Well, Cowboy fans. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride this season, but now it all comes down to the final game. As tough as the loss was to the Saints knowing the Redskins had already beaten the Eagles, a true football fan has to love the scenario. Win or go home. NFC East Champs or another long off season with nothing to talk about except who the Cowboys will take somewhere in the middle of the first round of the NFL draft in April. The playoffs essentially start a week early for the Cowboys and the Redskins.
Virtually no one outside of Valley Ranch is giving the Cowboys a chance to pull this out. They are ready to enshrine RGIII in Canton after less than one full season. No doubt he’s been impressive as a rookie. But, if I read the schedule correctly, the Redskins have lost a game or two this year with Griffin under center. In fact, they lost to the likes of the Rams and the Panthers. No question they’ve won 6 games in a row but they’ve also had the easiest schedule in the division over that same time frame. Here are what I consider some good reasons the Cowboys have a shot.
1. DeMarco Murray will play this time. This offense has come to life since he has returned to the lineup and it is more than just what he does to the running game. In fact, he’s actually made a very pedestrian offensive line appear to be playing better. In the November game, no DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones was injured during the game leaving only undrafted, free agent rookie Lance Dunbar to run the ball and pass protect.
2. Dez Bryant is dominating. After a very quiet first 8 games this season, he and Tony Romo have lit up the scoreboard. Dez only had 2 touchdowns (both against the Ravens) in the first 8 games of the season. Since then, he has scored in 8 straight games including three 2-touchdown games. Last Sunday he delivered 9 catches for 224 yards and 2 fifty-nine yard touchdowns.
3. Tony Romo is having one of his best if not the best December in his career. His QB rating for the season is 92.6 but over the last 4 games, all in December, he has registered an average 115.1 rating. On Thanksgiving, Tony completed just under 60% of his passes and registered 441 yards passing but also threw 2 costly interceptions. I don’t see that happening this time around.
4. Miles Austin should be able to play the entire game. He was injured in the first quarter of the November game and did not return. The way he’s been dropping passes lately I don’t know if that helps us or hurts us, but if nothing else he requires that a defense pay attention to him. Dwayne Harris and has emerged as a solid player as both a receiver and in special teams and Romo has developed a trust in him.
5. Ryan Cook will be at center this time around. In the November game, neither Ryan Cook nor Phil Costa were active forcing us to use starting Guard Mackenzy Bernadeau at center. He’s a decent guard at times but it was his first ever start at center. The offensive line will play as a more cohesive unit this time around.
6. Defensively, the Cowboys had already lost Sean Lee for the season and they lost Bruce Carter at the start of the 4th quarter. Ernie Sims, signed less than a month earlier was forced into his first significant action and blew the coverage on the final Redskins touchdown, a 29-yard pass to a very wide open Niles Paul. Sims has played now and is less likely to blow a coverage like that. Take that one play away from Washington and the Cowboys likely win that November game. Albright and Poppinga have also played well at times along with Dan Connor. As a group, they have played well enough although New Orleans exposed the weakness with a lot of throws to backs out of the backfield or short crossing routes. Washington does not have the same kind of athletes to do that to the Cowboys in this game.
7. Brandon Carr had one of the worst games as a Cowboy against the Redskins. His level of play has jumped up considerably since then and I don’t expect him to be abused like he was then.
8. The blown coverage that resulted in the ‘Skins first long touchdown pass belonged to safety Danny McCray. His play has been up and down and after struggling mightily against the Steelers he was replaced by free agent Eric Frampton for the New Orleans game. Frampton played well so he should start against Washington as well and will hopefully reduce the mistakes.
9. Jay Ratliff did not play in the November contest and won’t again, but Josh Brent did and he won’t be available this time around. But, a depleted defensive line has held up remarkably well considering the talent that has been lost. Despite giving up 169 yards to Bryce Brown and the Eagles (with Brent in the lineup), they won that game. They gave up 113 yards to Albert Morris in the first game against the Redskins, but most of the damage came on a handful of broken plays. And, they held RGIII to 29 yards rushing in that game. Since Thanksgiving, this defense has given up 183 yards rushing to Philadelphia, 146 yards rushing to the Bengals, 69 yards to Pittsburgh, and 116 to the Saints last week. It shows improvement and those are not awful numbers. Albert Morris will get his yards on Sunday. The Cowboys just need to minimize the damage on the scoreboard.
There are plenty of reasons for concern for Cowboys fans – the flex to Sunday Night Football where overall the Cowboys have not fared well for one. The lack of depth on the defense for another. The unfriendly home crowd they’ll face. But, historically the Cowboys have done well against the Redskins. Don’t panic if we get behind at some point. This team has shown a remarkable resilience and ability to come from behind. I think there are as many reasons to believe the Cowboys can win this game. We’re due, aren’t we? Go Cowboys!