November 30, 2017

Redskins vs Cowboys. Thursday Night Football.

Injuries and precarious placement in the standings aside, it’s still a big deal when these teams meet. At least it is to Redskins fans. So, given the opportunity to blog this thing, seems like some “analysis” is in order.

Rather than solemnly run through a dozen or more angles, I’m going to winnow it down to these few. Because, well, they’re the ones I kept coming back to this week.

In no particular order …

Redskins QB Kirk Cousins

No mystery here. He needs to bring it if the Skins are going to win. Which, given his history, is actually encouraging at first glance. In six career games against the Cowboys, Cousins has averaged 68% passing, thrown ten TD’s versus three picks, and racked up a QB rating of 100. Which is pretty good.

Unfortunately, he’s also 1-5, which is not.

The one win came in January 2016, when the Captain was just about perfect, going 12 for 15 for 176 yards, 3 TD’s, no picks, and a QB rating of 155.1. Chances are he’s not going to have that kind of night again Thursday—not behind a reeling OL, without his top two running backs, without a reliable proven WR, without mercurial TE Jordan Reed, etc. So while Kirk is definitely going to have to play well, he’s also going to need help. Not having to face Redskins-killer LB Sean Lee (see below) is a plus, but Cousins will also need a running game that resembles an NFL running game, tight ends and receivers to come up with key catches and maybe a bit ‘o YAC, and the defense to show up for more than, say, 56 minutes.

Which brings us to …

Redskins DC Greg Manusky

I love Greg Manusky. Except when I don’t.

I love that his defense shows attitude and generally plays hard—that’s something that has not been a given here in many years. I love that his short-handed group generally seems to come out of the gate fired up and dialed in, and holds other teams down early in games while the offense tries to settle in.

I don’t love that we’re back in familiar statistical territory, near the bottom of the NFL—20th yards allowed; 25th points allowed; 19th passing; 15th rushing. And I don’t love that I have to hold my breath and watch through my fingers late in games again, fearing The Collapse.

This is a defense that, despite myriad well-chronicled injuries, can hold Seattle wizard Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, on the road, to 14 points; and hold Drew Brees’ crazy-hot Saints to 16 points for 56 minutes (before collapsing and giving up 18 to blow the game). Conversely, it can also fail to show up at all, as in the home game against guy-at-the-end-of-bar Case Keenum and the Vikings. Sure, Keenum’s a nice enough story, and playing well. But the Redskins were humiliated on defense that day, allowing this future football trivia question to carve them up for 304 yards and 4 TD’s in a defensive effort that still has me shaking my head.     

I love Manusky today. I’m reserving the right not to again Thursday night.

Cowboys LB Sean Lee

The Cowboys will be without unlikely-looking superman Lee, by far their best defensive player. Throughout his career Lee has seemingly been in the Redskins offensive huddle, always seeming to know exactly where to be, when, and never missing a tackle once he arrives. No joke ... his absence looms large for the Redskins. How large?

Lee has played the Redskins nine times in his career. His first came in his rookie year in 2010—that crazy MNF season-opener at FedEx which the Skins won 13-7 on the back of DeAngelo Hall’s fumble-return TD.

Since then? Dallas is 8-0 against the Redskins in games Lee has played, 4-4 in games he hasn’t.

Yeah, I know—silly stat. But he’s out. We’ll take it.

Enough “analysis.” Here’s how this one feels.

Dallas has been blown out three straight weeks. That will stop Thursday night. The Redskins won’t win by 20-plus—it’s just not what they do. If the Redskins show up, meaning both sides of the ball, teams, and coaching, at some point Thursday night they’ll have a lead, momentum, and it will feel like they’re on their way to evening their record at .500.

But they won’t ‘close the deal’ and let us enjoy the fourth quarter. It’s not what they do. They’ll find a way to open the door and let Dallas hang around. When you close your eyes, you can almost see it. A penalty on offense that keeps them from converting a key first down. A completed 11-yard pass on a potentially game-clinching 3rd-and-12. A sack taken by Kirk, commendably keeping his eyes down the field in the face of the rush, but infuriatingly not stepping up into the pocket or wheeling out of it to extend the play. A blown assignment on Dez Bryant that turns a short-gainer into a long touchdown.

I honestly don’t consider this negativity, by the way. To me this is the accumulated experience of observed patterns over the course of many, many games, over many, many seasons.

I recognize that nationally the Redskins are finally seen as a team with some resiliency, some toughness, some character, a team capable of competing with anyone on a given day. But they’re so much more than that.

I recognize and grasp the significance that the team we saw stomp the Oakland Raiders way back in week three, before seemingly losing half their starters and key reserves to injury, is long lost to memory and not taking the field Thursday night … I also recognize that this patchwork Redskins team can overcome crazy odds and win inspiringly, as they did in Seattle.

I recognize that they can show up looking utterly unprepared and lose, albeit to a good team, like they did at home to Minnesota, while making a nice story like Case Keenum channel Aaron Rodgers for a day. And that they can thoroughly dominate a good team on the road for 56 minutes, hold a 15 point lead, and still somehow, incredibly, find a way to lose. Oh yes, Drew Brees is pretty good—a first-ballot Hall of Famer—but the Redskins owned him for 56 minutes before suddenly remembering that they were, in fact, the Redskins.

So what does all this mean?

It means no one who has been paying attention to this franchise for the past few weeks, years and decades has any clue what Redskins team will show up. They could not show up at all, allow Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant to get healthy at their expense and roll them on national TV. They could show up looking like the inspired group that shut down Russ Wilson and the Seahawks, and do just enough to take a nail-biter on the road. They could dominate … for a long time … and give it away at the end in head-shaking fashion.

What do I think they’ll do?

No fucking idea. It’s the Redskins.

But I’ll be watching.



Okay, I won’t cop out. My prediction:

Cowboys 24, Redskins 20

When I pick the Skins they lose.