Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday night's clash between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium:
Throw out the records, the stats and anything that happened last year. This is divisional football and one of the best rivalries in the NFL, both historically and currently. This makes for matchups that don't necessarily match season trends, and inspires individual performances that launch players into Redskins lore.
In addition to being a very emotional rivalry game, this is also an important division game that has long-term implications for the NFC East title. These are the two teams the division boiled down to last year and this season should be no different.
Will the Redskins win tonight and keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East? Or will they fall into the hole of 1-4? To be determined, deep in the heart of Texas.
The revealing play of the game actually came on the second play of the game, when Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III tucked the ball on a designed run play and followed his blockers around the left side of the line. Rather than ducking out of bounds for a modest gain, Griffin III instead hooked back to his right, cutting past Dallas defenders and down the sideline for a 15-yard gain. This was his longest run of the season and looked remarkably like he did at his peak last season.
As exciting as this is for fans at home, this means the world to his teammates, who feed off of his success and energy. This is big for all facets of the Washington Redskins.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Redskins offense appeared to be sleep-walking through much of the first half, but came alive behind the longest rush of Alfred Morris' career, a 45-yard touchdown for the team's first trip to the end zone today. The Redskins needed a spark and the Redskins got it from Alfred Morris, who put the team back within five.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
When the Redskins selected Jordan Reed with the team's only 3rd-round pick, the media blasted Mike Shanahan for padding an area of need. But Jordan Reed has been anything but depth, as he has become Robert Griffin III's top security blanket on plays when the team needs plays. He led the team for most of the day with four receptions for 58 yards, consistently bailing out the offense and catching a career-long 29-yard pass. That's the type of play the Redskins need from top draft picks, who become top tight ends with that type of play.
Credit the effort from a pair of non-household names, as cornerback E.J. Biggers and offensive guard Kory Lichtensteiger each kept the Cowboys out of the end zone, if for only on that play. Biggers saved a touchdown on the 90-yard kickoff return by Dwayne Harris. On the ensuing drive, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III fumbled the ball on a 12-yard sack near the Redskins goal line. With no other Redskins in the area, Lichtensteiger alertly recognized the ball on the ground and dove on it, preventing a Dallas recovery and unimpeded return for a touchdown. Although it was a temporary stop in each case, both plays deserve recognition.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--Redskins history is littered with good players who were great against the Dallas Cowboys. Running back Alfred Morris appears to be well on his way toward such notoriety, collecting a career-long 45 yard touchdown against his franchise's biggest foe. He finished the day with a team-leading 16 rushing for 81 yards, providing a strong return from rib injuries suffered in Week 4. He paced a rushing attack that came alive for 216 yards on the ground. The Redskins had enough success on the ground to stick with a balanced attack, they just weren't able to finish off enough drives with touchdowns.
--Rob Jackson returned from suspension for Week 6 and not a moment too soon. He made an immediate impact, intercepting a tipped pass from Tony Romo, halting a Cowboys drive that had crossed midfield. While the offense was tragically unable to capitalize on the turnover, it almost certainly took points off the board, keeping the Redskins in the game. Not sure if head coach Mike Shanahan was bluffing when he said Rob Jackson needed to be evaluated this week before activation on Sunday, but the evaluation paid off. Welcome back, Rob.
--After months of speculation, the Redskins finally started showing glimpses of last year's playbook, putting Robert Griffin III in motion, drawing defenders and opening up passing opportunities downfield. He also provided the spark he alluded to in the past, rushing nine times for 77 yards. The Redskins still have yet to cash in on the deep vertical game, but the opportunities are becoming more plentiful as the gameplan becomes more creative.
--The Washington Redskins all but eliminated Dez Bryant from the game in the first half, limiting him to four short receptions for 19 total yards. He has a track record of coming alive in the second half, but finished with just 19 more yards in the second half, reflecting the gameplan put together by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and solid good execution by cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Co. Hall also had a tremendous pass defensed in the end zone, preventing a sure touchdown by a fingertip. Hall has a reputation for playing big in big matchups and he was all over this one.
--Special teams elected to make the switch from Chris Thompson to Joshua Morgan, a move made possible by Leonard Hankerson's emergence in the passing game and Morgan's increased comfort in a new role. Morgan brings a much bigger, more physical demeanor to the position, allowing him to make more from nothing and stiff-arm his way past the first tackler. In his first day on the job, he returned four punts for 17 yards.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The Washington Redskins continued to fall behind early, trailing 14-3 through most of the second quarter. Falling behind by two scores takes the Redskins out of their gameplan and puts pressure on Kyle Shanahan to call an unbalanced attack. While the Redskins were able to chip back into it with field goals, the Redskins cannot trade field goals for touchdowns and expect to win games. They simply have to be better out of the gate and play the first quarter with the same intensity they bring to the fourth.
