It was refreshing to see the Cowboys force their will on the opposing team, as opposed to what we have seen so many times in the past. An already depleted Dallas defense lost DeMarcus Ware early in the game, but was still able to sack Redskin’s quarterback Robert Griffin III several times. In addition to that, backup defensive end Kyle Wilber was able to take the ball away from RGIII at the Redskins four yard line, leading to an easy Cowboys score. And Cowboys slot corner Orlando Scandrick was able to put the final nail into any hope the Skins had for a comeback with his end zone interception of RGIII. It’s nice to see the other quarterback make the critical mistakes that lose the game.
No player’s performance in this game shined brighter than that of kick return specialist and backup receiver Dwayne Harris. With a punt returned for a touchdown and a kickoff returned ninety yards to the Redskins 15 yard line, Harris was a major factor in the Cowboys ability to maintain control of the game. Harris was also the first defender downfield to make contact with the returner in kickoff and punt coverage. I would still like to see Harris used more as a receiver on offense, because he is just such a dynamic player.
But Harris didn’t beat the Skins by himself, so I must mention performances of others that merit attention. Cornerback Brandon Carr was assigned to cover the Skins best receiver, Pierre Garcon, and did an admirable job. As you may recall, last year Garcon ate up the Cowboys defense with many catches over the middle that the Cowboys just couldn’t stop. Because of Carr’s coverage, we saw nothing like that in this game.
Cowboy’s defensive tackle Jason Hatcher was the last man standing, so to speak, on a depleted defensive line. With DeMarcus Ware leaving the game with a quad injury, Hatcher was the only remaining lineman of the four expected starters for this season. It seemed that he decided to personally pick up the slack by playing even harder, and it showed in this victory. That’s not to diminish the efforts of the other lineman in the game, because they seemed to be playing over their heads the whole game, leading to accomplishments such as Wilber stealing the ball from RGIII. Defensive end George Selvie appeared to put a lot of pressure on RGIII as well. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli deserves a lot of credit for having these guys ready to play.
Linebacker play was improved as Sean Lee was able to make a major impact and Bruce Carter was more like the player the Cowboys thought they drafted and not the like the Carter they saw the last two games. I mentioned Carr’s play at cornerback, but I must add that Morris Claiborne played well with what appeared to be more confidence, which had been lacking the last few weeks. Scandrick caught the interception that closed out the Skins opportunities, but he was also good in coverage throughout the game. We can now see why the Cowboys changed defensive coordinators. This defensive scheme seems to be better suited to stop a “read option” offense.
On offense the Cowboys suffered a major blow when DeMarco Murray left the game with a sprained knee. This severely curtailed their ability to run the ball, but they continued to succeed in the passing game, even though the Redskins knew they were going to pass. The running game just isn’t the same without Murray and especially wasn’t as good with Joseph Randle in his place. You may have been as upset as I was when Murray kept going out of bounds instead of finishing the play against the Rams, but he is still by far the best option for the Cowboys running game. I do think the Cowboys will have better backup at the position once Lance Dunbar returns.
Receiver Miles Austin didn’t do much in the game, but we saw good performances from Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, who seems to be getting better every week. Cole Beasley continued to show why the Cowboys talked him into coming back when he left the team for a few days during training camp last year, defenses don’t seem to have an answer for him. And tight end Jason Witten had a few key plays, just being Jason Witten.
When the Cowboys were unable to run the ball after Murray left the game, they used an “empty” formation numerous times and were often successful, much like a week ago when they used this formation against the Broncos. I think they’re onto something and I hope to see more use of that formation in the future. In the past I have suggested the Cowboys use much more of the no huddle “up-tempo” offense. I don’t think the Cowboys can afford to do a lot of that until they have depth on defense. There is just too much danger of this defense being on the field too much and being too worn down by the end of the game to hold onto a lead. It will be interesting to see if the Cowboys decide they are at the point that they need to make a trade for help on the defensive line.
This was a good win for the Cowboys and the Eagles are next. When the Cowboys beat them, they will once again be alone at the top of the NFC East.