The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Thursday's Redskins-Cowboys 2017 Week 13 showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"Redskins-Cowboys: Ingredients For Victory" is presented by Papa John’s.
Every Monday after a Redskins game, get a Large Cheese Pizza for just $9.99. Receive a FREE TOPPING for every Redskins touchdown. DOUBLE THE FREE TOPPINGS when the Redskins win!
KEEP MOVING THE OFFENSE FORWARD, KIRK
In a season in which Trent Williams has been one of only three offensive players to start every game, the quarterback has been faced with a bevy of challenges.
He's had to deal with an injury-hampered offensive line, two of his top three running backs have been placed on Injured Reserve and Jordan Reed has missed time recently with a hamstring injury.
Despite all of the obstacles in his way, Cousins has continued to thrive in his third season as the Redskins' starting quarterback. He's second in the NFL in passing yards and has accounted for 22 offensive touchdowns including a pair of scoring passes last week in a 20-10 victory over the New York Giants.
"The more experience you get, the more comfortable you get," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden. "Sometimes you're going to have moving… or some change on offense. You're going to have to adjust to that personnel-wise. That's the case on every NFL team right now. Could be a new center, could be a new wideout, could be a new running back, whatever it is.
"We've just had a lot of new pieces. There's only been three starters – I think him, Vernon [Davis] and Morgan Moses – the whole year. He's done a nice job of taking care of his business, but I think his comfort level in the offense is starting to show where it doesn't really matter who he's playing with, he's going to be successful."
This week, Cousins will face a Cowboys team that he's familiar with, as he's started against them six times now. Dallas enters the game with the No. 22-overall defense as the Cowboys are allowing more than 235 passing yards per game and have surrendered 21 passing touchdowns, tied for sixth-most in the NFL.
Still, Cousins understands that the game plan could be centered on creating issues for him.
"I do think that what teams are going to do against us is going to vary based on who they think can beat them and who they aren't as worried about and they're going to plan accordingly," Cousins said. "Based on who we bring into the game, based on who they bring into the game, I think personnel will affect those schemes quite a bit."
DIFFERENT BACK, SAME GAME PLAN
The absence of running back Ezekiel Elliott left a hole in the Cowboys' offense. The 2016 rushing leaders is currently in the midst of his six-game suspension, leaving Dallas in a scoring drought.
Without their former first-round draft pick, the Cowboys have called upon former Redskins running back Alfred Morris to lead the charge on the ground. Morris, who spent 2016 and the first half of 2017 backing up Elliott, did his best to make his presence felt but ultimately fell short of the high mark set by his predecessor. Morris has run for 180 yards in the last three games, but has yet to reach the end zone.
Gruden said that he still sees plenty of talent in Morris's game, from his quick cuts to his exceptional footwork. Gruden, who coached Morris for two years in Washington, said he expects little to no change in how Dallas approaches the running game.
"I think they are still going to try to run it behind that big offensive line and try to control the clock, mix in the play-action and the bootlegs – things that have made them successful in the past," Gruden said. "That's what their formula has been for winning. I don't think they change."
Thursday's game will be the first time Morris will face his former team as the Cowboy's featured back, but Rod Smith will likely take plenty of snaps alongside Morris. Smith, who will have a larger part to play following the retirement of Darren McFadden, has proved to be a useful third-down back, recording 41 yards and a touchdown last week against the Chargers.
Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, however, says he sees a drastic difference in the Dallas offense without Elliott, but added that his team can't afford to be relaxed in its preparation.
"Morris has done a great job of trying to pick up where he left off, but Zeke is a different animal," Swearinger said. "They've been struggling a little bit, but we can't go off what they've done in the past."
LETS SEE MORE OF PERINE
The running game struggles have seemingly vanished ever since Samaje Perine became Washington's starting back two weeks ago.
In the span of five days, Perine recorded 217 rushing yards with one touchdown combined against the New Orleans Saints and Giants. In this process, Perine became the first Redskins running back since Morris to record back-to-back 100-yard games (Weeks 9-10 of the 2013 season).
Early against the Giants, it looked like Perine was in for a letdown performance as he had just three rushing yards on five first half carries. Then against a tired and worn Giants defense in the second half, Perine churned out 97 rushing yards.
In evaluating his performances, Gruden likes that Perine seemingly gets stronger as games wear on.
"I've liked the fact that after his 10th carry he's better than his first carry, and his 12th carry he's better than his 10th carry," Gruden said. "He just continues to get better and better, his vision has been good and his decisiveness has been outstanding."
This week Perine will face a Cowboys defense that is middle of the pack against the run, allowing more than 112 rushing yards per contest. In Dallas' six losses this season, opponents have combined for 934 rushing yards.
He could also come in handy against a Dallas squad that has struggled mightily in the second half of its last three games, being outscored 72-6.
CORNERS STAY HOT, KEEP DAK COLD
With Elliott sidelined with his suspension, quarterback Dak Prescott has struggled to find his rhythm now that he is without his fellow sophomore standout.
Since Elliott's suspension kicked off, the Cowboys have lost all three games, with Prescott throwing five picks total and no more than 179 passing yards in any of the contests. Overall, the Cowboys offense has scored just two touchdowns in the last three weeks.
Extending the slump for Prescott will certainly be a goal of the Redskins' secondary on Thursday night, as the unit comes off a stellar performance against the Giants on Thanksgiving. The starting cornerback trio of Josh Norman, Bashaud Breeland and Jonathan Allen is a group that has seen its ups and downs this season, but there is no doubting the talent of this unit when it is on its game.
Norman, a former Pro Bowler, and Breeland, essentially a starter ever since his arrival in Washington, have already established themselves as viable corners in this league, but the coaching staff has particularly enjoyed the breakout of Fuller in the nickel corner role this season. So far in his second season, Fuller has picked off four passes, forced a fumble and has proved his worth in coverage.
"I think definitely from this year to last year, I mean, each and every week he grows," Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "He does a great job of getting hands on the slot receivers, but overall, he is just a smart player, a savvy player that understands the game of football and we love him for it."
After a tough outing against the Vikings, Breeland has also enjoyed a string of success these last few weeks.
"I think Breeland against New Orleans and the last two weeks has played extremely well. He really has and I think he's bounced back and done some good things," Gruden said.