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Opposing player to watch: Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan

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The Cowboys will have to figure out a way to contain the Redskins best pass-rusher, and perhaps without La’el Collins.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Almost exactly a month ago Ryan Kerrigan had arguably his best game of the year against the Cowboys with two sacks and two TFL. Despite running the ball well, and generally controlling the game, the Cowboys offense wasn’t able to produce explosive plays in the passing game to put the score out of reach and much of that was due to the pressure from Kerrigan and Preston Smith.

Of course on that day Kerrigan often lined up opposite of La’el Collins, who certainly struggled containing him in pass protection. Now in the second matchup the Cowboys may not even have Collins to line up across from the Redskins best pass-rusher, and even if they do it’s likely that he isn’t 100% after not practicing all week. Of course the alternative to Collins if he is unable to go is none other than Byron Bell or perhaps even Chaz Green, although considering his performance a few weeks ago I doubt the team would go back to him unless they have absolutely no other option. You also have to consider the fact that Green has never started a game at right tackle, and as far as I know has never even taken a snap there in a regular season game.

Bell on the other hand has a significant amount of starting experience at right tackle, which is where he started off his career in Carolina before transitioning to the left side. He hasn’t made a start there in about two years but at this point he is clearly the top option if Collins is unable to go. Either way, it’s a less than envious position to be in considering how the offensive line has struggled to protect Dak Prescott the past few games.

The good news is that the Redskins don’t have the same firepower off the edge as the Eagles or Chargers, but they aren’t that far off with Kerrigan, but also Smith, as well as Junior Galette off the edge. The three of them have combined for 15.5 sacks this year and they’re heating up, evidenced by the four-sack performance last week against the moribund Giants offense.

The return of Tyron Smith last week, and now Zack Martin following a concussion against the Chargers, will certainly help matters but it’s anybody’s guess as to how physically fit those two are. With the offense stuck in a historic funk the last thing they can afford in this game is an individual matchup single-handedly destroying the game plan, such as what happened against the Falcons.

If Collins is indeed out there is a very real possibility that the Bell vs. Kerrigan matchup could turn into just that. It’s not a stretch to say that the game could swing based on whether or not Bell can put in a respectable performance or not, or whether or not the coaching staff can manage to adjust the game plan based on an unfavorable matchup.

The defense will need all the help it can get against yet another very solid quarterback in Kirk Cousins, and if the offense has another game like they did against the Eagles or the Chargers where it’s just three and out after three and out with Dak Prescott looking to unload the ball because he doesn’t trust the protection, well, don’t be surprised if the end result is the same.

If the Cowboys want any realistic shot at making the playoffs they will likely have to win out, and even then that might not be enough to get them in, so clearly every game from here on out is a must-win. With their backs against the wall and the whole world seemingly crumbling around them the season very well may come down to a less-than-100% La’el Collins or Byron Bell vs. Ryan Kerrigan, and at this point we’ll just have to see what happens.