The Washington Football Team is back at FedExField playing with postseason aspirations as it takes on the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. Here are three keys to the game, presented by Van Metre.
1. Control the clock.
The Cowboys have the most productive offense in the league heading into Week 14. With Dak Prescott and Co. hanging an average of 416.3 yards per game on defenses, it's the most potent unit Washington has faced since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the start of its win streak.
As Field Yates said on "The Mina Kimes Show featuring Lenny" earlier this week, Washington's game plan is ball control at its finest, and that will certainly be a key piece of its strategy on Sunday.
Washington has dominated the time of possession over the last four games, averaging more than 37 minutes per game. It's already a benefit that it's keeping the ball away from teams, but what makes things even more crippling is that Washington has found ways to end those drives with points. While the offense was less successful against the Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas Raiders, it has still managed to improve its red zone scoring by more than 10%.
With healthy doses from Antonio Gibson -- the NFC's leading rusher -- Washington has managed to eat time off the clock. Putting together 19-play drives like it did against the Buccaneers is a little unsustainable, but it can still dictate the pace so that the Cowboys have to match its style and not the other way around.
2. Make smart choices with the ball.
One of the reasons why Washington has been able to control the ball is because of how it has taken care of the ball. Granted, turnovers have happened during its win streak (see the fourth quarter interception by Taylor Heinicke as an example), but there's no doubt the team has improved in that area.
Heinicke's performance over the last four weeks is a clear example of that. On top of throwing just two picks in that span, he has the longest active streak of completing at least 70% of his passes, and his QBR is the fifth-best in the league.
That will be important against the Cowboys, who are seventh in turnover differential. They're tied for the most interceptions in the league (19), and that's mostly a credit to cornerback Trevon Diggs, who leads the league with nine interceptions.
The Cowboys' secondary is going to be aggressive on Sunday, so Heinicke will need to play in a similar fashion to what he's shown in the last month: take what's available to him and gamble on bigger throws when it's appropriate.
Key players on both sides of the ball return to the practice field as the Washington Football Team continues preparations for its Week 14 game against the Dallas Cowboys. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)
3. Limit big plays from Dallas' WR trio.
The Cowboys are stout in all areas on offense, but they're particularly formidable in the passing game. Considering that their receivers include Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, that checks out. With Gallup out for much of the season, Cooper missing Weeks 11 and 12 and Lamb being out against the Thanksgiving matchup, the three haven't spent much time on the field together.
All three are on track to play Sunday, though, making quite the task for Washington.
Week 13 against the New Orleans Saints provided the most recent glimpse of how well the wideouts work as a trip. They combined for 166 yards, catching 14 of their 24 targets. Lamb has specifically taken a jump in recent weeks with at least 80 yards in two of Dallas' last three games.
Washington will need another solid outing from its secondary, which has gone from allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game to 218 since the bye week. Kendall Fuller has broken up 11 passes this season, which is tied for ninth among all defensive backs, and Kam Curl is the team's highest-graded safety by Pro Football Focus.
The closest comparison comes from the Buccaneers, who had Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as prime targets for Tom Brady. Washington held Brady to 220 yards -- his second-lowest total of the year -- and two interceptions. There's a good chance Washington will need to do that against Prescott in order to pull out a win.