 on the road, and he has averaged 7.6 YPA at home compared to 6.7 on the road.
Last week against a Falcons team that tries to force short-area throws, Amari Cooper saw only five targets (after averaging nine targets in his first two games with the Cowboys) — but more troublesome was the usage on these looks, as Amari was not targeted more than 10 yards downfield, and he was stuck running hitches that completely limited his upside. If his usage looks like this again this week, it will be difficult for him to pile up yards. With Quinton Dunbar likely out, we may also see Amari shadowed by Josh Norman, who has been playing well lately.
The Cowboys will likely look to use Cole Beasley to exploit Washington over the middle, where he was able to rack up 7-56-0 on eight targets a few weeks back (before Amari joined the team), though this defense continues to improve on passes in the short area of the field, making upside difficult to come by. Beasley should provide floor, but upside will require a busted coverage or a touchdown. Beasley has a non-awful eight targets in the red zone through 10 games, giving him a slim chance at posting an above-average point-per-dollar score.
Thoughts go out to Michael Gallup, who was informed after the game on Sunday that his brother had taken his own life. Gallup is from the Atlanta area and stayed behind after the game in Atlanta on Sunday to be with his family; he likely won’t practice this week, but he has expressed a desire to play. While it seems silly to translate this to DFS, there is a narrative here that the Cowboys will try to get him involved (some of you will recall the Torrey Smith two-touchdown blowup game against the Patriots after his brother died in a motorcycle accident — back in 2012). Obviously, the main focus for the Cowboys will be on winning this important game, but Gallup may see a couple extra “upside” opportunities. Optimism would be higher if he were attached to a coaching staff that knew how to use Amari/Zeke to draw attention away from Gallup to scheme him open. Outside of the narrative: Gallup has topped 51 yards only once this season, and he has not yet topped three receptions. If Gallup misses this game, Allen Hurns will return to the field for heavier snaps, and he will be fourth in line for targets behind Amari // Zeke // Beasley.
COWBOYS RUN OFFENSE
Washington presents defensive looks that tend to chase opponents away from the run — leading to this squad facing the fifth lowest rush play rate in the league — but on a per-play basis, they have been merely middling, ranking 14th in yards allowed per carry. They clamped down on Zeke the last time these teams played, holding him to 33 yards on 15 attempts (2.2 YPC), and even allowing only two receptions to him on six targets. With Washington able to trust Norman on Amari, we should expect this team to focus first and foremost on Zeke once again — creating a tougher-than-normal spot for the Cowboys’ star back — but we should also expect the Cowboys to lean heavily on Zeke at home, with somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 touches a serious likelihood (he has landed in this range in five of his last seven games). If this game were on the Main Slate, Zeke would be an afterthought, but his workload makes him part of the conversation in a tough matchup on the short slate.
Even on a three-game slate, nothing on the Redskins stands out to me — and while there is obviously a case to be made for going off the board on a slate this small, we should recognize that enough people will have this idea that we’ll still probably see something like 4% to 7% ownership on guys like Doctson and Harris, with Adrian Peterson probably climbing above 10% and Colt McCoy even grabbing some attention. (To be clear: I’m no ownership guru; but I know enough about the public’s DFS mindset to expect people to think they are being sneaky by rostering these low-upside plays.) These guys are all in the “anything can happen in the NFL” discussion — but they are so unlikely to be more valuable than the other pieces you could grab, I would need them to be probably 1% or 2% owned before having interest myself.
Reed is the best play, but he’s not as good as most people will think, as another seven-target game would put him right back in the 4-40-0 range he has been in all season. If his targets rise again, or if he scores a touchdown, he’ll become a useful piece; but since his actual usage in this offense hasn’t changed, expectations should be kept in line with what he has done all year.
Quinn is in the conversation with Bruce Ellington, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller as cheap guys who could open up salary and maybe post a decent to above-average line. I prefer the upside on Gabriel and Miller, but Quinn will almost certainly post some useful price-considered games down the stretch.
With the upside of Brees/Ryan available on Thanksgiving night, I can’t imagine myself going to Dak if building around a tight core — but he should post a solid price-considered score this week, and there is a case to be made for taking some floor on Beasley or some ceiling on Amari as well. If Washington sells out to stop Zeke, Amari may be able to beat Norman on an island once or twice…though it would feel more comfortable to make this bet if Amari had a better quarterback and a more well-designed offense around him.
I’m guessing the Gallup narrative will pick up steam — and while the likeliest scenario has him failing to do much once again this week, he’s cheap enough that I don’t mind the play. He just needs a touchdown to be useful.
Zeke is behind Kamara on paper, but his workload should be big, and the upside is evident. Expect something like a 23-point DraftKings/FantasyDraft day and an 18- to 20-point FanDuel day — but his range on either side is fairly broad, as this matchup could lead to another dud, and his usage/talent could push him to a big game. He likely won’t be a priority for me, but on a slate this small he’ll be interesting to consider.