Sunday’s game is big for the Washington Redskins not only because they are playing the rival Dallas Cowboys but because this is their first NFC East game. By now, most teams have played at least one division game. A scheduling quirk, mixed with an early bye week, deferred Washington’s divisional matchups.
Last year, the Redskins were 1-5 against the NFC East. Given the way no team in the division has stepped forward, it appears the East is available for the taking. If the Redskins are really as good as they believe they are, a home game against a Dallas team that is starting to find itself becomes a game they need to win.
Keep Adrian Peterson running
The formula for Washington’s early success seems clear: If Adrian Peterson is running well, the Redskins win; if not, they lose. He has rushed for 96, 120 and 97 yards in the team’s three victories and just 20 and 6 yards in the two defeats. If Peterson is going, especially late in the game, the Redskins can make up for an injured group of receivers that hasn’t yet been much of a factor.
Getting Peterson going might be tough. Dallas has one of the league’s better defenses overall and has been strong against the run. Peterson is the best back the Cowboys will have faced, however, and if he is running well, the Redskins can control the clock.
Stop Ezekiel Elliott
The Cowboys' running back is again dominating, rushing for 586 yards this season, with 23 receptions for 166 yards. He is, essentially, Dallas’s offense. His two worst rushing games came in two of the Cowboys' three losses. The best thing the Redskins can do is force quarterback Dak Prescott to throw.
Prescott has passed for more than 200 yards just twice this season, despite the fact that Dallas’s strong offensive line has done a decent job with pass protection. He has been intercepted twice in two of the team’s three defeats, further supporting the belief that the more he has to throw, the better chance Washington has to control the Cowboys' offense.
Protect Alex Smith
Smith has seemed off in recent weeks and there are many theories as to why he has not been as dynamic as the team hoped. Some of it might be unfamiliarity with his receivers — many of whom are dealing with injuries and unavailable to practice. Some of it might be that he is still waiting too long for routes to develop. But many of his throws lately seem rushed, and made under duress.
The Redskins' offensive line is still coming together as tackle Trent Williams recovers from offseason (and bye week) knee surgery and other linemen deal with injuries. Pro Football Focus notes that Tony Bergstrom (forced to play center due to an injury to starting guard Shawn Lauvao) has allowed eight pressures in the three games he has played at the position. Lauvao might return this week, and Washington’s pass protection needs to improve against a strong Dallas defense.
Prescott fumbled twice in the Cowboys' 40-7 victory over Jacksonville last week. It might have been a completely different game had the Jaguars been able to recover either of those fumbles. Prescott has fumbled four times this season and 17 times in his three-year career.
Defensively, the Redskins have placed an emphasis on collecting fumbles, but have not had the success they planed until last week, when two early fumble recoveries against Carolina helped Washington build a big first half lead. The Redskins need to keep pushing for fumbles and then recover the ball when it is loose.
The Redskins have been stuck in a rut of following inspiring victories with demoralizing defeats. Euphoric wins over Arizona and Green Bay were muted by sluggish performances against Indianapolis and New Orleans. Several players have blamed those losses on a lack of urgency, implying that teammates relax too much after victories.
Washington’s players have done a good job of having intense practices in the days after bad performances. If ever there was an opponent that should inspire the Redskins to remain focused, it is Dallas. But this is still a young team, with several key players nursing injuries. Letdowns still might be natural for this group.
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