NFL Nation: 2013 Week 6 WAS at DAL

Redemption for Cowboys' defense

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Last Monday Jason Hatcher held his grade sheet from the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos and made a promise to assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett.

"I owe you one, man," Hatcher said, shaking the paper. "I didn't like this."

Hatcher spoke for himself, but he could have spoken for the entire Dallas Cowboys defense.

On Sunday, Hatcher repaid the coaches and so did the rest of the defense in the Cowboys' 31-16 win against the Washington Redskins.

"I felt like I owed my coaches," Hatcher said. "I owed it to Coach Marinelli and Leon. They put so much into it and I let them down. I couldn't let that happen again. I had to redeem myself."

[+] EnlargeDallas' Jason Hatcher
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesJason Hatcher strips the ball from Robert Griffin III. Hatcher finished with two sacks.
Hatcher had two sacks, giving him a career-high five on the season. He was credited with six tackles, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. He did most of it with running mate DeMarcus Ware on the sidelines because of a quadriceps injury.

There was redemption for the whole defense, too.

After giving up 81 points in the previous two games, the Cowboys gave up just one touchdown to the Redskins. After seeing San Diego's Philip Rivers pass for 401 yards and Denver's Peyton Manning pass for 414 yards in back-to-back weeks, the Cowboys gave up just 246 yards to Robert Griffin III. After combining for one sack on Rivers and Manning, they managed to get Griffin on the ground three times.

A defense that had five takeaways in the season opener had only four in the last five games, but came up with two Sunday with a Kyle Wilber sack/fumble that was turned into the game-clinching touchdown and an Orlando Scandrick interception.

"I don't think we lost any confidence," Scandrick said. "We've just got to keep playing. We've got to find a way to win games. I've been around here for a long time and it's whatever it takes."

It wasn't perfect.

The Redskins still put up 433 yards, which showed improvement from the 506 yards the Chargers put up and the 517 yards the Broncos put up, but still way too much.

Washington converted on 8 of 16 third-down attempts and held the ball for 34 minutes, 32 seconds. The tight ends continued to give them issues with Jordan Reed catching four passes for 58 yards.

Washington ran for 216 yards on 33 carries, the eighth most the Cowboys have allowed in a win in franchise history. Griffin ran nine times for 77 yards. Alfred Morris had a 45-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that Scandrick lamented.

"They should've only scored nine points," Scandrick said. "I can't miss that tackle."

There was more progress than just making the Redskins punt (something that Denver didn't do last week). The Cowboys defense rallied in the red zone. Washington did not score a touchdown in three red zone trips. The Broncos had six in seven trips.

"As a defense we challenged ourselves," said cornerback Brandon Carr, who shadowed Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon. "We weren't satisfied with the last few performances. We felt like we could've made plays and left some on the field and didn't play to the best of our abilities. There was no more excuses. No more talking about it. Just go out and get the job done and have fun.

"Hopefully it was a glimpse of some good things to come."

Redskins are anything but special

October, 14, 2013
Robert Griffin Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports"We're close on offense," Robert Griffin III said. "But close doesn't do it in this league."

ARLINGTON, Texas -- He targeted special teams, a good place to start after the Washington Redskins’ latest loss. Darrel Young, his voice going a mile a minute and full of fire, stopped with this unit, blaming them for the loss. He could have continued on to other aspects of the team. And nobody would have stopped him. When you’re 1-4 and you had designs on contending for a division title and perhaps the Super Bowl, there’s no simple reason you lost. Again. There’s no simple way to turn it around.

Play better? Of course.

The problem is there’s no one spot that’s consistently failing the Redskins. It’s all of them. The offense can’t generate points in the first half, constantly putting the team in a deficit. They’ve trailed at the half in each game. The defense struggled for the first three games, yet they did their job in Sunday’s 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And there is the special teams. The woeful special teams.

“Every phase they kicked our butts [on special teams],” Young said.

“That was the worst special-teams performance since I’ve been here,” Redskins special-teamer Niles Paul, in his third season, said. “We were outplayed in every phase of special teams. Just a meltdown.”

But this isn’t just about the special teams. It’s about a team that can’t find its way, one year after it ended as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. If Robert Griffin III hadn’t gotten hurt in that Seattle loss. It seems so long ago. And it seems like more than an offseason between then and now. It feels like a lifetime.

“It’s definitely an awkward feeling,” Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson said of their start.

Chances are, their fans are feeling something other than awkward.

