PHILADELPHIA—For the first time since 1999, the Redskins will play a game that has no meaning just prior to playing a game that will mean everything.
By beating the Eagles last night the Redskins clinched the NFC East title. They will host a playoff game at FedEx Field on the weekend of January 9-10. Washington will be the No. 4 seed no matter what happens next week in Dallas. So the question becomes, how hard should the Redskins try to beat the Cowboys?
It is something that Jay Gruden will have to ponder over the course of the week. “It’s a great question,” he said when asked about how he intends to handle it. “I think we’re going to have to look at the health of the team number one. Number two, it’s still the Dallas Cowboys. It’s something that we want to end our season on a positive note and keep the momentum rolling.”
Like most NFL teams the Redskins are operating with some banged-up players. Safety and defensive captain Dashon Goldson played all 81 snaps against the Eagles with a cracked rib. Three other players—C Josh LeRibeus (ankle), RT Morgan Moses (ankle), and WR Ryan Grant (abdomen) played the game after being listed as questionable on the injury report.
Then there are players who aren’t on the injury report but are still playing with pain such as left tackle Trent Williams, who has accumulated an assortment of bumps, bruises, and strains over the course of the season.
There is a third category of players that Gruden has to figure out what to do with. For example, Jordan Reed is relatively healthy but he has a history of being prone to injuries. Should he be allowed to play or be protected?
If Gruden acts like most coaches in this situation do he will not reveal any firm plans this week. He and the coaches will make their plans and won’t tell the media, the fans, or even the players what they intend to do. You can’t have a front line player go through the week thinking that he won’t play on Sunday and then all of a sudden you have to insert him into the lineup if the backup gets injured.
Whatever the specifics of how he handles it are, Gruden did make clear the priorities that will guide him in making his Week 17 strategy. Beating the Cowboys is secondary.
“We have to make sure, number one we check the health of our football team and we’ll go from there,” he said.