--Special teams went into the bye week with questions at returner and came out of tonight with a quagmire on coverage. Giving up a pair of 90-plus yard kick returns in coverage is so very unusual for a team that formerly ranked among the best in the NFL on coverage. Throw that stat out the window as the Redskins yielded an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and 90-yard kick return that set up another. It's pretty easy to see where things broke down on the plays, but the Redskins will be charged with figuring out how to correct these problems, and quick.
--The Redskins statistically bludgeoned the Cowboys in most facets of the game, out-rushing them 48-to-216, out-gaining them 462-to-218, and out-possessing them by nearly 10 minutes on offense. The stats the mattered were on defense where the Cowboys had a plus-one turnover margin, and on special teams where the Cowboys out-gained them 46-to-212 and a touchdown. That's the difference in this game.
--The Redskins have had little problem moving the ball this season, averaging nearly 400 yards of offense each week coming into this game. The problem tonight was finishing drives, as the Redskins thrice turned to Kai Forbath for chip shots when the offense couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Going against an elite offense like the Cowboys' doesn't afford the luxury of missed opportunities as it may have in Week 4 vs. Oakland. The Redskins need to figure out how to be more effective in the red zone or they will trade touchdowns for field goals all year.
--In seven career games against the Dallas Cowboys, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo still remains sackless against Tony Romo, a disturbing trend, especially considering the weight of this rivalry. Big games call for big performances and the Redskins need Orakpo to lead the way from here on out.
--The Redskins lost a pair of key contributors during the game, with cornerback David Amerson exiting with a concussion and long snapper Nick Sundberg leaving with a knee injury. Amerson's absence was felt as the passing game opened up for the Cowboys in the second half. Sundberg's absence was felt immediately as a high snap on a 49-yard field goal attempt sent it wide left. Not only did that take points off the board, but it also set up the Cowboys with the football near midfield.
--One of the most concerning numbers this season has been Robert Griffin III's ball security, especially compared to a season ago. He was a victim of circumstance—a receiver falling down on his route—that led to his late interception. But the more unsavory occurrence were the fumbles, most of which have been recovered by both he and teammates so far. But even when recovered, fumbles cannot be advanced and are almost always a negative play. These types of plays are worse than penalties for killing drives and have the power to keep an offense in a funk. While his fumble numbers are not out of line with his career, he needs to take better care of the football and sense when the pocket is closing in. Robert Griffin III has made a career so far out of making plays when things break down, but sometimes it's best to get rid of the ball and live to have another down.
Redskins great Santana Moss catapulted himself further into Redskins lore this afternoon, catching a pass for 29 yards in the fourth quarter. It may have been meaningless at that point in the contest, but the catch put him over 7,500 receiving yards for his Redskins career, the fourth player to do so (joining Charley Taylor, Art Monk and Gary Clark). It's fitting that it came against the Dallas Cowboys, a team against whom he has more than 1,200 career yards in 16 career games. Well done, Santana!
Robert Griffin III on team mentality after the loss:
"There is no quit in this team. You will not see us quit out there."
The Redskins sink to a disappointing 1-4 on the season and look ahead to home cooking this week against the Chicago Bears at FedExField.
The road doesn't get any easier from here, as the Redskins' next road trip takes them to Denver for a mile-high matchup vs. the Broncos. The Redskins have yet to win this year against the division and have already lost more interdivision matchups this year than in 2012.
Head coach Mike Shanahan has high marks after the bye week for his career, but fell to 1-3 after the bye during his time in Washington with today's defeat.
The Redskins executed gameplans on both sides of the ball and succeeded in keeping the Cowboys from repeating last week's performance vs. the Broncos. Despite strong performances in the running game and pass defense, they had too many missed opportunities to secure the win.
The scary fact is that the Cowboys also missed a number of opportunities tonight and this game could have been much worse. There will be more film study than meets the highlight reel tonight, as the Cowboys failed to make the Redskins pay for some of their mistakes.
But the silver lining in all of this is that this group has fought its way back from three games below .500 before, and they've done it from later in the season than this. This is not a lost season thanks to the resiliency and character of this locker room. How the team responds to a deflating loss with be dependent on the leadership rising to the occasion and pushing this team forward.