It’s also tough to see it getting back anytime soon to that pre-Seattle-injury point, when they felt with a healthy Griffin they could have gone on a long run. It’s not just the 1-4 record; it’s the way they've gotten to this spot. Just overall sloppy play. Before the game, one Redskins team official said they just needed to go out and play well. That way, even if they had lost, they could see something upon which they could build.

What do they build off of this game? The defensive performance was solid, limiting Dallas to one legitimate scoring drive (the first one of the game). But they could not stop the Cowboys in the red zone. Yes, it was a better showing than the defense had in the first three games. Heck, they held receiver Dez Bryant to 36 yards and harassed quarterback Tony Romo into a 72.9 passer rating. They held Dallas to 213 total yards. You look at those numbers and you think one thing: Washington won.

Instead, the Redskins lost by 15. Goodness.

An offense that seemingly took a step forward against Oakland before the bye week regressed Sunday night. They couldn’t stop a Dallas pass rush despite the Cowboys losing end DeMarcus Ware. They couldn’t convert in the red zone. They turned the ball over twice, once inside their own 5-yard line. One step forward; two back. Griffin looked more spry; it didn’t matter.

“We’re close on offense,” Griffin said. “But close doesn’t do it in this league.”

No, it does not. Sure, the Redskins show signs of life at moments. But they’re not playing winning football. Sometimes that’s a tough term to define, but not when you watch this team. Too many penalties. Too many missed tackles. Too many breakdowns.

“I feel every week we’re getting better,” running back Alfred Morris said. “I’ll stand by that. But at the same time it seems like we get better in one area and we take a step back in another area. You can’t do that and win games.”

[+] EnlargeDwayne Harris
AP Photo/James D. SmithAfter a penalty wiped out a good punt and forced them to kick again, the Redskins watched Dwayne Harris return the punt for a touchdown.
They’re not good enough to overcome 12 penalties for 104 yards, as they had Sunday night. If you’re good and you commit that many penalties you’re considered aggressive, and perhaps that undisciplined style is part of your charm. When you commit that many and you’re 1-4? They question your discipline and coaching and say you don’t do the little things well. It’s all true.

When you’re playing like the Redskins are now, you have an illegal-motion penalty on a fourth down, wiping out a punt that left Dallas at its own 16-yard line. So you kick again. And the returner, Dwayne Harris, takes it 86 yards for a touchdown -- and you lose one of your top special-teams players along the way in Bryan Kehl, who hurt his knee on the play.

“We found the enemy,” Young said. “It’s us. … It sucks. At the end of the day it’s unfortunate, but we have to move on from it.”

That’s all they can do. The question is, how do you fix this? The Redskins need to prove they can play well for an entire game. That, not the number of games, is the answer. If they don’t start doing that, they can play 20 games and still keep finding ways to lose. It's good for the Redskins that the defense is playing well; it'll have to play even better.

Not that they’re counting themselves out. They won’t do that, nor should they.

“I don’t feel like a team that can’t rebound,” Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “I don’t feel like a team that is out of it. I definitely don’t feel like that. We’re going to go back to work. All the losses hurt. They should hurt.”

If they don’t turn it around soon, they’ll start to hurt even more. An entire season would then come crashing down.

Williams' steady progress on display

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Terrance Williams' evolution as an NFL wide receiver took another step forward in the Dallas Cowboys' 31-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday night.

And it came with the Baylor rookie's Heisman Trophy-winning college quarterback, Robert Griffin III, playing for the opposition.

Williams caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game, this one on a spectacular throw and catch, on which he combined with quarterback Tony Romo, for the play of the night.

The scoring play went for 15 yards. Romo avoided an outside rush, recovered and lofted a perfect throw into the corner of the end zone that Williams was able to bring down and then keep both feet in bounds.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams has taken advantage of Miles Austin's absence with six catches and two TDs in the past two weeks.
"Fantastic play," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "It really was."

Williams' season is turning around after some early-season drops and a crucial fumble near the goal line in the Cowboys' 30-21 loss at San Diego two weeks ago.

Since then, Williams scored on an 82-yard touchdown play and had four receptions for 151 yards against Denver last week before his dazzling TD catch on Sunday night, when he finished with two receptions for 27 yards.

"He's got just a lot of will," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He's a player that it just breaks his heart to mess up, so to speak. He's just continually fighting through that and trying to get better, and you're seeing that right before our eyes."

