With one game left, the Washington Redskins are preparing for what they believe will be a relentless, but disciplined, Dallas Cowboys' defense.
As he broke down film to prepare for Sunday's game at FedExField, Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay said that the Cowboys have a "real sound" defense that plays their own game, and plays it well.
"Coach Marinelli does a great job getting those guys to play hard," he said. "Don't do a lot, but what they do, they do extremely well. They've got a bunch of guys on that side of the football that pursue and play really hard. They're a good defense."
This season, the Cowboys have had their fair share of injuries on defense. Currently listed on the team's Reserve/Injured list include cornerback Morris Claiborne and linebackers Justin Durant and Sean Lee.
Due to those key injuries, Redskins fullback Darrel Young believes that this is a defense that doesn't get the respect it deserves.
"They make plays. They just make plays," he said. "People look at their defense and say that they're not good, but they're a really good team. The D-ends are stepping up. Guys are making plays when they're supposed to. They're relentless and they run to the ball."
To echo his teammate, tight end Logan Paulsen believes that the Cowboys are one of the better team defenses in the NFL.
"They're just a really good group of guys that play really hard and play really well together," he said. "That's a rare combination in the NFL, so it presents its own set of unique challenges."
Barry Church has stepped up once again from his strong safety position to record a team-leading 89 total tackles and two interceptions. At linebacker, Rolando McClain has stepped in for the injured Lee and made 81 stops while forcing two fumbles.
"They're really disciplined," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "They flock to the ball, guys play really hard and people don't give them a lot credit, but they're really physical. Definitely between the hashes – their front seven – they're about as physical as it gets."
Up front, the Cowboys flex the most muscle. Dallas is ninth in the NFL in stopping the run (103.1 rushing yards allowed per game) and has held five of its last six opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. Dallas has also had success getting to the quarterback, as well, recording 25 sacks on the season.
The last time these two teams played, however, Washington was able to gain the advantage by running the ball.
Check out the top images from Washington Redskins' practice on Dec. 26, 2014, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.
In a Week 8 Monday Night Football matchup, the Redskins gained 409 yards of total offense, including 123 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns. Alfred Morris rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown, helping lead a strong second-half effort in the Redskins' 20-17 overtime victory in Arlington, Texas.
While statistically the Cowboys have improved since their clash with the Redskins, McVay said that he hasn't noticed too many new wrinkles schematically in Dallas' games.
"I wouldn't say they're doing anything different," he said. "They always have some third down designer things week in and week out that most teams do, but on first and second down they're pretty regulated and do an excellent job playing those core coverages and fronts that they play."
To clinch the NFC East on the same day the Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas turned in one of their more impressive performances of the season. In a 42-7 win over the Colts, the Cowboys forced three takeaways and held Indianapolis -- the league's No. 1 offense -- to just 1-yard rushing.
As both teams enter the final week of the regular season following impressive wins, the Redskins are preparing themselves for what will be a hard-hitting battle in the latest chapter of this classic rivalry.
"Everybody has to execute against their guy across from them every single play and they're going to come," Paulsen said. "They don't take plays off. They play really hard. It's going to be a bring your lunch pale and hard hat and see who comes out victorious [kind of game]."