The Cowboys are favored by 3 or 3.5, depending on the site you visit, versus the Commanders this Sunday.
Does that seem right? Let’s think about this.
Gallup will no doubt be playing, which has a compounding impact on the offense’s potential.
But even without Gallup, we need to consider some important facts about the trajectory of this current iteration of the Cowboys.
What Dallas did in New York was very encouraging, to put it mildly. Despite an unsettled offensive line, a backup QB, a pair of backup TEs, missing their WR2 and playing in hostile territory against an undefeated opponent, Dallas improved on offense from the prior week’s victory, en route to a win that was complementary football in fine form. Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush entirely neutralized the mad scientist blitz artist Wink Martindale—so much so that when Dallas went on a late run of 17 unanswered points, the fear of some exotic Martinblitz wrecking a play was scarcely a whisper of concern. Instead of worrying about pressure my prevailing thought was "Wow, Rush really does just let that thing rip every time he completes his drop back."
As many predicted, Dallas is not getting the lucky bounces leading to an embarrassment takeaways when on defense this year. They are getting stops the old fashioned way: by having an alien from another planet, named Micah Parsons wreak havoc. He didn’t get home with a sack vs the Giants, but he was a human tornado hitting the line, requiring so much attention that others plowed through the debris and introduced "Danny Dimes" to the turf all night.
Also, the offense is starting to figure out how to go on long marches without shooting themselves too badly in their twenty-two feet. The seventeen point surge was more than enough of a palate cleanser to leave fans impressed and optimistic heading into this week.
They did it with clutch short passes, clutch runs and clutch deep passes. That was a lot of clutch and Cooper was the leader.
And on special teams, Maher is kicking true and Turpin is starting to work his magic.
Jason Peters made a cameo, long enough to open up a generous hole that Pollard shot through on the way to a massive run, as well as shoring up protection on other key plays.
All of this is highly relevant to the Washington game at home this week. Dallas very likely adds Peters to the line for the full game and Gallup to the WR corps for significant snaps, if not the full contest.
Consider that Parsons was sick/recovering from flu (?) for the Giants game and Dallas still had five sacks ( a penalty erased a sixth sack)—and Parsons should be far healthier for the Washington game. Put a pin in that while we look at some numbers on Washington.
Has Washington Earned the Name Commanders This Year?
Lets Look at that Commanding Offense
Washington is last in the NFL in sacks allowed.
Washington is last in sack yardage: a whopping 95 yards. Through 3 games, they’ve lost nearly the length of the field to sacks.
And their line is second-to-last in adjusted sack rate. However you look at it, their line is a disaster at pass blocking.
But somehow, PFF has their guards ranked in 20’s in pass blocking—logic would dictate that they would be lower, because PFF also has both of their tackles ranked ahead of Dallas’ tackles. Now, I realize that sacks are often partly the QBs fault, but come on, the Commanders’ O-line leads the league in sack yardage allowed, you can’t blame that much on Wentz.
You can certainly blame him for a significant amount, but their rankings clearly indicate they have put most of the blame on him. Wentz’ time to throw is just 4 hundredths of a second longer than Hurts. And yes, Hurts scrambles a lot during his lengthy time-to-throw intervals, but it isn’t as if Wentz is a complete statue. He scrambles some as well. To try and parse all that out is tricky. PFF seems to be saying "Washington’s line deserves less blame because Wentz is making fewer plays with his longish time to throw." Not sure that works, logically—to extent that they are calibrating it. But fine, the Wash line stinks and Wentz holds it too long. For Dallas’ defense, it’s like putting your dogs in the backyard to hunt a three-legged rabbit.
At center, this is the second week in a row that Dallas will face a leaky line that is weakest at the center position. They have backup Wes Sweitzer playing now. Sweitzer was PFF’s lowest-graded starter on the entire team last week. I’m sure that D-Law will be merciful on third downs when he shifts inside. It’s not like he’s competing with Parsons for sacks or anything.
As far as run blocking goes, the Commanders rank 26th, according to Football Outsiders. Their line just can’t block, period.
No team should be able to beat Dallas with an offensive line like that.
And Wentz ranks 26th in QB DVOA.
How About That Commanding Defense?
Defensively, Washington is 26th overall in DVOA. They really seem attached to that number. They are 28th in pass DVOA, 16th in rush DVOA.
The Commanders rank evenly poor across their defensive front in run defense. They’ve been weakest thus far defending runs on the right perimeter, ranking 24th, but pretty much all across the front they are below average. Dallas will likely have success running wherever they see fit.
From mid-guard to left tackle is the area where most teams have attacked thus far. Dallas could do some serious damage there with Smith and Peters working together.
The bright spot for Washington on defense is their ability to get sacks. They have eight thus far, which is well above average, although still five behind Dallas’ league-leading 13.
Dallas counters that with an O-line that is coming together and a QB with the second-fastest time to throw time in Cooper Rush. His number is very close to the league leader, Tom Brady. The ball is coming out very fast. And Rush plants and fires. He throws with anticipation, meaning he’s throwing to a spot and trusting the receiver will be there. Thus far, his ability to calmly do this throughout the game is producing winning football. He can’t be blamed for the drops in the first half against the Giants. His stat line very easily could have been twice as impressive, had his receivers caught a few of those drops. And Dallas could have blown the G-men out of their own stadium if that had happened.
I make that point to say that this week’s game vs. the Commanders could be the game when the Dallas offense locks in an serves notice that last season’s league leading scoring machine has been recalibrated and is back in the juggernaught class.
If that seems like too much to ask for, consider this:
Rush won’t hesitate to throw the deep ball. He will have a full WR corps, with Gallup playing. Gallup bumps Brown to WR3, meaning he’ll enjoy softer coverage. Gallup immediately takes the role of intermediate-to-deep threat.
Noah Brown could be an absolute chain-moving stud against Washington. With the defensive focus spread among Lamb, Gallup, Pollard, Schultz—Noah can be that WR-TE hybrid that Washington is otherwise too occupied to deal with. And because Noah is such a good blocker, they can run with him in there making 11-personnel function like 12 personnel. But they can also go to 12 and 13-personnel and have any of their three tight ends become a receiving target against a heavy defensive package designed to stop the run. Play-action was fantastic on Monday night. All this is good stuff.
A few more tidbits in Dallas’ favor:
F. O. Has Dallas tied for first in Power run blocking stats.
Dallas is second in stuffed (not getting stuffed). These are short-yardage stats, primarily, which means that when Dallas lines up with one or two yards to go for a first or a TD, they get their yardage. That’s kind of an under-the-radar stat this is actually very important.
Dallas is 13th in second level yards. This number would be higher, but Pollards huge run vs. the Bengals was technically a pass due to the pitch being forward.
Dallas is 7th in RB yards. Again, would be higher.
On 29 % of his runs, Pollard is going against 8+ defenders in the box, 7th-highest rate for a RB. Yet, Pollard ranks 7th-most in rushing yards over expected, despite Zeke getting the most carries. Pollard is 5th in rushing yards over expected per attempt, just barely behind Saquon Barkley.
Dallas is 4th in special teams DVOA, Washington is 18th.
I understand that "on any given Sunday" and all that, but I find it odd that it’s just a 3-point or 3.5-point spread, because this looks like one that Dallas should win by 10 or more points.
Predicting scores is kind of dumb, but I will anyway: