The offense has been in a rut the past month. The defense has been without several key pieces throughout the season. Now at close to full strength, Dallas must deliver.
The Dallas Cowboys are as healthy and complete as they’ve been all season. The defense, despite its many injuries and health-related absences, has greatly exceeded expectations, while the offense has shown flashes of utter dominance that have been punctuated with inefficient play over the past month. With Washington sitting two games back in the division and a chance to build a three-game lead with four games remaining, Dallas must rise to the occasion to announce itself.
With the exception of the Atlanta game, Dak Prescott has not looked nearly as sharp as he did early on when he was playing at an MVP level. The running game, meanwhile, has been M.I.A. for much of the past month, resulting in more pressure for the franchise quarterback who has been less willing to scramble since the calf strain. Against Washington, that could cost Dallas dearly.
Although Montez Sweat has officially been listed as out for Sunday’s game, Washington’s front has found great success in recent weeks even in his absence. If the Cowboys can’t control the line of scrimmage and give their running backs a little wiggle room, as was the case last week against New Orleans outside of Tony Pollard’s 58-yard touchdown run, they’ll be in for a long day as Washington pass rushers pin their ears back and get after Prescott.
The Dallas defense, meanwhile, welcomed DeMarcus Lawrence back into the fold last week, seeing its $20 million pass rusher disrupt the game with relentless pressure, including a near sack-fumble that was ruled incomplete upon review. This week, Randy Gregory makes his much-anticipated return following a stint on IR with a calf issue. Gregory has been sensational this season, recording five sacks, two forced fumbles, and three tackles for loss. While those are nice numbers, they fail to tell the story of just how dominant Gregory has been in disrupting opposing offenses.
What will be interesting is seeing how the Cowboys elect to play rookie phenom Micah Parsons in light of Gregory’s return. Between Lawrence and Gregory’s absences throughout the first 11 games, Parsons has made a living in the backfield dragging down quarterbacks and running backs alike on his way to 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. While you could move Lawrence inside a bit to use Parsons in pass rush spot duty, it’ll be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dan Quinn elects to get creative given the magnitude of the game.
A win against Washington on Sunday more or less puts the division away for the Cowboys. A loss, however, would cut their lead to one game with a rematch with the Football Team being just two games away.
The team is at last healthy except for the Tony Pollard foot injury. The biggest game of the season is upon us. If the Cowboys are going to prove they aren’t “fool’s gold,” they’ll need to get the offense back on track and show it can be efficient even against a solid defense like Washington’s. The defense, meanwhile, will need to continue to be opportunistic and do what it can to shore up its run defense.
As our own RJ Ochoa pointed out, Mike McCarthy has been sensational in his career in the month of December. For Dallas to wrap up the division race and get on a roll on its way to the postseason, that trend must begin to build meaningful momentum Sunday with a dominant performance in Washington.
Written by Darreck Kirby