Check below for previous scouting reports in this series:
The Cowboys will first face off against the Redskins in Week 7, their final game before going into the bye week. Their other game is the Thanksgiving classic. The Cowboys have gone 8-2 against Washington since 2013, and haven’t lost to Jay Gruden’s team since the 2015 season finale when Kellen Moore was starting at quarterback.
But the 2018 Redskins are pretty different from past seasons. Kirk Cousins is no longer with the team, as they traded for Alex Smith and let Cousins go in free agency. They drafted LSU running back Derrius Guice in the second round, and he should be the starter, with Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine getting some additional work. There are questions at receiver, as Josh Doctson is being counted on to become their go-to guy, and Paul Richardson was given a lot of money despite only having a career high of 703 receiving yards.
Along the offensive line, Washington also has some issues. Trent Williams is one of the best left tackles in the game, and Brandon Scherff has been really good at right guard. Morgan Moses seemed to solidify his role as the starting right tackle last year, but center and left guard are weaknesses. Chase Roullier saw plenty of time at center, though it wasn’t encouraging, but he might possibly move to left guard, a bigger question mark. None of the remaining guards on the team are frontrunners to start, and the idea of moving tackles TJ Clemmings or Ty Nsehke to left guard has been floated.
The Achilles heel of this offense is clearly their offensive line. The interior will be attacked a lot by the 1-technique and 3-technique defensive tackles, and Rod Marinelli might even move some quicker pass rushers inside to take advantage; Kony Ealy could be a prime candidate for that, especially with how adept he is at batting down passes. DeMarcus Lawrence should have a field day against Moses as well, but look for Jaylon Smith to get some blitzes up the middle to attack the weak interior of this line.
Creating pressure will be difficult against Alex Smith, though. He thrives on getting the ball out quickly and accurately, and in order to get any sacks or hits on him, the secondary will have to play tight. New secondary coach Kris Richard had much success in Seattle by teaching his defensive backs how to effectively jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage and throw them off their routes. That will come in handy here, and if guys like Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis can succeed in that, Smith will have to hold the ball a bit longer. While his mobility and pocket presence make him a threat to scramble, a competent attack up the middle of the offensive line should shrink his windows for running.
Stopping Guice will be a slightly bigger challenge. The Redskins have typically run a power running game with Gruden, and Guice fits that bill perfectly. In early down situations, though, Maliek Collins and David Irving, both of whom should be back and healthy by then, would match up well against those interior blockers. If Sean Lee is still on the field, he’ll be a huge part of stopping Guice. If not, then Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott will need to be firing on all cylinders and force Gruden to abandon the run early.
Speaking of Dak and Zeke, the Redskins’ defense offers plenty of holes for them to exploit. Washington’s run defense last year was horrid, ranking last in the NFL and surrendering 134 rushing yards per game. Elliott only played against this defense once last year, but he racked up 150 yards and two touchdowns. Drafting nose tackle Da’Ron Payne in the first round was meant to help stop the run. Ideally, he’ll be starting next to Jonathan Allen and Ziggy Hood, though fifth-round nose tackle Tim Settle could see some use in run situations with Payne moving over to take Hood’s spot.
The linebacker corps has a few question marks too. Mason Foster is returning from a torn labrum, and it looks to be a battle between Zach Brown, Josh Harvey-Clemons, and rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton. Ryan Kerrigan is a sure thing, and one of the most underrated pass rushers in the league, but he’ll facing Tyron Smith a lot. The ‘Skins are lacking other great pass rushers, choosing between Preston Smith, Pernell McPhee, and Ryan Anderson to start opposite Kerrigan. Washington needs an effective pass rush, as their secondary is weaker than it has been in recent years.
Losing Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller will certainly take a toll on this defense as a whole. Josh Norman is still good, as long as he keeps his cool, but there isn’t much depth after that. Orlando Scandrick is there after requesting Dallas to let him go, but he’s decidedly on the last leg of his career. Second-year player Fabian Moreau is an early candidate to get plenty of reps alongside Norman and Scandrick in nickel packages, but supplemental draft pick Adonis Alexander could end up challenging for reps too. The safeties aren’t much better, as it’ll likely be a combination of DJ Swearinger, Deshazor Everett, and Montae Nicholson.
Overall, the Redskins upgraded their run defense with Payne and Settle, but the defense still has several holes, especially in the secondary. Elliott may not put up 150 yards again, but it would be hard to think he won’t continue to be successful against this defense; in three career games against Washington, Elliott has run for 330 yards and five touchdowns. A strong offensive line makes it an even easier matchup.
These two games also seem like moments where Prescott can really show off his talent. Avoiding Norman would be smart, but expect a lot of drag and crossing routes towards Scandrick and Moreau - or whomever the third corner ends up being - to take advantage of the weak coverage. Washington might switch Kerrigan to the strong side for an easier matchup with La’el Collins, but the rest of this front seven seems to lack the pass rushing talent necessary to force Prescott into making bad throws.
Of course, it has to be mentioned that we’re talking about the Cowboys and Redskins here, one of the oldest rivalries in NFL history. Even when one team is having a down year, these games can be close. It’s hard to forget when Rex Grossman threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns in 2010, looking like Joe Theismann 2.0. The ‘Skins have enough talent between Smith, Guice, and Jamison Crowder to where they could make it a game, and there’s always a very heavy incentive to beat the Cowboys at home on Thanksgiving.
The head coach seems to be on the hot seat, and after a change at quarterback to fit Gruden’s style better, the pressure seems to only be increasing. Of course, the offensive line is suspect and the defense lost some key players without quality reinforcements. That can be a recipe for disaster, where the head coach succumbs to the pressure and loses the locker room. It could also be all the motivation needed to squeeze out an upset or two over division rivals. On paper, this looks like two possible wins for Dallas, but they cannot allow themselves to think that.