One key to winning games in the NFL is to understand how to set up and exploit mismatches. These can be formation advantages, personnel packages or straight player-vs-player matchups that create an advantage for your team to exploit.
Today we look at Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys using the ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) player grades to identify mismatches on both teams. If you need to read up on PFF check out Thursday's post or check out their site directly.
Redskins wide receivers vs. Cowboys cornerbacks
PFF ranks the Redskins receiving game the third worst in the league, ahead of only the Panthers and Cardinals. None of their receivers grade out particularly well, Santana Moss leads the charge as the 48th ranked WR in the league followed by Anthony Armstrong (80th). Joey Galloway (92nd) was released by the Redskins two weeks ago and replaced with Roydell Williams, who's only seen limited action so far this season. Normally, you'd argue that if the Redskins want to beat the Cowboys on Sunday, they'll have to do it on the ground. But these aren't normal times.
The Cowboys have just allowed two consecutive 200+ yards receiving games to opposing wide receivers, and the cornerbacks are a big part of the reason why. Mike Jenkins has given up 895 passing yards in coverage, the most by any corner in the league, Terence Newman ranks third on this list with 760 yards given up. The PFF grade for the Cowboys' top corners reflects this: Newman is ranked 96th out of 99 NFL corners with a grade of -11.6, Jenkins is ranked 92nd with -9.6. Orlando Scandrick on the other hand is ranked 44th on the list with a grade -0.2, not bad at all, considering he is the slot corner most of the time (see also KD's post on Scandrick returning to his rookie form).
Last year, Jenkins was the 15th best corner in the league (+9.7) according to PFF, with Newman close behind in the 21st spot (+6.8). A drop of almost 20 grade points by both former Pro Bowl corners at the same time is an indication that their troubles are perhaps less due to talent, and more about scheme and perhaps the lack of pressure up front.
Regardless, the Redskins would be well advised to test the Cowboys' corners early and often. The risk of course is that either or both could suddenly (re-)discover their takeaway skills, but the season so far would indicate that that's not very likely.
Redskins LT Trent Williams vs. Cowboys ROLB DeMarcus Ware
Rookie Trent Williams (-16.2 on the season) grades out as one of the worst left tackles in the league and ranks 65th among all 81 offensive tackles. He'll have his hands full against DeMarcus Ware (+31.4), who currently ranks as the fourth best outside linebacker in the league. The Redskins will likely give Williams a lot of TE and HB/FB help, thereby opening the door for 'Almost' Anthony Spencer.
Spencer is still an above average OLB, but his +11.9 grade this year is significantly down versus the +24.5 he had last year. Fortunately, Spencer will be facing Jammal Brown (-17.2 on the season), the 68th ranked offensive tackle. Regardless of whether Donovan McNabb or Rex Grossman will start for the Redskins, they'll have to get rid of the ball in hurry on Sunday.
Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Redskins ILB Rocky McIntosh
PFF rank Jason Witten as the number one tight end in the league (+19.9), ahead of the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis (+18.2) and - wait for it - Martellus Bennett (+12.0). Witten will likely go up against Rocky McIntosh (-11.3), who ranks 51st among 51 ILBs in the league. McIntosh has allowed 93 percent of the passes thrown his way to get caught (40 of 43), a figure that bodes well for Jason Witten:
Witten currently has 72 receptions for the 2010 season. With eight receptions against the Redskins, he would be the first TE in league history to record four successive seasons with 80-or-more receptions. He'd also move up into a tie with Tony Gonzalez for the most career seasons of 80-or-more catches by a tight end with five.