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Cowboys vs Redskins: What we learned from Washington's first division win

The Redskins came out on top against their division rival Dallas Cowboys; here is what we learned from the victory.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Redskins got consecutive wins for the first time this season with a win against their division rival. The Dallas Cowboys are not a great team by any means, but history is history and Dallas has run through the Redskins the past four match-ups. That losing streak ended along with the five straight home losses to Dallas as well. In a game that was dominated by the Redskins defense, Washington gave many people much to look forward to for the rest of the season on that side of the ball. The duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott was shut down for the first time in this new era of the rivalry, and Elliott was held to 33 rushing yards on the day. There is much more to be discussed, so here is what we learned from the week seven matchup.

Relax, quit the talks; Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan have a pulse.

Cornerback Josh Norman went through the same thing last week, his play to that point of the season was underwhelming and had cost the Redskins on a few big plays for scores. Norman quieted the noise, proving he was still a playmaker and solid cornerback for the Redskins against the Carolina Panthers. Credit well deserved. This week the credit goes to pass rushers Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan for their considerable contributions in a significant game for the Redskins.

In last week’s post, I mentioned “Any day now, Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith will make a difference as a pass rusher,” and it could not have come at a better time. Both Kerrigan and Smith totaled for two quarterback hits each, Kerrigan had two sacks and a forced fumble deep in Cowboys territory that was recovered by none other than Preston Smith for a touchdown. The script could not have been written any better for the two and maybe the starting point for a much better season than what was before week six. Always remember when it comes to Smith and Kerrigan, consistency is key, and impacting a game to this effect cannot be a one-time occurrence.

There is no fluke about it; the front seven is legit.

Since Greg Manusky has taken over, there was nothing tricky or complicated about what he wanted to do as a defensive coordinator. All Manusky wanted to get accomplished here was to be physical and stop the run. When a defense can stop the run and force a team to become one dimensional, the defense can attack the quarterback. The Cowboys running backs were held to 40 yards on 16 carries Sunday, and Dak Prescott threw 35 passes and was sacked four times. The Redskins “Alabama Wall” as people are starting to refer to defensive lineman Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, are wrecking offensive game plans up front. The defensive line in general, which has only been a rotation of Payne, Allen, and Matt Ioannidis, has been dominant. With those three being able to crash the quarterback pocket in passing situations and control the line of scrimmage in the run game, it bodes well for the second-line where the linebackers have free lanes to attack the ball carrier or beat a running back on a blitz assignment.

There is a growing need of a punt returner, Greg Stroman is struggling.

Rookie cornerback Greg Stroman has been on punt return duties for multiple games now and has had hardly any impact as a returner. It is one of two things in my opinion that is keeping him from flourishing, Stroman is scared to make a mistake and does not trust himself, or he does not see the field properly before fielding the ball. There were multiple occasions for Stroman in which he fair caught a punt with plenty of room to gain yards, hurting an already struggling offense that would need the excellent field position. Reluctantly, I am willing to give him a couple more games to see if there is an improvement, but from what I am seeing it is hard to say that will do much for him.

Although the play-calling was an issue throughout the game for Jay Gruden, there is no doubt coaching played a significant part in the victory.

The big issue of play-calling was a problem in short down and distances for Washington multiple times throughout the game, no doubt about it. Head coach Jay Gruden forgot Adrian Peterson was a Hall of Fame running back who has a high chance of getting a first down three yards and in, heading north and south. Instead he continued to run off tackle which is wasted motion. That has been a concern in games, mainly the Dallas and Indianapolis Colts, Gruden has to do a better job at recognizing the better percent chances of converting for first downs. Here is the good, the Cowboys defensive line is one of the best in the league, Alex Smith was only sacked once. The pass protection, for the most part, did a very good job in one-on-ones and handling stunt pickups. Washington on multiple occasions in previous Cowboys matchups, and even this year against the Colts, have struggled against the stunts. Coaching and preparation have proven to be useful for the players, and that is a good sign moving forward against more significant challenges.

Josh Doctson is becoming more of an emphasis, but he and Alex Smith still cannot get right.

The Redskins coaching staff understands the importance of Josh Doctson to this offense. Regardless of the perception of the fanbase, or even those within the organization, he is a first-round pick who is expected to contribute. Doctson has had at least five targets over the last four games, against the Cowboys he had six, and finished with three catches for a season-high 42 yards. Those aren’t numbers to get excited about; however, Doctson is being looked at more often as well as relied upon schematically. For whatever reason though, Smith and Doctson cannot connect outside of the hashes or downfield consistently to this point. There were a couple of opportunities in which Smith had chances and was just inaccurate in his pass. As the season moves along, expect Doctson to continue to get those chances. Hopefully, he and Smith can get on the same page sooner rather than later.

While the defense has proven to be playoff worthy, the offensive production has not, and may prove to be costly.

The offense once again has been unable to score a touchdown in the second half and was mainly a non-factor after the first quarter. There is no secret that the Redskins defense won the game for this team, not a problem at all. However, in the long run, if the Redskins offense does not pick up their production in the passing game, it will prove costly. The Redskins were in Dallas territory six times and accumulated just 13 points on those six opportunities. If that does not summarize how terrible the offense has been outside of Adrian Peterson, then something may be wrong with you. The positive going forward is that Alex Smith does protect the football which limits opposing offenses opportunities for extra possessions and opportunities to score. When you face better opponents Smith will have to do much better than just protecting the football.