The Washington Football Team has a quick turnaround after a Tuesday night loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with a primetime matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Here are three keys to the game, presented by Van Metre.
1. Capitalize on Dallas' turnovers.
The Cowboys have one of, if not the best offenses in the league, even with their current slump. They're far from perfect, though, and Washington should have a chance to take advantage of gaffes Dallas has been prone to commit lately.
Washington should know, because it did exactly that in its first matchup with the NFC East leaders. It was Cole Holcomb who gave Washington a spark late in the fourth quarter with his pick-six that brought the team within a touchdown of tying the score.
It was a great moment, one that embodied the resiliency head coach Ron Rivera has praised throughout the season. It wasn't enough to make up for failing to turn a Landon Collins interception into a touchdown, and it came too late for Washington to come back from a fumble on its final drive.
"They made a couple of big plays. We didn't capitalize," Rivera said. "[With] Good football teams, you have to. Because if you don't, other good football teams will keep you from coming back."
It's safe to assume Dallas is going to cough up the ball on Sunday. After all, it's committed at least one in 12 games. The real challenge will be for Washington to turn those into points on the scoreboard.
2. Stick to the run game.
It's common for Dallas to give up 100 rushing yards on Sundays; its done so 10 times, including its last nine games. But opponents have had banner days on the ground in Cowboys losses. When the Cowboys lost three of four contests in November, it allowed an average of 140 yards.
The matchup seemed like an ideal one for Washington in Week 14. Coming out its bye week, the team was running the ball on par with some of the league's best rushing offenses. Granted, it still put up 100 yards in the 27-20 loss, but it was a far cry from its 151 average in the previous three games.
Much of that can be credited to Washington falling behind too early. An 18-0 deficit doesn't make for a good foundation to run the ball. Still, Washington has made it a point to emphasize what it does well. That includes being a run-heavy offense. So, it must find a way to get around a defense that limited Washington's longest run to just 13 yards.
That might be a little more difficult than in previous weeks. J.D. McKissic is on Injured Reserve, and Antonio Gibson is dealing with a toe injury. That will leave other players like Jaret Patterson, who has seen his role increase in recent weeks, to carry more of the load.
"Right now, because he's got opportunities to play a little bit more, you see his confidence start to build and you see his comfort level in terms of what we do and understanding exactly how to do it," Rivera said. "It kind of shows. So that's a good thing for him and us."
On Thursday, Dec. 23, the Washington Football Team hosted the Washington Football Toy Giveaway, a surprise holiday toy event for local youth, to cap off its Season of Giving initiative. The day began with Santa Smoot delivering gifts to houses in the DMV area. That was followed by a toy giveaway at FedExField unlike anything the team has done before. During the event, Washington distributed more than 10,000 toys and team gifts, including tablets, board games, painting kits, jerseys and more. (Photos by Paris Malone and Taylor McLaughlin/Washington Football)
3. Avoid momentum-swinging mistakes.
With the score 11-0 in the first quarter, Rivera decided to keep the offense on the field for a fourth-and-2 and Dallas' 46-yard line. Taylor Heinicke was subsequently sacked, fumbled the ball and watched as Dallas returned it for a 37-yard touchdown.
It was a gut punch that made it almost impossible for Washington to come back in the critical division game.
Rivera said after the game he didn't regret making the call. His team was down, and he was hoping to get a boost from the decision. The opposite happened, though, and it stemmed from a lack of execution. The same could be said for Gibson's fumble in the third quarter, which came after a touchdown that started Washington's comeback attempts.
Washington will need to be aggressive to pull out a win over Dallas. Its playoff hopes are tied to a victory. It's not the time to hold back any punches. And besides, having flavors of that style is when Washington is at its best.
Washington was in a hole for most of the afternoon, and there were times when the team was making it deeper. So, the team must find a way to play smart football, and when the time comes to be aggressive, it needs to make sure the results are in its favor.