Almost a year to the day the Cowboys’ 2011 season ended with a loss to the New York Giants in a winner-take-all game for the NFC East title, Dallas will have a chance to claim the division championship Sunday in a showdown with one of its other rivals, the Washington Redskins. Led by quarterback Robert Griffin III and a rushing offense that is the most prolific in pro football, Washington has won six consecutive games. One of those victories came against Dallas in November. The Cowboys will try to exact revenge and earn their first playoff berth since the 2009 season. Here is a look at how both teams match up:
When the Cowboys run
Last Sunday, DeMarco Murray authored his worst performance since he returned from a six-game absence because of a sprained left foot. He rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble that led to a touchdown. But Murray could be a difference-maker Sunday. He didn’t play in Dallas’ first game against Washington when the Cowboys gained only 35 yards on the ground. If he returns to form, he could help Dallas crack the Redskins’ run defense that is the fifth-stingiest in the NFL.
When the Cowboys pass
The connection between quarterback Tony Romo and Dez Bryant is stronger than ever and it’s the reason why the Cowboys have a chance to win the division Sunday. Romo has thrown 17 touchdown passes in his last eight games. Bryant has been the recipient of 10 of them. The Redskins’ tattered secondary will struggle to contend with the Cowboys’ dynamic duo. Washington is surrendering 287.7 yards per game through the air, the third-highest average in the NFL.
When the Redskins run
Washington has the most productive ground attack in the NFL, averaging 162.3 yards per game. But it doesn’t look nearly as potent as it did a few weeks ago. Quarterback Robert Griffin’s sprained knee suffered in Week 14 has weakened the rushing offense. He gained only four yards on two carries last week against Philadelphia as rookie Alfred Morris, who has amassed 1,413 yards this season, carried the load. If Griffin’s mobility is reduced, the Cowboys’ suspect run defense that has allowed 124.5 yards per game in its last eight contests may stand a chance.
When the Redskins pass
Rookies are usually prone to making mistakes. But Robert Griffin III is the exception. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. His quarterback rating of 104.1 is the second-highest in the league. Griffin burned the Cowboys’ secondary in a 38-31 victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving, as he passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, Dallas’ defense, which is allowing 239.8 yards per game through the air, has been bombarded by other quarterbacks – from Nick Foles to Drew Brees. And now Griffin may be ready for an encore.
Last season, the Cowboys had two of the most promising young kickers in the NFL. Now they have one and the Redskins have the other. Dallas kept Dan Bailey, who has made 28 of 30 field-goal attempts this season and has already converted seven game-winning tries in 31 NFL games. But it unloaded Kai Forbath, who was signed by Washington in October and set an NFL record by making the first 17 field goals he has attempted in his career. Forbath has the slight edge over Bailey because he is used to kicking outdoors and on the grass at FedEx Field.
The Redskins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. They’ve won six consecutive games, including the Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Cowboys. Dallas has also fared well of late, but its defeat to New Orleans last Sunday squelched some of the momentum it had established since that loss to Washington. The Cowboys will have to regroup in order to beat the Redskins at FedEx Field, where Washington is 4-3 this season. A partisan home crowd should help the Redskins in this duel for the division title.
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