The NFC East has been one of the most closely-fought divisions in the NFL this season, as no team seems able to gain an upper hand. That could change this week as the Dallas Cowboys visit the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys have been buried by injuries this season. After missing seven games with a collarbone injury, Tony Romo went 1-1 before re-injuring his collarbone. He is now out for the season and Matt Cassel – who went 0-4 in Romo’s absence – will take over. At 3-8, the Cowboys are almost certainly out of contention for the playoffs. Washington have looked like the NFC East’s best team at times this season, especially at home. Kirk Cousins fits well with head coach Jay Gruden’s system and has had a good season. Cousins is surrounded by a talented offense, but injuries and a suspect defense have kept the Redskins from taking a clear lead. The Redskins are 2-1 within the division and have a chance to take a commanding lead if the Giants lose on Sunday.
Three Keys to the Game
Can Kirk Cousins have another big home game?
The Redskins are coming off a 20-14 home win over the Giants. But Kirk Cousins has never won consecutive games in his career. The good news for Cousins is that the Redskins have won their last five home games and hold a 5-1 record at FedEx Field. In those six games, Cousins has thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Can he continue that impressive play against the Cowboys?
Big D’s defense
The defense has been the bright spot for the Cowboys this season. As the offense has struggled with injuries to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, the defense has kept Dallas in most of their games. Dallas’ eight losses have been by an average of 9.75 points. Just two teams beat the Cowboys by more than 12 points; New England and Carolina. Five of their losses were decided by seven points or less. But can the Cowboys defense keep them in the game against Washington?
Can Dallas run the ball?
The Cowboys have been strongest when they have been able to run the ball effectively this season. Those games all coincided with Tony Romo being under centre. With Romo in the game, opposing defenses were forced to pay more attention to the pass, which allowed Darren McFadden to find bigger holes. With Romo out and Cassel in, the threat from the passing game diminishes, and opponents will be able to stack the box to stop the run. The Redskins have defensive tackle Terrance Knighton healthy once again, and have a strong force across the middle in the form of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. It could be tough for Dallas’ running game to get some rhythm on Monday night.
Matchup to watch
Dallas’ defensive line vs Alfred Morris and Matt Jones
Like the Cowboys, Washington are at their strongest when they have been able to run the ball well. The Cowboys have a reasonably stout defensive line, with defensive end Greg Hardy and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford leading the way. Morris and Jones have struggled to run the ball at times this season, and are both averaging 3.6 yards per carry. If the Redskins can’t run well against Dallas, Kirk Cousins could struggle.
The Cowboys are a struggling team, but they are even worse with Cassel under centre. With Washington’s defense likely able to stop the run, the Cowboys will have little chance. The Redskins have a much stronger offense and home-field advantage, which should mean another big game for Kirk Cousins as the Redskins consolidate their position atop the NFC East.