Who: Redskins (8-7) at Cowboys (4-11).
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Watch: Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at 12 p.m., and Redskins Postgame Live at 4.
My five storylines/matchups to watch:
1-Although the Redskins can’t improve their playoff position, there’s still plenty to play for…at least, individually. Kirk Cousins will be chasing the franchise record for passing yards in a season. Cousins can claim the top spot with 120 more yards; Jay Schroeder currently owns the record with 4,109, set in 1986. Jordan Reed, meanwhile, can take sole possession of the team record for receptions by a tight end in a season with one more catch. (He’s currently tied with Chris Cooley with 83). Reed can also break the team record for receiving touchdowns in a season with two, and can become the first tight end in franchise history to record 1,000 receiving yards if he can pick up 93 more. Considering the fact that Coach Jay Gruden has said both Cousins and Reed will play, it’s likely that at least a couple of those records will be rewritten.
2-Speaking of resting starters, Gruden hasn’t been specific when discussing who will sit and who will start. But this week’s injury report probably offers some clues. Safety Dashon Goldson (shoulder/rib) and cornerback Quinton Dunbar (quad) are the only players who did not practice at all Wednesday or Thursday. Running Matt Jones, meantime, was downgraded to ‘DNP’ on Thursday after suffering a setback on Wednesday. Got to imagine 32-year-old defensive back DeAngelo Hall (calf) and 33-year-old defensive end Jason Hatcher (neck/knee) are candidates to sit, as well. Gruden will designate players as probable, doubtful, questionable or out on Friday afternoon.
3-So, yeah, it’s possible the Redskins won’t have some key players. And the Cowboys won’t have Tony Romo or Dez Bryant, both of whom are on injured reserve. But that doesn’t mean that the Redskins who do end up dressing should approach this contest any differently—even if it’s a little tougher to find the motivation. Momentum is a real thing in the NFL. And right now the Redskins have it. They’ve won three in a row, four of five and have a chance to post a winning season. “We got to keep this momentum going,” defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois said. “We need to finish the season out 4-0. …The team that usually finishes with the hot hand this time of year, usually ends up in the Super Bowl, a.k.a. Santa Clara. This is the same [Dallas] team that came here and beat us in our stadium, on the center stage.” Jean-Francois was, of course, referring to last month's gut-wrenching, 19-16 loss to the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
4-Is it possible Pierre Thomas can inject some life into a Redskins’ run game that’s averaging 3.6 yards per carry? (Only the Chargers, at 3.4, are averaging less.) Thomas enjoyed a breakout game in Philly, rushing for 22 yards on four carries (5.5 per) and snagging seven passes and 67 yards. Count Gruden among those who were impressed. “The thing you like about Pierre is there’s really nothing he can’t do,” Gruden said. “He can run between the tackles. He can run outside. He’s great in pass protection and catching the football. …I don’t know why he was on the streets.” Thomas did, however, tweak his knee in practice earlier this week. He told me on Wednesday that he expects to suit up in Dallas, but the situation bears watching.
5-Is the Redskins’ run defense coming around at the perfect time? It certainly looks like it. During a six-game span from Week 5-11, opponents averaged 175 yards per game on the ground. The past five games? Just 100.4 per. While there are many reasons for the uptick, the biggest may be the fact that massive nose tackle Terrance Knighton is playing his best football of the season. Additionally, the defense on a whole is tackling better and doing a better job of limiting big plays. “Just look at the Philly game the other night,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “We held them to 2.8 yards per carry. They’re a team that lives and dies on the explosion run. When you do your job and you tackle, it’s amazing what happens.” As it just so happens, all three teams the Redskins could face in the first round have good running games. Seattle ranks third in rushing yards per game (141.6), while Minnesota is fifth (137.3) and Green Bay is 10th (118.3).