The 3-3 Dallas Cowboys return to the DMV to face their division rival Washington Redskins who sit at 3-2. These four players will be key in the Cowboys winning their first road game and retaking the division lead.

Jaylon Smith + Leighton Vander Esch

Much can be said about the story of Jaylon Smith or the narratives Leighton Vander Esch continues to minimize, but as a duo, they seem to be as good as it gets. Both leading the team with 50 tackles combined respectively. Their impact on the LB group has not been felt like this in Dallas since the Nguyen-Coakley days. However, with injuries to Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, the depth behind them remains thin in an upcoming game that should present many challenges.

Numbers do not suggest the Redskins offense to be a great threat on a league scale, but they have the elements to do many different things. Starting with Alex Smith, their newly-tenured QB who has the mobility to make plays, a talented OL led by LT Trent Williams, the resurged Adrian Peterson, a healthy Jordan Reed coupled with Vernon Davis, and the playmaker Chris Thompson, there are a lot of variables to this offense. Then, to have Jay Gruden at the helm controlling the mechanisms of it all, he designs it very well at times.

For LVE and Smith, even as cliché as it may sound, they will have to stay true to their assignments. Reason being, the Redskins love to utilize the pull-center action to open the running game.

Last week against the Panthers, who have a very talented front seven, the threat of a vertical TE is evident. With the extra DB lined up over Davis, this is just a gimme matchup in the run game as they pull the center, and run the play away from both Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. The effort here by Kuechly almost trips Peterson up in the backfield, but even then he’s still too late to make the tackle.

Once again, defenses have to take notice for Davis’ ability to go downfield. The DB is in the box lined over the TE, but then on this play, the Redskins will pull both the center and strong-side tackle. Taking any chance away from the first and second-level defenders to make a play, Peterson sheds the DB and goes for another 10+ yard gain.

Then, with Jordan Reed back in form, this is a luxury that has returned for the Redskins.

As stated before, it may sound cliché, but LVE & Smith will have to play sound ball against this run game and pair of TEs. A division rival game on the road is a first for both as in Jaylon having to command this defense and LVE as a starter. Communication will be key between them if they want slow this attack.

 

Dak Prescott

Easily coming off his best week on the season, Prescott’s showing against the Jaguars was very 2016-esque. Stepping up into the pocket for easy throws, utilizing his legs, and simply looking comfortable playing QB. Shockingly, such impose came against the number one defense more or less, but the Redskins will not be much easier.

Ranked top 10 in scoring defense, passing, rushing, and total yards allowed, it should surprise no one. A DL with the likes of Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne, and a stout LB core led by Zach Brown and Ryan Kerrigan, they push over for no one. What seems like a return to his star days in Josh Norman and safety DJ Swearinger over the top, its levels to this defense.

If Dallas maintains an offense that is motivated through PA in the passing game, with a balanced running attack of RPOs and pre-snap motions, there is opportunity on just about anyone. In general, it is a league movement so Washington is more than prepared for it. The point will be for Dak to be able to consistently show he can make the plays.

Now Prescott is not Cam running with the ball in his hands, but his ability has to still be respected. On the Panthers first drive, Washington was more than ready to stay true to Cam keeping the handoff.

The Redskins like to stay aggressive, and tended to keep around 7 in the box against Carolina.

On both plays, seven defenders eyes are locked into the backfield for the first few seconds of the play. Although, with the right read and throw, Cam was able to earn back-to-back 10 yard gains.

Should Dak do the same, he gives Dallas the most successful chance to move against this defense. Furthermore, just maybe they break this enigma of their offensive splits on the road versus at home:

 

Home Away
Rushing Y/A 5.1 5.1
Rushing TDs 3 1
Cmp % 62.8 60.9
Passing Y/A 7.2 5.1
Passing TDs 5 2
Passing INTs 0 4
Sacks 6 13

 

 

Deonte Thompson

Little has been accomplished by Deonte Thompson as a Cowboy. Listed fourth in the total number of snaps received out of WRs, much is not affected by him outside of kick returns. More so brought in to be a vertical threat being a sub 4.4 runner, Tavon Austin has been more impactful in that role for Dallas. Although Austin has received about 50 less snaps, he has around 30 more yards on the season than Thompson, and two touchdowns while Deonte has 0. However, his time might have finally come as there are reports of Austin possibly being headed to IR.

A blow to this Cowboys offense if so, Thompson seems as the likely replacement. Through six games, Tavon was averaging a career high in Y/R at 18.6 and catching % at 77.8. Furthermore, as a rusher, Austin was averaging 9.2 Y/A. What seemed like a lost cause before the season for a project player, began to become a cycle in this Cowboys offense into what they could do.

Though not as shifty as Austin, Thompson has the argument in possessing the most remaining speed. Talks have been debated if the Cowboys should move on from Thompson, as they would receive a 4th round comp pick before the deadline, but with only 3 other healthy active WRs, he becomes a necessity. Also having the most experience on the field this season out of the remaining options, expect a return in Thompson to this offense.

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