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Cowboys vs. Redskins: It’s simple, if Cowboys can’t beat Washington, they’re not contenders

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This week’s NFC East battle is going to determine which team is a playoff contender.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s game in the NFC East is going to help set the tone for how the division will shake out this season. We know that this division is always one of the more contested battles in all of football. We’ve heard NBC’s Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth mention the fact that “there hasn’t been a repeat champion since 2004” countless times.

In the past 10 seasons, the NFC East has only sent two teams to the postseason three times, in 2008, 2009, and 2016. In the NFC playoff picture, this division is currently last with a winning percentage of .442. With the way things are looking, there won’t be a Wildcard berth in the East this year either with the likely teams coming from the North and South. If you want to make it to the postseason, to borrow a line from Major League, the only way is to win the whole *expletive* thing. This game is difficult to pick when you have two teams with great defenses and highly suspect offenses.

What can we really make of these Cowboys with what we’ve seen so far? All we really know is that the defense can hang with anyone and the offense only shows up at home. What about the Washington Redskins? Are they a good team? Well, they have a pretty good defense as well. They’re certainly not a bad team but they do have a lot of similar struggles as the Cowboys. The NFC East is a division of Jekyll and Hyde teams vying for the top spot but you really don’t know which team is going to show up week-after-week.

The Cowboys could barely move the football against the Texans who were allowing almost an 80% conversion rate in the red zone. Then they absolutely wallop a better Jaguars defense the next week, blowing them out 40-7. The Redskins lose to a one-dimensional Colts team that is 1-5 but they beat the Packers soundly by two touchdowns? Nothing about these two teams offensive performances through these first six weeks can be trusted.

Both have issues finding efficiency in the passing game, both rank near the bottom of the league in just about every passing statistic. The Redskins with Alex Smith are slightly more balanced on offense ranking 24th in passing and 12th in rushing. The Cowboys are 29th in passing but second in rushing so there’s room to improve in the balance department. These two quarterbacks are not aggressive passers and though they’re good at protecting the football, you need to take risks on occasion. We can talk about Washington being without Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson but passing isn’t exactly either team’s strong-suit. Both offenses rely heavily on being able to run the football which might be a problem in this game. It just so happens that defenses are also two of the best run-stopping units in the league.

In their three wins, the Redskins are converting 45% on third down versus only 31% in their losses. The Cowboys have only converted 39% in their wins and 24% in their losses but there’s hope. In week six, Dallas was 6 of 9 or 67% in the first-half against the Jags. In the second-half the Cowboys were 1 of 8 but added 16 more points and were clearly trying to eat as much clock as possible. It’s also worth noting they were 58% in the second-halves of their other two wins.

Here’s a snapshot of how these two match up on offense and defense:

When Cowboys offense is on the field:

Ranks Total Yards PPG Pass Run 3rd Down Pct.
DAL OFF. 29 (319.5) 26 (20.5) 29 (172) 2 (147.5) 30 (31%)
WAS DEF. 5 (326.2) 8 (20.8) 11 (236) 6 (90.2) 23 (43%)

When Redskins offense is on the field:

Ranks Total Yards PPG Pass Run 3rd Down Pct.
DAL DEF. 5 (315.2) 2 (17.2) 8 (224.5) 7 (90.7) 20 (42%)
WAS OFF. 25 (344) 24 (21.2) 24 (227.2) 12 (116.2) 17 (40%)

The Cowboys offense finally came alive in week six and are +20 in point differential, they were -6 prior, now they rank in the Top-10. On the flip side, Washington was sitting at -14 before they won in week six and now are +2. The Redskins may have won (thanks to three Panthers turnovers) but they are coming off their second-lowest offensive output of the season and their worst was the week prior against the Saints. The Cowboys are coming off their second-highest offensive performance of the season. Hopefully, the Cowboys offense can show that last week wasn’t a fluke but more a trend of a unit that is finding itself. They will certainly need it against that stingy Washington defense.

Another hopeful trend for the Cowboys offense is the improvement in red zone scoring where the Cowboys were 80% last week. Before week six, the Jags only allowed four red zone scores on 12 attempts (33%), the Cowboys doubled their season total in one game. Washington has allowed scores on 66.7% of red zone trips but Dallas still has to prove they can capitalize on clear cut advantages.

So far, the Cowboys have faced a slightly tougher schedule (.468) than the Redskins (.428). At the same time, Dallas has faced better defenses while Washington has faced two of the very best NFL offenses. The major difference is that the Redskins have beaten two NFC teams currently occupying the NFC wildcard spots. The Cowboys have two losses to teams ahead of them in the NFC playoff race. There are so many similarities in these two teams but the pressure is all on the Cowboys to win this game. The path for the Cowboys is pretty clear, win the division because you don’t want to be in the same position as last year looking around for help. This game is simple for the Cowboys, you got to win to contend.