Cowboys offense vs. Redskins defense
Running game: Last week, the Cowboys ran the ball just enough to try and keep the Jags defense honest. The Cowboys running backs only carried the ball 20 times for 85 yards. Even though that's a limited number of carries, they did average just over 4 yards per rush, which isn't that bad of a number. I would expect Dallas to have a similar running attack this week against the Redskins.
Watching the tape of the Redskins game last week against Minnesota, the one thing the Redskins did very well in the game is recognize the run and limit the yards gained. It took Chester Taylor 31 rushing attempts to get 88 yards. The Redskins either had very good scouting to recognize the Vikings run formations or they were getting lucky. I tend to think it was the former. Almost every time the Vikings ran the ball the Redskins defensive line and LB's were making a bee-line to the ball. This told me they recognized the run formations and had scouted the plays well. Dallas will have to mix it up some and run play-action passes if they want to get the Washington defense to back off jumping the run game. Another option would be to run some misdirection plays and try to burn an aggressive run defense on the back-side. This may be a perfect game to pull out the flea-flicker play if Washington is keying on the runs.
Julius Jones had every Cowboys carry except for 3 by Marion Barber. That isn't the running back by committee approach that was the conventional wisdom going into the season. The other thing Dallas did in the running game that came as a surprise was their dedication to running between the tackles. Contrary to what I've seen written elsewhere, they were actually fairly effective in doing so. Their biggest run play, Julius' TD, was straight up the gut. Interestingly, a lot of the problems in between the tackles came from the edge of Jacksonville's line, either the defensive end beating the tackle blocks and pushing down the line to stop the play, or outside linebackers not getting chipped and running around the edge to catch the runner. Andre Gurode did a very good job of making a push on his run blocks in the middle.
On the outside runs they had some success, but they didn't go there very much in the game. The Jags utilized CB Rashean Mathis and LB Daryl Smith well in supporting the run defense on the outside. Dallas will have to test the outside this week to see if the Redskins CB's can supply similar run defense support. If they can't Dallas may choose to get Julius Jones to the outside more often.
If Drew Bledsoe hadn't turned the ball over last week and Dallas would've stayed away from making dumb penalties, the running game would've been effective enough to give us a win.
In the first half of this week's game, Dallas will run the ball only enough to remind the Redskins they can, because the Redskins are tough against the run. As the game progresses, they will hope to have a lead and start running more to control the clock and lessen the chance of Bledsoe mistakes. They may also want to mix in some screens or flare passes if the Redskins become overly aggressive in trying to stop the run.
Passing game: The Cowboys game hinges on how effectively they manage this portion of the offense. Last week, Dallas used the pass to set up the run, which may be an indication of where this offense is going this year. Certainly our receiving corps is one of our biggest strengths, and Parcells is a coach that will play to his strengths. (See his years in New England). With a very suspect Redskins secondary, I would anticipate Dallas to throw more than run again. Redskins CB's Carlos Rogers and Mike Rumph/Kenny Wright cannot handle Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn one-on-one. So it becomes a game of chicken. Who will break first, the Dallas offensive line in pass protection, or the Redskins secondary in coverage?
Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo have to contain DE's Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter. I expect Anthony Fasano to give a lot of help to the tackles throughout the game, with JJ/MB3 also helping out. The Redskins front four couldn't generate much of a pass rush against Minnesota until they started blitzing later in the game. Even then, they didn't blitz near the amount we were used to seeing. This might've been a concession to their shaky secondary. If they sit back again this week, the Cowboys can do some damage; if they start to blitz, Dallas can counter with just Owens, Glenn and Witten in the pattern.
Redskins safeties Sean Taylor and Adam Archuleta aren't known for their coverage skills, so expect Owens and Glenn to take some shots long this week, in hopes of catching the Redskins safeties out of position. If holding in some blockers gives Bledsoe time, he will make the defense pay and force them to start blitzing. Then it all rests on Bledsoe making good decisions and the offensive line doing a decent job of picking up the blitz schemes.
Another wrinkle the Redskins have thrown in on defense is using a 3-4 package. They went to this defense predominately in 3rd and long situations (and on 2nd down occasionally) and the Vikings absolutely abused them when they used it. Pray that they do the same against Dallas, because they didn't generate any pass rush out of it and the pass defense couldn't control the Minnesota receivers. And Dallas has a much better receiving corps than the Vikings. The Redskins gave up 9 of 17 3rd down conversions last week, and a lot of them came out of this formation on defense.
One thing the Vikings had that Dallas doesn't is a QB who rarely makes mistakes. Brad Johnson takes what a defense gives him and doesn't force the action. Drew Bledsoe tries to make something happen on every play, sometimes to his team's detriment. Last week's performance will hopefully calm Drew down a little bit, and he will let the game come to him instead of forcing it.
My expectations are for the Cowboys to come out throwing. They'll want to get Owens involved early to force the Redskins secondary to become overly conscious of him. Then they can utilize Terry Glenn and Jason Witten. The Redskins pass defense, including the LB's and safeties, is not good enough to handle the Cowboys receivers. They will be forced to blitz and hope they can sack Bledsoe or rattle him enough to make mistakes. Dallas should counter with max protect schemes, utilize short passes and yards after the catch, then beat them over the top once the defense pushes forward.