With Alfred Morris coming back into town alongside rookie Ezekiel Elliott, the Redskins defense is in for a tough test against the Cowboys with their two-headed rushing attack.
There has been a lot of talk this week about the Redskins cornerbacks against Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. Will Josh Norman go against Bryant the entire game? How can Bashaud Breeland recover after a tough Week 1?
While those questions and more have been swirling around, a major key to the game against the division rival is being largely ignored. The Cowboys are coming to town with one of the top offensive lines in the NFL and a strong running back group that will be hard to stop. Defending the ball on the ground will be important to helping the Redskins find success against a tough Dallas offense.
"They're great. They work well together and they're big and physical," linebacker Mason Foster said. "It's always tough when you've got (the offensive line) mauling people up front and a running back just playing off of it, making cuts and getting downhill. It's going to be tough, but we're going to be ready. We're working. We've got a great game plan so we're going to come out firing."
The Cowboys offensive line has multiple dominant Pro Bowl players, including Zack Martin and Travis Frederick, that will provide a tough challenge, especially with their ability to make holes.
In addition, the players that they are making holes for are dominant in their own right. Dallas selected Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and acquired former Redskins back Alfred Morris in free agency. Morris had a strong career with the Redskins, including becoming the fastest player in Redskins history to reach 3,000 rushing yards in 2014.
The Cowboys began the 2016 season with 101 rushing yards against the Giants. Elliott only gained 51 yards on 20 carries, while Morris had 35 yards on just seven attempts. An area of the running game that the Redskins will have to pay extra attention to is the possibility of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott running the ball. With starter Tony Romo out with an injury, Prescott's ability to move around is another addition to an already strong rushing attack. Prescott rushed for 12 yards on two attempts in the Giants game.
"He's young, but he's experienced," linebacker Preston Smith, a college teammate of Prescott, said. "He's a great guy, he's poised in the pocket, so we just got to make sure we rattle him and just keep him from having comfortable passes and we just go out there and execute better than they're executing. That's what the game's going to come down to."
The Redskins will need a better performance stopping the run than Week 1 if they hope to force Prescott into tough situations.
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
In their loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football, Washington allowed 147 rushing yards, with DeAngelo Williams gaining 143 of those yards on 26 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Most of the yards came in the second half after Williams only had 38 in the first two quarters.
The yardage in the second half took significant time off the clock, so making sure that doesn't happen in the divisional battle will be important.
"You give up 50 yards rushing the last five minutes of the game, that sickened me a little bit," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "You get in that situation (down late in the game), guys are maybe trying to do a little bit too much. You know, we talk about all the time getting the ball back, but you try to strip the ball just to get the ball back in what offenses call the four-minute drill, we are trying to get the ball back. I think guys just instead of believing in their keys, believing in the call, believing in the defense, they kind of tried to do a little bit too much and it bit us a little bit."
The Cowboys offense is one that the Redskins have little tape on and, despite the frequency with which the two teams have faced each other, Washington has very little experience with the offense because of the amount of change it has had.
Seeing both new faces and familiar ones in silver and blue at FedExField on Sunday will be a big test for what this defense can do. And this defense is certainly not underestimating that.
"We got to be ready and prepared to stop a RB like that that's like a bowling ball," Ricky Jean Francois said about Morris following Monday's loss. "He can keep going forward off of hits and mind you, he has Elliott behind him and that's one good (running back). They have Dez Bryant and they have so many weapons on that field, so we have to get to Prescott ASAP."
The players know that they can be accomplish this and walk out of the stadium with a win by keeping things simple.
"Everybody doing their jobs and all 11 hats to the ball – the better," Ziggy Hood said. "If you secure your gap, do your job well, you're going to have success on defense."