On Thanksgiving afternoon, the Washington Redskins travel to Dallas, TX for a rematch from week two against their arch rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. Dave Halprin of Blogging The Boys was kind enough to answer some of our questions about Dallas and provide insight into how their season has gone since our last match-up.
The Cowboys are 9-1 a year after going 4-12. Surely there have to be many more reasons besides just the addition of a good rookie QB. What changed?
There are other reasons, but I would have to say that the emergence of Dak Prescott as quarterback accounts for a big percentage of the positive change for the 2016 Cowboys. Last year, once Dallas lost Tony Romo to injury, the trio of backup quarterbacks that took their shot at guiding the team were, let's be charitable about this, inept. Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore were never able to overcome their journeymen status and the whole team suffered. The Cowboys became one-dimensional in many respects, teams just loaded the box and dared the Cowboys to pass on them. Dallas wasn't very successful in that regard. As a result, scoring was down and the defense was exposed more. Prescott has changed much of that.
Of course, we can't forget about the job Ezekiel Elliott is doing. He's been as good as advertised coming out of Ohio State, teams now have to pick their poison, stack the box and leave Prescott with one-one-one situations, or back off and have Elliott gash them. Side note, the offensive line is of course the foundation for all of this. The Cowboys have weapons across the board on offense and a quarterback who can utilize them. One other thing changed for Dallas, their secondary is playing much better than it has in the recent past. Dallas changed secondary coaches this past offseason, and it seems to have made a world of difference.
Dak Prescott has had just about as good of a start as anyone could have imagined to his career. Why has he played so far above expectations and what do you expect from him the rest of the season?
There are a combination of factors that are at the core of Prescott's success. Let's start with some outside of him. The Cowboys offensive line is a big help. Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant and the rest of the offensive weapons are a big help. Having all the elements in place around him on offense is contributing to his success. But, there is a lot of it that is due to him. One is that, according to coaches and insiders, he is always prepared, he spends the time to study, to watch game film, he does everything he can in preparation for games. He's also taken to coaching very well, he needed to learn a lot in the offseason and he did, including proper drop-backs after operating out of the shotgun in college, and improving his footwork. He's a sponge and can translate that learning to the field.
Then there is his on-the-field presence. Cool as the other side of the pillow. He never gets rattled, even when things are going poorly. He's also very smart, the Cowboys are basically giving him the entire playbook and he's handled it. He has the ability to run the ball, but he doesn't do it much, he prefers to stand tall in the pocket and pick out his receivers. He has poise and presence. The veterans respect him already. And, not least of all, he throws a pretty accurate ball. He just looks like a natural quarterback. I expect Dak to be as good as he has been for the rest of the season, maybe even better as he learns more.
Ezekiel Elliott joined Dallas after being the #4 overall pick in the 2016 draft and immediately became the team's #1 RB. We've all seen the stats, but from someone who's probably watched every game of his so far, how do you evaluate his performance?
Phenomenal. Elliott has exceeded expectations and those expectations were high. He is a natural runner with great vision and burst. He has the ability to hit the home run ball at any time. His quickness in getting to the edge has given him the ability to extend a play that looks clogged in the middle. But, here is where he's been better than I thought he would be - he gets the dirty yards. He's actually a very physical runner when it's time for contact. He's almost always moving the pile forward and he'll turn a potential no-gainer into a two-yard gain simply by churning his legs and hitting the line hard.
He's also a weapon in the passing game. He can catch passes out of the backfield and create yards after catch. And when it comes to pass protection, I can honestly say he's among the best I've ever seen for a running back. Not only in reading the blitz and picking up the defensive man, but in his physical nature of applying the block. He is truly an all-around back, in baseball they would call him a five-tool player.
If you were putting together the Redskins' game-plan this week, how would you play Dallas' offense? How about their defense?
In playing against the Cowboys offense, you have to stop the run first. If the Cowboys can consistently run the ball, they will just own the time of possession and they will score. You can't let them own the line of scrimmage. Not only do you need to add an extra man in the box, but you need to call run blitzes and stunts specifically aimed at jamming up the rushing lanes. The downside is this is going to expose your secondary and leave some one-on-one situations, but as a defense you have to take that chance because if the Cowboys can run the ball they will just dominate and leave the opposing offense with very few drives in the game, limiting their chance to score points.
The Cowboys run a bend-don't-break defense. They will allow teams to drive the field but they will make them take a lot of plays to do it. They counts on mistakes or penalties to blow up those drives for the offense. They are also protected by an offense that limits the drives for the opposing offense. I think teams sometimes fall into the trap of just taking what the Cowboys defense gives them and trying to take 10 plays to march down the field. With the Cowboys lack of pass rush, I would take more chances downfield on the Cowboys defense. I would be aggressive and really challenge them. Especially now that the Cowboys are missing a starting safety (Barry Church) and a starting corner (Morris Claiborne). I would really get after them, try to make some explosive plays.
Who wins? Why? And what's the score?
Gotta go with the Cowboys. Picking against them as a Cowboys fan would seem silly at this point when they just keep winning. As for why, they just don't seem to have a huge weakness. Their offense is explosive and can score points, and it's solidly balanced, so it's hard to load up and attack just one side of the equation, pass or run. Their defense has been surprisingly good this year, they are fifth in the league in points allowed per game at 18.7. The offense also helps to protect the defense in time of possession. I'd say Dallas 31 - Washington 24.
We’d like to thank Dave and Blogging The Boys for answering our questions.