Week 2 brings another familiar opponent in division rival and 2015 NFC East Champion Washington Redskins. The two teams split their games last season with both teams winning on the road. This is another team that Cowboys fans are very familiar with so let’s take a look at the offensive strengths and weaknesses of the 2016 Redskins.
After a tumultuous first couple of seasons sitting behind Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins took the reins in 2015 and did not disappoint. After a slow start Cousins had a torrid finish to the season with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the final half of the season, compared to 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions over the first half. Perhaps this was nothing but a flash in the pan, a quarterback taking advantage of poor defenses just playing out the string (the Redskins did not beat a single team with a winning record last season), but it could also be the emergence of a franchise quarterback for a team that has been without one for the better part of two decades.
Cousins is not a quarterback who will freelance and make amazing plays outside of the design of the play once it breaks down like an Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson. He is an efficient player who goes where the reads take him, often favoring short, high percentage passes that allow the receiver to gain yards after the catch. Despite an impressive YPA in 2015, when you watch Cousins he could be described as something of a “dink and dunk” quarterback, often looking for targets within 5-10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He will take opportunistic deep shots, especially when given 1-on-1 coverage, but his first inclination is to run a possession-based, somewhat conservative passing game.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Cousins has an impressive array of targets in the passing game, which include burner DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, impressive second-year slot man Jamison Crowder and 2015 breakout star Jordan Reed. The key to the Redskins passing game is Reed, who is Cousins preferred target, mainly because he is a reliable safety valve who can break tackles and gain yards after the catch, but also because he can be relied on to win contested balls in 1-on-1 situations. Reed was plagued by injuries early in his career but he broke out last season as one of the best tight ends in the league. It must be noted that the Cowboys did a good job with Reed in both matchups last year, limiting him to less than 50 yards and no touchdowns in each game.
Veterans Jackson and Garcon are both dangerous after the catch and can burn you deep, especially Jackson. With that said they are both inconsistent and disappear at times, and neither is a true number one, elite receiver type, but as a tandem they can do serious damage. Crowder had an impressive rookie season, and Cowboys fans know how dangerous he can be as his best game of the year came in the final week of the season in Dallas. He is primarily a threat from the slot and is similar to Cole Beasley in that he is more quick than fast, using shiftiness, side-to-side agility and crisp route running to shake defenders in the middle of the field. Also like Beasley he is not someone you want to rely on as an outside receiver that can win with size and physicality. The Redskins drafted former TCU receiver Josh Doctson with the 22nd-overall pick this past April. While Doctson had an impressive collegiate career he missed the entire offseason, including all of training camp and the preseason, and he likely won’t be much of a factor early in the year.
Joining Cousins in the backfield is 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones. There has been hype around Jones in some circles but looking at his 2015 performance it seems to be unwarranted. There is no doubting that Jones had an impressive couple of games, but overall he only managed 490 rushing yards on 3.4 YPC, to go along with 304 receiving yards. At 6-2, 232 Jones clearly looks the part but that has not translated into production yet. He is backed up by rookie UDFA Rob Kelley and receiving back Chris Thompson after rookie Keith Marshall was placed on I.R. This unit is the weak link of the offense.
The offensive line features one of the top left tackles in the league, Trent Williams, and 2015 fifth-overall pick Brandon Scherff at right guard. Scherff had an impressive rookie season and seems destined to be a future Pro Bowler, while Williams has already made several and was second-team All-Pro in 2015. Despite those two the Redskins offensive line is still a generally average unit due to their other three starters who all range from average to liabilities. Center Kory Lichtensteiger and left guard Shawn Lauvao are both replacement-level players; especially Lichtensteiger considering that the Redskins completed a trade for Patriots center Bryan Stork which was nullified by a failed physical. Right tackle Morgan Moses has been nothing more than an average starter since taking over the job last season. Despite being coached by former Cowboys line coach Bill Callahan the Redskins unit is average in pass protection and a poor run blocking unit. They are partially shielded in pass protection by the fact that Cousins usually looks to get the ball out of his hands quick and doesn’t often hold it in hopes of connecting on a deep ball.
Where The Cowboys Can Take Advantage:
- Poor running game could make the Redskins one-dimensional and overly reliant on the passing game
- Outside of Jordan Reed the other receiving targets are inconsistent and sometimes disappear from games
- Offensive line is average in pass protection and poor at run blocking
What The Cowboys Must Fear:
- Quick release and short-range accuracy of Cousins could keep the chains moving and the Cowboys offense off the field
- Receivers that can be explosive after the catch
- If Byron Jones is preoccupied covering Jordan Reed 1-on-1 it could leave the back end of the secondary susceptible to deep balls over the top