The Dallas Cowboys will arrive in Washington this weekend with the healthiest squad of the season and in the position they wanted since they saw the 2021 schedule: first in the East Division of the National Conference.
Starting this Sunday, they face the Washington Football Team two games ahead in their division, in the first of two games in the next three NFL games and the first of three interdivisional games in the final four of the season.
Against Washington, Randy Gregory, who was out for six weeks with calf problems, returns from injury, and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore makes his season debut after suffering an elbow dislocation in the second exhibition game. The week before, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence returned from a broken foot and right offensive tackle Terence Steele dropped out of Covid protocol.
So the only players considered starters when they opened preseason camp who won’t be against Washington this Sunday are safety Donovan Wilson (shoulder) and tight end Blake Jarwin (hip), who had already lost their starting title to Jayron Kearse anyway. and Dalton Schultz, respectively.
A victory for the Cowboys this Sunday would place them in the middle of finally closing the championship of their division, where at the beginning of the season they overwhelmingly beat the Philadelphia Eagles (41-21) and New York Giants (44-20) at home. ).
“Everything always works out in this league with December football,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously that’s the launch pad that I think you have to come out of to be a playoff team and excel in the playoffs.”
McCarthy is so confident that his entire team, including the coaching staff fresh out of Covid protocol, is ready to go all out and make the race to the big game that he dared to guarantee victory against his fiercest rival and on the road.
“We are going to win this game,” McCarthy said Thursday. “I trust that”.
Part of McCarthy’s confidence is that the near past is on his side.
The Cowboys are 18-3 against their division rivals over the past five seasons with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback and 7-1 against Washington.
Now it’s a matter of arriving with a good game plan and executing against Washington, who has four consecutive victories and all the confidence that his attack is capable of moving the ball against Dallas, although his defense has dropped this year with respect to the earlier, when they won at AT&T Stadium 41-16 to complete the cleanup in 2020 …
THE KEYS TO THE GAME FOR COWBOYS
1.- RUNNING THE BALL: The Cowboys have to find a way to move the ball on the ground with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard to open the spaces for the passing air and give rest to their defense.
The common denominator in the four losses was that they did not even exceed the combined 90 yards between Elliott and Pollard.
Washington has the third-best defense against a run in the NFL.
2.- INTERCEPTIONS FROM YOUR DEFENSE: The Cowboys are even in the NFL’s interceptions lead (19) and have won every game this season in which the ball exchange differential is on their side.
3.- STOP THE RACE: Just as they have been effective against the pass, Dallas suffers to stop the running attack of the rivals. They accept 111 average yards per game and in the three November losses they allowed 153 average yards from Denver, Kansas City and the Raiders.
Washington hosts the Cowboys averaging 124 yards generated per rush this season.
4.- PRESSURE ON THE QUARTERBACK: The Cowboys will have their most complete defensive line of the season and they have to take advantage of it to be on top of Taylor Heinicke especially on third chance. Dallas is the fifth team that more firsts and 10 accepts in that situation.
The return of his two starting defensive ends, Lawrence and Gregory, will allow rookie Micah Parsons to have greater freedom of movement in different positions on the field and to put pressure on the quarterback.
5.- RECOVERY OF OFFENSIVE EXPLOSIVITY: Dak Prescott says he is completely healthy, but his level has dropped since he injured his calf on the last play against the Patriots.
In the first six games of the season, he completed 73 percent of his passes for 1,813 yards, or 302 per game; since then only 65 percent for 1,357 yards, 271 per game. His passer rating dropped from 115.0 to 87.4.
It’s not just Prescott. In that period, the offensive line has suffered injuries and key movements. Tyron Smith was out three games; Connor McGovern replaced Connor Williams in the starting job; Terence Steele has had to play tackle from both sides and was separated by Covid the previous game, and Tyler Biadasz struggles to recognize defensive maneuvers.
CeeDee Lamb missed a game and a half due to shock and Amari Cooper to two games due to Covid.