NFC East Week 12 Preview: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (9:30pm GMT)
Let us give thanks for one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL.
The story goes that on this day in history early American settlers sat down for a meal with Native Americans to share the autumn harvest.
Today there will be no sharing.
Today will be a battle for the top of the NFC East between “America’s Team” the Dallas Cowboys, and the Washington Redskins, with the winner taking it all.
Washington won the first of the two seasonal division match-ups thanks to a last second missed field goal, but the Redskins are currently in somewhat of a turmoil, whereas the Cowboys seem to be steadily improving.
Both teams need this win, not only for the bragging rights and top spot in the division, but in the Redskins case to show that all is not lost with the injury to Alex Smith. In the Cowboys case it is a chance to leapfrog their rivals whilst also getting that sweet taste of revenge.
Let’s begin with Dallas.
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Since trading for Amari Cooper the Cowboys have been humming. Finally with a potent threat at wideout, opposing defenses cannot simply just crowd the box in an attempt to stuff Ezekiel Elliott, but must now also consider the option that Cooper now presents.
The result has been less pressure on stopping the run, which has let Zeke feast. In the weeks since Cooper has been occupying the minds of defensive backfields, Elliott has racked up 273 yards and 2 touchdowns on 42 carries, as well as catching 13 passes for 115 yards and another score.
As well as Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett, quarterback Dak Prescott can also finally relax a little. With the trade for Cooper having opened his playbook a bit, he can now rely a little more on his arm, as opposed to his hand offs, and the results have been exciting for Cowboys’ fans to see. In the last 3 games Prescott has completed 69 of 99 throws for 721 yards, three scores and just one interception.
On the other side of the ball linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been just as riveting to watch. The rookie out of Boise State has been living up to his status as the Cowboys first round pick, seemingly cementing his place as heir apparent for the incumbent, and oft injured Sean Lee. If both offense and defense can perform as well as they have been over the past few weeks, there is no reason why all of the Cowboys shouldn’t eat this Thanksgiving.
Which brings us to the other side of the table at this feast.
The Real McCoy
The Washington Redskins will also be looking to fill their bellies today and hit back at their critics who say that their position at the top of the division so far has been a fluke, and their season is over after the loss of quarterback Alex Smith.
Let’s start with their record, which would currently be 7-3 had it not been for a missed last second field goal in a 23-21 loss to the Texans.
Yes they were resoundingly beaten by the Falcons, lost a trap game to Indy, and were slaughtered by potential MVP Drew Brees in the Superdome, but that is it.
Poor teams do not beat Aaron Rodgers.
Poor teams do beat the Panthers.
Poor teams do not hold 2-0 divisional records.
Do not underestimate the Redskins.
If their run defense, which has been admittedly anorexic the last few weeks, can return to its earlier season form and ageless wonder Adrian Peterson can get going on the ground, then this game could get very interesting very quickly. Because the loss of Alex Smith is not a season ender for Washington.
In fact, it could be quite the opposite.
In the same way Nick Foles did last season for Super Bowl Champions Philadelphia, backup Colt McCoy has a pretty decent chance to pick this Redskins team up and carry them further than many say they should go.
McCoy understands what Jay Gruden wants to do on offense in a way that Alex Smith maybe didn’t. He is respected within the organisation and in the locker room, he wants to lead the team, and most importantly he isn’t afraid to take a shot down the field.
The last time Colt led the Redskins to Jerry World was October 27th 2014 when he beat “Them ‘Boys” in their own backyard. It finished 20-17 after overtime on a Monday night. I was in fact, there and I witnessed a very capable performance in which the Redskins’ “backup” rushed for a score and threw for 299 yards. In fact in the four games McCoy started for the Redskins that season he threw for nearly half the yards that Smith has thrown this year over his ten starts.
If anyone can ruin Thanksgiving for the Cowboys this year, it will be a stubborn Colt.
Prediction: Redskins 30 – Cowboys 27 (Redskins win in OT)
Image credits: Tim Heitman (USA Today)
Our NFC East reporter is Chris Milner who covers Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants. Chris is a Washington Redskins fan who has followed the game since 2011. He is one of our fantasy football correspondents and also co-hosts the ‘Same Level Fantasy Football’ podcast. Follow him on Twitter @chrismilner