Williams' rise from a two-star high school recruit to a star at Baylor happened because of the fast-paced practices he went through with Griffin.

That has carried over to the Cowboys, among whom Garrett has praised Williams often for his work ethic and desire to improve.

"He learns from the experience he has, both good and bad, and he really grows," Garrett said. "It's a real tribute to the approach he takes each week."

Williams said he leaned on the work he puts in with Romo during practices to make Sunday night's touchdown catch, an over-the-shoulder grab.

"In practice, it's something that we try to do," Williams said. "Whenever plays break down, you have to find a way to get yourself open."

Williams said he had a brief meetup with Griffin after the game, the first time they've been on opposing teams. His Baylor teammate had an erratic game, completing 19 of 39 passes for 246 yards.

"He just told me he loved me, and I love him back," Williams said. "I told him I'll see him again."

Locker Room Buzz: Dallas Cowboys

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed in the locker room after the Dallas Cowboys31-16 win over the Washington Redskins.

Atop the East: With Philadelphia winning earlier in the day, the Cowboys knew they needed to win to keep pace in the NFC East. Sunday’s win sets up a first-place showdown with the Eagles (3-3) next week at Lincoln Financial Field. “Obviously this was a big game in the division,” tight end Jason Witten said. “You want to get to 2-0 in the division. Two losses there in a row [overall], too, but we know how important to get that win in our division was. Especially after last year, they took it to us pretty good twice. That’s a big win for us. Our division games are always that way. They’re tight. They’re ugly in a lot of ways. I thought we did a good job fighting through it.”

Situational defense: After getting torched in their last six quarters, the defense responded with a better effort in slowing down the Redskins. They allowed 216 yards rushing on 33 carries, including a 45-yard touchdown from Alfred Morris, but they were able to keep Robert Griffin III out of the end zone and hold him to a 58.3 passer rating, sacking him three times and intercepting him once. Most important, they were able to keep Washington out of the end zone on three red-zone trips, one week after they allowed Denver to score on six of seven red-zone possessions. “Any time you can keep a team out of the end zone, that’s huge,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “They made some plays, but we were able to come up with plays when we needed them.”

Health check: DeMarco Murray and DeMarcus Ware will undergo MRIs on Monday after being forced to leave the game with knee and quadriceps injuries, respectively. Murray has a sprained MCL in his left knee. The team is not sure of the severity of the injury, but Felix Jones played through the injury last season with a heavy tape job on both knees. Ware was walking fine after the game, and said that he would be OK.

Locker Room Buzz: Washington Redskins

October, 14, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Observed in the locker room after the Washington Redskins' 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Reality check: For the fourth time this season the Redskins had a quiet locker room. But there was more of a shell-shocked look on the faces of the players. Nobody is more surprised by the 1-4 start than the Redskins’ players and coaches. “Lack of execution is costing us games,” running back Alfred Morris said. There’s still a long ways to go, and perhaps that’s why Reed Doughty spent several minutes "coaching" up Jerome Murphy in the locker room, going over scenarios and different plays. But they all know time is getting short.

Ouch: Cornerback David Amerson left the game in the second half with a concussion. Coach Mike Shanahan did not have an update after the game, but Amerson will be evaluated throughout the week. Special-teamer Bryan Kehl said he felt something pop in his knee on the Cowboys' second-quarter punt return for a touchdown. The killer on that play: Kehl had the angle on returner Dwayne Harris. "I would have made the tackle," Kehl said. He'll undergo an MRI. Long-snapper Nick Sundberg suffered a knee injury as well. Shanahan was not sure how serious it was, but Sundberg could not finish the game.

Dead zone: The Redskins had three trips inside the red zone, but settled for field goals of 20, 32 and 33 yards. Meanwhile, the Cowboys had four trips in the red zone and came away with three touchdowns. That’s a 12-point difference. “I think we had a solid game, but we need touchdowns instead of field goals,” Redskins center Will Montgomery said.

Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

October, 13, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 31-16 victory against the Washington Redskins.

What it means for the Cowboys: It might be too early in the season to say this was a must-win for the Cowboys, but coming off the disheartening 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos last week it really was.

Falling to 2-4 would have been devastating with back-to-back road games upcoming and the team in the midst of the first three-game losing streak of the Jason Garrett era.

This was by no means a masterpiece, but the Cowboys travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles with a 3-3 record and feeling a lot better about their team. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the division for the first time since 2007.

