It couldn’t get any simpler than that on the last day of the regular season – Win, and you clinch the NFC East title and go to the playoffs. Lose, and it’s over. The Dallas Cowboys already lost this season to the Washington Redskins. They can’t afford to do that again.
The problem? The Redskins are going through their longest winning streak in 16 years, taking their last six games. The main reason for their 9-6 season? The obvious one. Robert Griffin III, with 3100 passing yards (only 5 interceptions) and 752 yards on the ground, averaging 6.6 per carry.
If you want to stop the Redskins, you begin by halting RG3, and that means DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, the outside linebackers in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme are the key men. Sacking him isn’t that important this time. Containing Griffin from exploding to the outside and keeping him in the pocket, where he is efficient but a tad more predictable, is probably going to be their main job for yet another do or die December game for Dallas, which didn’t go to well for them last season.
The numbers tell the story – Griffin has a Total QBR of 97.7 against five or more pass rushers this season, the highest in the NFL. He’s completing 68.4% of his passes against added pressure, and hasn’t thrown a single interception this season when facing five or more pass rushers. He was 6-for-7 for 131 yards and two touchdowns when facing added pressure against the Cowboys in Week 12.
Tony Romo needs DeMarco Murray back, who wasn’t there when the Cowboys lost to the Redskins. The second year running back returned after that loss to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, but has struggled in being his former explosive self, not running for more than 83 yards in a game, but did get in the end zone three times over the last four contests.
He is needed in more than just his ability to get yards. Defenses respect him more than anyone else in the Cowboys’ backfield. Tony Romo doesn’t get all the pressure, and suddenly that play action looks a whole of a lot better. When Murray is active, Romo has a plus-7 touchdown-to-interception differential and averages 11.2 yards per attempt on play-action passes. Without him, he is a minus-1 and averages only 3.9 yards per attempt.
The Redskins run a great play action thanks to Alfred Morris and the fear from Robert Griffin III. The key for the Dallas defense will be to remain disciplined and not bite on fakes. Griffin makes the most of deep openings, which means the Dallas Secondary, which has had plenty of ups and downs this season, needs to be at its best.
Prediction – The Redskins are the better football team at the moment, but you just never know with the Dallas Cowboys. If DeMarco Murray has a good day, the Cowboys win this one, because Tony Romo, despite all the criticism, is great when some pressure is taken off his shoulders.