The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three takeaways from Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Cowboys

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches from the sidelines late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Running back Derrius Guice tweeted throughout the Washington Redskins’ 31-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday as he recovers from knee surgery. Tight end Jordan Reed missed the game while spending his third week in the concussion protocol. Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams was last seen in an Instagram post Thursday standing in front of private plane as he continues to hold out.

The Redskins again are dealing with significant personnel losses, this time just two weeks into their season, and Sunday’s result provided another reminder: Washington’s roster simply is not deep enough to overcome the absence of so many of its upper-echelon players.

“It’s tough,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “That’s why it’s so important for these practice-squad guys not to get lackadaisical because just like that you can be in there. ... You think about [Quinton] Dunbar, you think about [Jonathan] Allen, those are key parts of our defense. We’re just going to need guys to step up. That’s all we can do.”

Key moments from Washington's Week 2 loss to Dallas

Washington is used to needing players to step into bigger roles; the team has dealt with large numbers of injuries the past two seasons. But the proverbial “next man up” approach is easier said than done. The Redskins were down two starters on defense in Dunbar and Allen, plus slot cornerback Fabian Moreau, requiring defensive lineman Tim Settle to make his first career start and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to make his first as a member of the Redskins. Rookie Jimmy Moreland had a full workload in place of Moreau.

While it’s certainly unfair to put the loss on those three players, the defense as a whole was not up to the task against Dallas, allowing 111 rushing yards to running back Ezekiel Elliott and 26-for-30 passing from quarterback Dak Prescott. It wasn’t much better on offense, where third-string tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and rookie receiver Kelvin Harmon both started on Sunday, combining for one catch and 11 yards.

Coach Jay Gruden has repeatedly stated that Washington’s winning formula is to play great defense, and run the ball and avoid turnovers on offense. While the Redskins have largely taken care of the ball, the running game and defense have been a problem. On Sunday, they managed just 47 rushing yards while giving up 474 yards and 31 points. The Cowboys scored touchdowns on four of five possessions starting in the second quarter, with the other possession resulting in a field goal.

There simply isn’t enough firepower on this team to overcome deficits, and the loss was a reminder that there isn’t enough depth to overcome the amount of missing players there were against Dallas. The Redskins’ best hope is to get several of those key contributors back as soon as possible, ideally for next Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Peterson sets a milestone, but running game is in rough shape

With his one-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter, Peterson passed the legendary Jim Brown to rank fifth on the NFL’s career rushing touchdowns list with 107.

“It’s a blessing,” Peterson said. “This one means a lot more than the other ones will when I pass them because Jim Brown’s a guy that I looked up to. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him on several occasions. Just the look in his eyes when I’m talking to him, that alone is just motivating to me. It feels good to have passed him today, but it’s ... bittersweet because we didn’t get this divisional win.”

Washington’s running game had a rough go of things for the second consecutive week. After recording just 28 yards in the season opener against Philadelphia with Guice starting, the rushing attack was similarly nonexistent against the Cowboys behind Peterson, who had 25 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

It’s hard to see how things will get easier next week, given that the Bears have one of the most formidable defenses in the NFL. The Redskins tried to augment Peterson’s power running with three carries for speedy rookie wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., but he totaled just 16 yards.

Penalties continue to derail Redskins

Yellow flags flying in from the officials were a common sight, putting Washington’s offense behind the chains or extending Dallas drives. The Redskins were guilty of six penalties against the Cowboys, bringing them to 18 for 140 yards over two games.

“Every coach in the NFL teaches fundamental football,” Gruden said. “Eventually we are going to have to execute a little bit better and make sure we understand that we’re being watched very closely.”

Read more:

Two games in, the Cowboys look every bit like a top NFC contender

Too many near-misses doom the Redskins in a frustrating loss to the Cowboys