The Washington Commanders will close out the 2023 season on Sunday with a home game against the Dallas Cowboys. Here are three keys to getting an upset and spoiling the Cowboys' chances of winning the NFC East, presented by KIA.
1. Run the ball.
The Cowboys have one of the better defenses in the league today with Dan Quinn turning a unit that struggled to prevent anyone from scoring a few years ago into one that has given up just 19.1 points per game. If they have any weakness, it's on the ground. They rank 20th with 116.3 yards to opposing running backs.
So, for Washington to win, they'll need to run the ball and do it a lot.
Four of the five teams that have beaten the Cowboys this season have followed this philosophy. The Cardinals set that trend in Week 3, when James Conner led a 222-yard effort with 98 of his own. Since then, other teams with more dominant running games have followed that path as well. The San Francisco 49ers had 170 yards in a 42-10 blowout; The Philadelphia Eagles had 109 yards on 33 carries; and the Buffalo Bills let James Cook run loose with 179 of their 266 yards on the ground.
In their five losses, the Cowboys have given up an average of 171.6 yards.
The Commanders don't run the ball often. In fact, no one runs the ball more infrequently than them; their rushing play percentage 33.83% is the lowest in the NFL. When they run the ball, however, they are quite good at it; they average 4.5 yards per attempt, seventh in the league.
The Commanders would have to break some tendencies this weekend to beat the Cowboys, but they if they decide to do that, they do have a chance.
2. Be aggressive and be successful at it.
The Commanders had the right idea the last time they played the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread and playing a team that hasn't lost at home since Week 1 of the 2022 season, they needed to be aggressive. They tried three fourth-down conversions, which most agree was the right decision.
None of those attempts worked, though. In fact, the Commanders were pushed back -12 yards on two of them. The last one was an incomplete pass to **Terry McLaurin.**
It wouldn't be shocking if the Commanders decided to be as aggressive in the season finale. After all, there is nothing to play for other than spoiling the Cowboys' chances of winning the division. The best chance of doing that is to make every drive count. If they're on the opposing side of the 50, going for it should always be an option.
Of course, that also means the players need to execute. If not, it's going to be a long day to end the season.
3. Avoid giving Dallas easy opportunities to score.
The easiest way to lose against a team objectively better than you is to give them easy opportunities to score. That's part of the reason why the Cowboys were able to pull away in the second half on Thanksgiving, and in order to avoid that disaster again, the Commanders will need to make the Cowboys earn every point.
The Commanders' struggles on fourth down played a role in the Cowboys getting easier paths to the end zone. Dallas only needed three plays to score after Washington failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at its own 34-yard line, with Dak Prescott hitting CeeDee Lamb for a 15-yard touchdown. Then, after a failed four-and-4 attempt, the Cowboys marched 65 yards on five plays to go up 38-10.
But there were other problems that made things too easy for the Cowboys. On their second touchdown of the game, Brandin Cooks was wide open behind the secondary and jogged into the end zone to go up 14-3. Explosive plays have been a problem all season for the Commanders, so it's not a surprise that the Cowboys were able to exploit that.
The Commanders have been better at that since **Ron Rivera** took over as the defensive coordinator, but they will be tested against a Cowboys team that has everything to play for this Sunday.