Monday Night Football
Washington @ Dallas
Already without LCB DeAngelo Hall, the Redskins' pass defense endured another major blow in Week 7 as OLB Brian Orakpo suffered a year-ending pectoral tear. Washington will turn to athletically-challenged rookie Trent Murphy to replace Orakpo. Murphy has shown solid run-defense chops but struggled mightily to rush the passer in year one. Although Tony Romo's pass attempts are down in Dallas' new ball-control offense -- he's on pace for 490 after firing off 648 in 2012 and 535 across 15 games last season -- Romo should be taken seriously as a QB1 start in this gorgeous matchup. Even with Orakpo in the lineup, the Skins surrendered a 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 103.6 passer rating against, the sixth worst mark in the league. Romo should have an efficient and productive Week 8 box score. Working in Romo's favor is Monday night's healthy 49-point over-under, with Dallas as 9.5-point favorites. The Cowboys are going to score points. ... Orakpo's absence is also likely to be felt in run defense, where he graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 6 overall run-defending 3-4 outside linebacker, among 49 qualifiers. Although Murphy has played well in that facet of the game, keeping it up as an every-snap defender is a much taller task. On pace for 428 carries, 2,087 yards, and 16 touchdowns, DeMarco Murray remains this week's top fantasy running back play. Murray is also on pace for 51 receptions, which would come close to last year's career high of 53.
Romo's Weeks 1-7 target distribution: Dez Bryant 69; Jason Witten 35; Terrance Williams 32; Murray 26; Cole Beasley 16; Lance Dunbar 11; Gavin Escobar 9; Dwayne Harris 7; Devin Street 4. ... Hall sometimes gave Dez trouble in the past but is on injured reserve now, leaving disappointing sophomore RCB David Amerson and speed-deficient rookie LCB Bashaud Breeland to contend with Bryant on the perimeter. It's a blowup spot for Dez, who had a great argument to be ranked as this week's No. 1 fantasy wideout play. ... Williams' limited usage has predictably begun to catch up to his box-score production, but he's worth a look as a WR3 against the Redskins. As Williams runs most of his routes at opposing left corners, he will take on Breeland for most of this game. 5-foot-11, 197-pound Breeland ran a sluggish 4.62 forty with a 34 1/2-inch vertical at February's Combine. He is PFF's No. 95 cornerback among 106 qualifiers. Williams is 6-foot-2, 208 with 4.52 speed. ... A bigger part of Dallas' running game than passing attack, Witten hasn't been a fantasy starter at any point this season. The Redskins are 25th in receptions (28) allowed to tight ends, and 24th in yards (297). So far a non-factor in scoring position, Witten has just three red-zone targets on the year. ... Another threat to Witten's passing-game role is the emergence of 6-foot-6, 254-pound Escobar, who played a season-high 26 snaps in Dallas' Week 7 win over the Giants and caught touchdown passes from 26 and 15 yards out. 23-year-old Escobar is much more Dynasty prospect than re-draft asset, but he's an obstacle for Witten's usage in and around the red zone.
After replacing pick-machine Kirk Cousins at halftime of last week's win over Tennessee, Colt McCoy dropped back to pass 14 times. He threw 12 passes, with only two traveling further than ten yards. Always a short-ball thrower, McCoy is a classic checkdown-oriented NFL backup with sub-par arm strength who plays small in the pocket and will surprise you with his inaccuracy and lack of escape ability. McCoy's career completion rate is 58.9% with a 22:20 TD-to-INT ratio and a dozen fumbles across 21 starts. Is McCoy capable of handling himself well for one game? Yes, but my bet is last week will go down as that one game. Facing DC Rod Marinelli's opportunistic defense, which quietly ranks 12th versus the pass and tied for eighth in interceptions (7), McCoy would be a poor two-QB-league play. At home against a third-string-caliber quarterback, Dallas' fantasy defense is worth a serious look as a streamer. ... McCoy's target distribution off the bench last week: Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon 4; Andre Roberts, Niles Paul, Roy Helu, and Darrel Young 1; DeSean Jackson 0. ... McCoy actually did target Jackson twice against Tennessee, though neither counted as one would-be 36-yard gain was negated by offsetting penalties, and Jackson drew a 22-yard pass-interference flag courtesy of Titans LCB Jason McCourty on the other. D-Jax will still be a risky, dice-roll WR3 against the Cowboys due to what's likely to be poor quarterback play in a game where Washington might not have the ball much. ... Reed is the one Washington pass catcher I'd feel truly confident starting at Jerry World. Not only are the Cowboys allowing the second most fantasy points to tight ends, but McCoy looked to Reed three times on the Redskins' game-winning drive last week, connecting for gains of 7, 9, and 9 yards on critical chain-moving plays. In his second game back from a torn hamstring, Reed's snap rate jumped from 57% to 67%. Continue to treat Reed as a locked-in TE1.
Although Garcon leads the Redskins in 2014 targets, it's concerning for his TD potential that he's only been thrown at three times in the red zone. Whereas D-Jax will run most of his Week 8 routes against burnable Cowboys LCB Brandon Carr, Garcon gets the tougher draw versus RCBs Orlando Scandrick and Sterling Moore. Scandrick covers the slot in nickel packages, but plays right corner in Dallas' base defense, and is replaced on the perimeter by Moore on passing downs. Moore and Scandrick are both top-13 cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus' grades. Carr is 79th among 106 qualifiers. Garcon owners can try hanging their hats on last week's 70-yard touchdown -- delivered by McCoy -- as being predictive. I'm just as interested as you to see whether it really is. If forced to choose between starting D-Jax and Garcon on Monday night, I'd go with Jackson. ... As no team in the NFL has shown an ability to stop Dallas' rushing attack, Redskins skill-position players will be dicey Week 8 fantasy investments. Washington could conceivably get dominated in time of possession by a Cowboys team that leads the NFC in that statistic and pulls no punches with its team philosophy. Dallas will run the football with volume regardless of down, distance, and game flow. So despite the fact that the Cowboys surrender 5.38 YPC to opposing running backs, game-flow-dependent Alfred Morris will be a high-risk RB2. Should the Redskins fall behind, we'll end up seeing an awful lot of Helu. McCoy's presence under center can't help Morris' Week 8 outlook, either. As a popgun-armed passer, McCoy guarantees a condensed offense and allows the opponent to cheat toward the line of scrimmage.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Redskins 17