The special teams kick-started the victory with Dwayne Harris' punt return for a touchdown and the offense was able to take advantage of two short fields (set up by a Harris kick return and a Kyle Wilber fumble recovery) for two touchdowns.

The first touchdown was a thing of beauty from Tony Romo, who sidestepped a blitzing Josh Wilson and fired a pass to the corner for Terrance Williams. The second score was Joseph Randle's from 2 yards with 9:36 to play, but center Travis Frederick should get an assist for helping push the rookie running back across the goal line.

Stock watch: Rising -- Jason Hatcher. He was without DeMarcus Ware for most of the game, but he was simply a terror on the interior, giving the Redskins fits throughout. He had two sacks of Robert Griffin III to give him five on the season, which is a career high.

A special returner: Harris was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his three-tackle effort versus the New York Giants in Week 1. He could win his second honor of the season for his returns against the Redskins.

Harris had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave the Cowboys a 14-3 lead. His 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter set up Williams’ 15-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 21-9 lead.

It was the third kickoff return of at least 90 yards in franchise history that did not go for a touchdown.

Defense makes a stand: The Cowboys' D wasn’t perfect, but after allowing 1,023 yard and 81 points in the previous two games, it didn’t need to be perfect, though Dallas still allowed 416 yards.

The Cowboys allowed a 45-yard touchdown to Alfred Morris, but made him work for his yards. After allowing back-to-back 400-yard passing games, they kept Robert Griffin III in check for most of the game as well, limiting him to 246 yards.

Wilber came up with a sack/fumble of Griffin to set up the clinching touchdown, and Orlando Scandrick had a pick of Griffin in the end zone to end a fourth-quarter threat.

The defense even had three sacks after putting up one in the previous two games combined.

What’s next: The Cowboys travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Eagles. For defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin it will be a chance to show he can slow down Chip Kelly’s offense at the NFL level. He didn’t do it at Southern California. In three games against Oregon, Kiffin’s defense allowed an average of 601 yards and 50 points in losing two games. Last November the Trojans gave up 730 yards in a 62-51 loss.

Welcome to AT&T Stadium

October, 13, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Welcome to AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys take on the Washington Redskins in a crucial NFC East matchup.

The Cowboys (2-3) have lost two straight games and the Redskins are coming off their bye week after their first win of the season. In order to keep pace with the Philadelphia Eagles the Cowboys will have to beat Washington.

The last time these teams met the Cowboys lost their second straight de facto NFC East title game, dropping a 28-18 decision at FedEx Field to finish 8-8 for the second straight year.

Rekindling the rivalry: Last December’s game could go a long way to re-establishing a rivalry that has largely been among the fans -- and not the players -- because their on-field successes have been minimal in the past 15 years.

Most of the players are unaware of the feelings the Cowboys had toward George Allen, Joe Theismann and even Joe Gibbs. They don’t know about Harvey Martin throwing the wreath in the locker room.

“A lot of people are asking you, ‘Who’s your biggest rival?’” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think all the division games, since I’ve been around, they’re great rivalries. You think about the Cowboys-Giants games, the Cowboys-Eagles games and certainly the Cowboys-Redskins games, these things go back a long, long way. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of it in a couple different seats and I think our players understand. Whether or not they know the history about the different players and the great teams involved, I don’t know that, but I think they understand the importance of it and the significance of it and how the games feel.”

Slowing RG3: The Cowboys were not able to get to quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning the past two games, sacking them just once, and they largely knew where they would be in the pocket.

Robert Griffin III might not be running the way he ran last year, but he can still move.

“It’s all about how you can change with the way the league changes,” defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “You have Philip Rivers and you have Peyton Manning and now you got a read and react type quarterback who can run but also pass the ball really well, so you have to look at it as your responsibilities. You can’t give guys too many things to worry about when they’re doing all kind of trick ‘em plays and you have to make it simple for them.”

What’s the encore: Tony Romo threw for a franchise-record 506 yards and tied the team record for touchdowns in a game with five in last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos.

Can he replicate the game if not the numbers?

“You want to be able to play games over and over again where you play at a high level,” Romo said. “That is the goal.”

Romo is 6-6 as a starter against the Redskins. In five of his last seven starts against Washington, the Cowboys have not scored more than 18 points. He has completed 273 of 442 passes for 3,093 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He has two games with more than 300 yards, three three-touchdown games and four one-touchdown games.


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