Washington's young stars will need to shine once again if they are going to be division champs for the first time in over a decade.
The Redskins have won 6 games in a row and just need one more win to earn their first NFC East Title since the 1999 season. The team standing in the way is, appropriately, the franchise’s most hated rival: the Dallas Cowboys. Sure, the 'Skins may make the playoffs anyway if both the Bears and Vikings lose earlier in the day, but in order to play at home in the postseason, they need a win.
The Redskins and Cowboys have not played many important games in the past decade-plus. The Redskins, frankly, have not been that good, and the Cowboys have hardly ever lived up to the hype. Then there is the uncomfortable friendliness of the two owners. Beyond the obvious dislike between the fan bases and the rivalry's once-rich history, there is symmetry in the two meeting with the NFC East title on the line. The Redskins found their groove (swag?) in the Thanksgiving Day win at JerryWorld.
That Thanksgiving Day was also the day the Redskins fan base became extra thankful for their franchise quarterback. It was his second straight game with four touchdown passes. The 'Skins exploded in the second quarter, putting up 28 straight points. It was also the game when we found out Pierre Garcon could play on 9 toes. It was just the second win in the current streak, but it proved to mean much more.
In this week’s "Chain Reactions" we go three downs style on what it will take for the Redskins to return to the postseason.
RGIII needs to Be RGIII
The Redskins got away with one last week with Robert Griffin III. He never needed to take off and run. The 'Skins protected his injured right knee. There was just one designed run in the entire game. Washington took the better-safe-than-sorry route against the down-and-out Eagles. This week, RGIII will need to have the ability, or at least be a viable threat to run against the Cowboys' pass rushers. Following Dallas' Thanksgiving Day loss, Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan boasted his unit "stopped the college stuff."
It is debatable whether Ryan’s group stopped much of anything on Turkey Day. The "college stuff" keeps defenses guessing and freezes linebackers and safeties, which allows RGIII to throw over the top and Alfred Morris to pick up big chunks on the ground. At some point in the first series or two, RGIII will have to show the Cowboys he is willing to take off around the end if the opportunity presents itself. The 'Skins may also need to call on RGIII to run bootleg plays in order to slow down a dangerous Dallas pass rush. He will need to be closer to himself this week than he was in Philadelphia. One of the things the Redskins have been able to count on this season is the franchise quarterback’s ability to raise his game in the biggest moments.
"It is the biggest stage. None of us are looking at this that way. It’s another game that we have to go out and win. That’s the way we look at it. Every moment in your life is the biggest one at that time, so we look forward to having many more of these, but we’ve got to make sure we take care of this one."
Sunday night’s stage will be the biggest yet in his young career.
Skins Need To Be Well Grounded
Rookie Alfred Morris has often been overshadowed by RGIII. Yet Morris can earn the franchise’s single-season rushing record with yards Sunday night. He has been a stud this season, and opposing defenses know who he is each week. However, Morris was snubbed from the NFC Pro Bowl team, even though he will likely go as the first alternate since many veterans bail on the exhibition. Hopefully, Morris will be busy that week before the Super Bowl.
Anyway, despite his anonymity at times, the low-key Morris will be needed to play big Sunday night. As defenses have keyed on him the past two weeks, the running lanes have not been as big for Morris. Yet he’s been effective, racking up 87 yards and 2 TDs against the Browns and 91 yards and a TD against the Eagles. Morris will need to continue to run effectively while protecting the football if the 'Skins are going to be NFC East Champions.
Defense Does Not Need to Dominate
To think the Redskins defense could shut down the Cowboys' high powered offense would be foolish. They have played much better over the past six weeks, but they are not good enough in the secondary to stop all the Cowboys weapons, especially Dez Bryant. That’s OK, though, because they don’t need to. They just need to capitalize on their opportunities Tony Romo will give them and get their offense an extra possession or two.
This game will be a shootout. The quarterbacks and skill players on both sides are too good for it not to be. So the Redskins defense will need to keep the formula going. Increase pressure on the quarterback, create turnovers, and minimize giving up big plays. Rob Jackson and Ryan Kerrigan have turned up the heat on the edge and Barry Coefield, Stephen Bowen, and Jarvis Jenkins have been collapsing the pocket. London Fletcher has been making plays in the secondary with interceptions in three straight and four of his last five. The secondary is still in need of serious help at safety and the corners; however, give the players create for minimizing the big plays that killed them early in the season. Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett needs to keep mixing and matching packages and sub packages to keep offenses confused. This unit is not going to suddenly morph into the Seahawks, but if they just keep improving on what they have been doing they that should enough to be NFC East Champions.