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3 Keys For Washington Entering Its Week 7 Matchup Vs. The Cowboys

Running back Antonio Gibson makes his way downfield during the Washington Football Team's practice on Oct. 22. 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)
Running back Antonio Gibson makes his way downfield during the Washington Football Team's practice on Oct. 22. 2020. (Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team)

The Washington Football Team will be looking for its first win since Week 1 when it hosts the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. (A comprehensive preview of the game can be found, HERE.)

Here are three keys for Washington entering the Week 7 matchup:

1. Pressure QB Andy Dalton

Dallas concluded the 2019 season with a starting offensive line that combined to make 18 Pro Bowl appearances and earn first-team All-Pro honors seven times. But Sunday in Washington, its starting unit will look very different.

First center Travis Frederick retired in March, and since the season started, tackles Tyron Smith and La'el Collins both suffered season-ending injuries. Guard Zack Martin was ruled out Sunday, too, after suffering a concussion Monday night versus the Cardinals. That leaves the Cowboys with a unit that has combined to start 26 games; Geron Christian Sr. is the only Washington starter who has started fewer.

Facing a ravaged offensive line, Washington must apply constant pressure to quarterback Andy Dalton. The Cowboys might have the NFL's best wide receiving trio in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, and if Dalton has time to throw, the 10-year veteran is going to find them.

Washington has only recorded eight sacks since its eight-sack performance in Week 1, but the Cowboys' issues up front are similar to the ones the Eagles dealt with in the season opener.

The defense will also be looking to take advantage against a Cowboys team that has committed a league-high 15 turnovers (nine fumbles lost and six interceptions).

"There are points during the season where sacks will come in bunches, turnovers will come in bunches and stuff like that will come," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "We'd like to have it each and every time out. We're going to keep working at it. I think the guys are giving great effort. I think we have a great understanding of the things we're trying to accomplish. I think the principles and the techniques and the things we're looking to do are getting better and better. Our guys are working really hard, and they have great spirit. We should continue to improve as we go throughout the season."

2. Feed RBs Antonio Gibson And J.D. McKissic

Washington has the worst rushing offense in the NFL, but the Cowboys' rushing defense has been just as bad, giving up an average of 173.3 yards per game.

Part of Washington's rushing woes stem from constantly playing from behind, often by multiple scores in the second half. That has forced offensive coordinator Scott Turner to switch to a pass-heavy scheme in the hopes of coming back without taking too much time off the clock. As a result, Washington ranks 28th with 23.5 rushing attempts per game, and that number has dipped to 20.0 the past three weeks.

To maximize its chances of success Sunday, Washington should try to establish the run early. Not only will it give running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson confidence, but it'll help the offense be more balanced, opening up passing lanes for quarterback Kyle Allen.

Unfortunately, with Isaiah Wright and Antonio Gandy-Golden out with injuries, Allen will be throwing to a motley crew of wide receivers, which means McKissic and Gibson should also be heavily involved in the passing game. That should not be an issue, as McKissic and Gibson are second and third, respectively, on the team in receptions, and McKissic is second with 167 receiving yards. McKissic has caught at least six passes in each of the past three contests.

3. Take Care Of The Ball

With the game on the line in New York, Allen completed eight of his 10 passes, including a pristine throw to Cam Sims for a 22-yard touchdown in the final minute. But the only reason Washington was in that position in the first place was because minutes earlier, the Giants returned Allen's fumble for a touchdown to go ahead, 20-13.

Such is the quandary about starting Allen: he can make game-winning plays, but sometimes his turnovers are too costly to overcome. And in 17 career games, he has committed 25 of them (17 interceptions and eight lost fumbles).

If there were ever a game for Allen to eliminate his giveaways, it would be against a Cowboys defense that has three takeaways all season. Do that, and Washington will have a solid chance of earning its first victory since Week 1.

"The first thing you have to do is protect the ball; he'd be the first person to tell you that," Turner said of Allen. "Trust in the rest of your team that we're going to get a punt off, we'll pin them, it's a tie game. So, we talk a lot about: 'Play the game, don't play plays.' I think just understanding situations is big and knowing when to say when."