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Redskins 2018 Season Preview: Dallas Cowboys, Week 12


Week 12 will serve as the first of three consecutive games where the Redskins will square off against their respective NFC East division rivals as they grind out the final month of the regular season.

For the third straight season, Jay Gruden's group will be featured in one of three games on the NFL's Thanksgiving slate, drawing the Dallas Cowboys for the second time in those three years as they travel to AT&T Stadium for the holiday.

Today's preview will focus on Rod Marinelli's defense after looked at Scott Linehan's offense earlier this month.

Dallas' key additions: Signed WR Allen Hurns (Jaguars), WR Tavon Austin (Rams), WR Deonte Thompson (Bills), DE Kony Ealy (Panthers), OT Cameron Fleming (Patriots), Drafted LB Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State) and OL Connor Williams (Texas).

Dallas' key subtractions: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens and CB Orlando Scandrick.

The Cowboys 9-7 campaign last year wasn't primarily the fault of Marinelli's group, as they finished No. 8 overall in total defense, surrendering just under 320 total yards per game.

Naturally, they received some of the greatest attention around the NFL due to their label as "America's Team." The departures of Cowboys greats in the last few years like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten signify that Jerry Jones' club is ready to move forward in a new direction centered around their younger talent.

For the defense, that started with selecting Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State with the 19th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Riggins, Idaho, native joins a linebacker core headlined by two-time Pro Bowler Sean Lee.

Check out these shots of the Washington Redskins players and coaches boarding the plane as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys Nov. 29, 2017. Presented by Dulles International Airport.

The rookie has drawn comparisons to Lee mainly due to his skills being great in coverage and his pursuit as a tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch compiled 128 tackles and led the Broncos to a 30-10 record in his three years playing under head coach Bryan Harsin.

His arrival to the Cowboys gives the organization hope that the linebacker position can continue to be one of the cornerstones in their defense, with names like Anthony Hitchens departing this offseason to the Kansas City Chiefs and DeMarcus Ware being gone from the team since 2013. It's also reasonable to think that Vander Esch can be viewed as the eventual replacement to Lee, who is entering his ninth season in the NFL and will be 32 years old once the Cowboys begin their season against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 9.

Of course, one of the major storylines in this game will be the return of another Boise State Bronco in Orlando Scandrick, as he'll make his first journey to the visitor's locker room at AT&T Stadium. The veteran's release again signified how after last season's disappointing result in the standings, Jones and Co. wanted to insert some new faces into the defense.

"When you've been in one place so long and you get an influx of youth, I knew eventually that they would move away from the older players," Scandrick said after signing with the Redskins in March. "I watched all of my other teammates go out the door and sign with other teams and I was the last one standing. I knew eventually it would be me next."

Despite having "an influx of youth" surrounding their defense, the expectation for the Cowboys this year remains high.

However, with plenty of experienced options at his disposal, Redskins offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will need to take advantage of the mistakes that these younger players may be more prone to make. Whether that is running a hard count with Alex Smith, or giving Paul Richardson plenty of opportunities to use his speed downfield to create big plays and draw pass-interference penalties.

While it's challenging to determine what the state of the NFC East will be heading into Week 12, this stretch of three games could easily determine which team will be representing the division in the postseason this year. The Redskins are the only team in the NFC East that will have this triple-header of divisional games this season.

Unfortunately for Washington, they will have little time to prepare for this crucial match on Thanksgiving after hosting the Houston Texans at FedExField just four days earlier.