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Cowboys vs. Redskins: A Week 17 primer for the 2019 regular season

One last shot at making the playoffs for the Cowboys

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

The last time these two teams played each other, all was well in Dallas. The Cowboys had just obliterated the Giants in their season opener, Kellen Moore’s offense looked unstoppable, and Dak Prescott had put up a perfect passer rating while throwing for over 400 yards.

Then the team came up to the nation’s capitol and did more or less the same thing to the Redskins. While Dak “only” threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns, he had only four incompletions, one of which was a dropped pass that resulted in a pick. But Dallas also piled up 200+ rushing yards and got a convincing 31-21 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated. As a result, the Cowboys were off to a hot 2-0 start and next faced the putrid Dolphins, setting up a nice start for a team that looked like a Super Bowl contender.

Now, entering Week 17, everything has changed. Washington fired their head coach only a few games after the Cowboys loss, rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins became the starter, got benched, and then became the starter again before getting injured last week, and the organization could be in for a major front office shakeup as well.

In Dallas, a coaching shakeup could be coming but without the front office uncertainty. While Jerry and Stephen Jones will undoubtedly still be running the show, the Cowboys on Monday could commence a fully-open head coaching search for the first time since the 2006 season ended.

While the Redskins’ season is over and has been for a while, the Cowboys do technically still have a shot at making the playoffs. First, they have to win at home against Washington, and then they need the Giants to knock off an Eagles team they took to overtime earlier this month. It’s not unrealistic, but it does set up a unique opportunity for the ‘Skins to play spoiler to their longtime, bitter rivals. Oh, and their interim head coach is Bill Callahan, the former Cowboys offensive coordinator who got a de facto demotion in favor of Scott Linehan. What are the odds he has a chip on his shoulder?

Nevertheless, this is a game the Cowboys should win, especially given how much better their offense seems to perform at home; they average 30 points at home compared to 22 points on the road. And even though Prescott, along with several other key contributors on the offense, is dealing with injury, they’re facing a defense that’s had issues stopping people all year.

Washington ranks 25th in total yards allowed, 14th in passing yards allowed, 29th in rushing yards allowed, and 24th in points allowed per game. While their passing defense rank looks good, though, it’s worth noting that they’ve seen the tenth fewest passing attempts per game, due in large part to their porous run defense. In fact, Washington’s pass defense DVOA ranks 23rd in the league, only slightly better than their 25th ranked run defense.

In short, the Cowboys should at least triple their point total from last week, and running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should be in line for big games. But what’s less of a sure thing is how the Cowboys defense will perform against a question mark of an offense.

With Haskins out, Case Keenum will be back in the starting lineup for the first time since Week 8. He’s taking back command of a unit that has struggled to do much of anything. They rank 31st in total yards, dead last in passing, 21st in rushing, and 31st in scoring. Their DVOA rankings reflect the same, ranking 29th in total offense, 29th in passing offense, and 22nd in rushing offense.

The offense had been starting to click in recent weeks, averaging 27 points per game the last four weeks. But the injury to Haskins and change to Keenum, who averaged just 13 points per game as a starter, might hinder production as they try and score a season-ending upset over the Cowboys.

Then again, the Dallas defense has been known to give up chunks of yards to average teams this year, evidenced in last week’s 300+ passing yards to a team down their three starting receivers and with a banged-up starting tight end. With Jason Garrett coaching in what could be his last game ever with the team, as well as several high profile players, there’s great potential for things to get weird.

To reiterate, this is a game the Cowboys should win, but if they won games they were supposed to win, then they might have been in a position to rest their starters for this one anyway. If things go their way on Sunday, Dallas might be preparing for a playoff game. If not, they’ll be making phone calls and asking for résumés as they begin a coaching search.

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