The Dallas Cowboys have once again left the final week of the season to decide their chances for the postseason.
Sunday night they will take on the Washington Redskins for the NFC East title. Dallas’s only hope to make the playoffs is to capture the division, thanks to their early struggles to conference foes this season.
The Cowboys put themselves in this spot after their 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 16. The game was an absolute shootout with neither team able to pressure the quarterback. The Dallas secondary conceded up 446 receiving yards and three passing touchdowns, while the pass rush garnered no sacks and four total hits on the Saints’ Drew Brees.
Head coach Jason Garrett and his staff will have to fix both problems, and make some adjustments, in order to have success against Washington’s newest Pro Bowler, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III
Below are four ways Dallas can beat the Redskins and make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
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Dez The Decoy
Quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant have finally found their rhythm over the past seven games, but Dallas may have to spread the ball around and let someone else wear out the Redskins' 30th-ranked secondary.
Romo may have to turn to tight end Jason Witten, who has had great success against Washington over the years. In 17 career games, Witten has 87 receptions for 1,004 yards and five touchdowns.
Slow down Alfred Morris
The rookie running back may have been snubbed by Pro Bowl voters, but the Cowboys know just how dangerous he can be. Back on Thanksgiving, Morris gained 113 yards and a score in Washington’s 38-31 victory. On the season, he’s averaging nearly five yards per carry, and only twice this season has Morris rushed for less than 76 yards.
In Week Eight, the Pittsburgh Steelers gained an early lead which forced Washington to throw, while the Minnesota Vikings staged a comeback that scared the Redskins enough to score insurance points. Dallas will need early scoring strikes in the first half to keep Morris out of the game, and RG3 throwing.
Pierre Garcon vs. Morris Claiborne
Since he returned in Week 13 against the Giants, Garcon has 26 receptions for 343 yards and two touchdowns, leading Washington in every game, and catapulting himself to the team leader in catches and yards.
While the Cowboys secondary struggled against New Orleans last week, Dallas needs the rookie corner Claiborne to live up to this high draft status now. He will need to contain Griffin's top receiving threat and possibly one entire side of the field.
Griffin is averaging nearly seven yards a rush, eight yards per pass, and completing 66 percent of his passes, all while holding down the second best passer rating in the entire league. And he’s rushed for 752 yards and six touchdowns.
However, Griffin has not rushed for a score since Week Six against Minnesota, and the Redskins have held him back a bit since his knee sprain against Baltimore.
Griffin has only rushed 14 times in the past three games, compared to the near 10 times per game he did before his sprain.
He’s still very dangerous, but Griffin and Washington may not have confidence in his knee like they did earlier in the season and Dallas can capitalize by actually forcing him to test his legs more than he wants.