The Washington Redskins renew their rivalry with the Cowboys Thursday night in Dallas.
There's revenge on the menu since the Cowboys won the first meeting 33-19 on Oct. 29. More importantly, at least in terms of 2017, both NFC East squads are jockeying for playoff position. Neither sits comfortably at 5-6, but a win helps plenty while a loss likely dashes hopes of a postseason berth.
Here’s a look at four factors heading into Thursday’s rematch.
Here Comes Crowder
Jamison Crowder entered the season as Washington’s most proven wide receiver, but it took more than half the season for the slot threat to show that form. His nagging hamstring injury that caused him to miss one game didn’t help. Facing the Cowboys’ suspect secondary did wonders.
Crowder hadn’t topped 52 receiving yards all season until he finished with 123 on nine receptions in Week 8. He hasn’t dropped below 72 yards since and set a career-high with 141 yards on Thanksgiving against the Giants while also scoring his first touchdown of the season.
"He definitely looks crisper in and out of his breaks," coach Jay Gruden said of Crowder post-hamstring issues. "[He] has looked crisper the last four or five weeks quite frankly, and has been producing at a very high clip, which is exciting."
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
Now another shot against Dallas. The Cowboys have allowed at least two touchdown passes in four consecutive weeks including three on Thanksgiving against the Chargers.
Avoid The Big Play
The Cowboys offense is stuck in neutral without running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is in the middle of a six-game suspension handed down by the league. After scoring 28 points in Week 9 with Elliott, they totaled 25 over the next three games. It’s not just that Dallas lost its best runner, but also one of their few offensive playmakers.
Quarterback Dak Prescott completed 65.9 percent of his passes during that three-game stretch, which is actually higher than his season number of 63.7. The difference is five of his nine interceptions in this span with zero touchdown passes. The second-year passer would clearly benefit from having his stud running back helping counterbalance opposing defenses in part because there’s little else scary.
Dallas had only play of over 20 yards in each of its last two games. Washington put three of 25-plus in Week 11 versus New York despite early struggles. For years, the Cowboys haven’t had a consistent wide receiver opposite Dez Bryant, who is averaging a career-low 10.9 yards per reception. Running back and former Redskin Alfred Morris can help move the chains on the ground, but isn’t likely running past folks.
Zach Brown leads the NFL in tackles. The Redskins main inside linebacker might also lead the league in tag-team partners. Since Week 7, Mason Foster, Will Compton, Martrell Spaight and Zach Vigil have all started at the other ILB slot.
Changes occurred when Foster landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, Compton soon followed and Spaight may miss a second consecutive game with an ankle issue. Based on his performance against New York, don’t fret if Vigil steps in.
With the team in training camp, Vigil was released before Week 1, re-signed on Nov. 15 and then thrust into the starting lineup one week later. Coaches were impressed with his work against the Giants, according to sources, including his role in closing off a receiving option ahead of Ryan Kerrigan’s second sack.
Brown and Vigil will face pressure in the run game against the Cowboys’ imposing offensive line, but also attempting to slow down running back Rod Smith in passing situations. Smith’s first career touchdown came on Thanksgiving.
Among the crazier stats of the 2017 season came Thursday when Samaje Perine became the first Redskin to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games since the aforementioned Alfred Morris in 2013. The rookie did this during a stretch where two starters along the offensive line were placed on injured reserve and replaced by players only relatively recently added to the roster. A third lineman, left tackle Trent Williams missed the Thanksgiving win to rest his gimpy left knee.
Then there’s the reality that Perine hadn’t always looked ready for primetime when given work earlier in the season. With Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson both landing on IR, the Redskins had little choice but to throw the fourth-round pick into the deep end. So far, Perine is anything but all wet.
He averaged 4.6 yards on 47 carries (4.65 yards per carry). Not a pass-catching dynamo, but he hauled in three receptions against the Giants. Not perfect, but also no massive mistakes unlike those early-season fumbles. The Redskins are suddenly looking like a diverse offense. The line is getting a bit more stable with Williams looking good for Week 12 return. Based on things looked in prior weeks, that’s all crazy indeed.