John Keim: Anything to cherish when you're not winning? Hard to say. But I get the question: You want hope for the future. I do like Bashaud Breeland, but it's hard to say how good he'll be as a starter. If Robert Griffin III plays well, then that's where you can start to really cherish something from this season. Keenan Robinson's development is another. And if their two rookie offensive linemen, Spencer Long and Morgan Moses, develop, then those are two more positives. But there's so much time remaining in this season.
Does fans have anything to cherish atm? Is Amerson developing into a quality starter? Was it wise not to commit to Rak? Anything #jkmailbag— Jakob Nielsen (@jakobnie) October 23, 2014
Trent Murphy's development as anything. If he shows that he can be an effective every-down linebacker, then you obviously don't either have to re-sign Orakpo or draft a guy in the first round. If Murphy shows he's not an all-around guy, but could help as a nickel rusher and there's a playmaking outside linebacker available in the first round when they draft, then sure, that's an option. There's such a long time between now and the draft and so many variables will come into play.
Coach Jay Gruden said they will start Tom Compton at right tackle for Monday’s game at Dallas. Compton and Polumbus alternated in the second half of Sunday’s game against Tennessee. Polumbus has been dealing with an injured knee, but the benching is centered more on his performance than his health.
Gruden also said Compton has earned the start. For most of the first six games, Compton served as a third tight end in run situations. The third-year pro has worked at both tackle spots. When he first entered the league, the book on him was good athlete, but he needed more strength. Compton has focused hard on the latter area, though at times he has issues with getting driven back. But the quickness serves him well in the zone run game.
“He’s done a good job,” Gruden said. “All throughout camp he’s been a very good swing guy for us. He played well against Tennessee in the reps he got so we’re going to give him an opportunity.”
But Gruden said they’re not sure who the other active tackle will be, Polumbus or rookie Morgan Moses. The Redskins had hoped to let Moses sit and develop this season, then perhaps become a starter in 2015.
He improved during training camp, though he had a long ways to go. Moses had a tendency to bend too much at the waist, which left him with bad footwork and struggles in one-on-one situations. He was better by the end of camp -- the coaches liked how he would fix mistakes quickly. But he has been limited to seven snaps this season. He allowed one bad pressure against Seattle when he appeared uncertain of what he should do on a play. Moses, though, clearly remains a player they want to develop into a starter at some point in the future.
Polumbus is a free agent after the season.
And what Griffin said he learned was that it was time to listen -- a lot. Griffin spoke with the media for the first time since Sept. 15, a day after hurting his left ankle when he merely said that he'd received good news about his ankle.
He did not take questions Friday, but he delivered a statement for his longest answer since the night of his injury. He started it with a quote from the late prime minister of England.
"A quote that I stumbled upon during this process of being injured and being out was by Winston Churchill, and it says, 'Courage is what it takes to stand up and do something. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen,'" Griffin said. "So, during this time, I've been listening, learning, growing as a player in this offense."
Whether or not he keeps sitting, or for how long, remains uncertain. The Redskins have not officially said who will start Monday against Dallas, but all along they've maintained that they're planning on it being Colt McCoy.
Coach Jay Gruden said Friday that nothing has changed: They're preparing McCoy to start Monday and for Griffin to become the starter at some point.
"He's getting more and more reps," Gruden said.
But Philadelphia, Seattle, Arizona and the New York Giants all went above their current average when facing the Redskins. Those also happen to be the best four offenses the Redskins have faced.
And here’s the problem: Dallas averages 28.0 points per game, fourth in the NFL. Sure, the Redskins could try and control the ball with their ground game, but that hasn’t worked as Washington averages just 99.4 yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. Also, Dallas is second in the NFL in time of possession at 34 minutes, 35 seconds. The Redskins should be able to run on Dallas, but they must convert on third downs and in the red zone, two problem areas this season -- 31.7 percent on third downs; 52.4 success rate in the red zone.
The Redskins’ defense has actually played better than many think. But they now have a rookie starting at outside linebacker to go along with two young corners, two questionable safeties and a young inside linebacker. They do some things well, but there are also growing pains. And did we mention that Colt McCoy is making his first start since 2011? If the Redskins can’t run the ball then too much will be placed on his shoulders.
Prediction: Cowboys 30, Redskins 20
- DeMarco Murray is a good RB having a great season behind a fantastic O-line. It’s not like they have a Pro Bowler at every position, but they do have studs at left tackle (Tyron Smith), center (Travis Frederick) and right guard (Zack Martin). Right tackle Doug Free can be beaten. Free seemed to do well on the move, but when just one-on-one straight up, he had more issues. But, again, those issues rarely hurt Dallas. Martin blocks with a bit of an attitude and works well to the second level. When he blocks a linebacker, the guy typically gets moved back. Washington’s guards might get there, but they don’t move anyone. Smith is a wonderful athlete, who will pull on occasion. Also saw him cut two defenders on one play while on his knees. This group has enabled Dallas to stay committed to the run. The Cowboys have run the ball an NFL-high 235 times, compared to 148 at the same point last season, according to ESPN Stat & Information. The result: an NFL-best 31 runs for 11-plus yards (no one else has more than 22). Murray is a good back and you need to stop him; his vision is solid and he’s doing a good job finding the holes -- patience helps, as does knowing those holes will develop. Backup Joseph Randle can be a shifty back and has 18 carries for 120 yards.[+] EnlargeTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys investment in its offensive line -- including spending a 2014 first-round pick on Zach Martin -- has been paying off.
- Tony Romo uses the talent around him well. It’s not just about Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, it’s also tight end Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams (19 catches, six touchdowns; likes post-corners if a safety covers him) or, on occasion, Cole Beasley. Those players get in favorable spots because of what’s around them. But Romo also is given time to find those players; they’re not always a first option. For example, on a 15-yard touchdown pass against the Giants, Romo faced a four-man rush, had 3.2 seconds to throw and was never in danger before throwing to Escobar, likely a third option, in the back of the end zone. Romo trusts his line and it shows. Escobar will line up wide as well. Dallas will run some misdirection on occasion – faking an end around to the left and throwing a screen back to the other side. The Cowboys will sometimes send a back on a route on what essentially is a pick from the receiver. Mostly, though, they execute well and if a team doesn’t stick in its rush lanes, Romo will buy time. Bryant is fantastic and does a terrific job fighting for the ball in the air. He’ll also nudge off corners on back shoulder throws in the end zone, much like a basketball player getting free from his man. It’s subtle; it works.
- The defense does just enough. They’re helped by an offense that dominates time of possession. The only defenses that have faced fewer plays than Dallas are those that have played one fewer game. It matters. This is a blue-collar unit that hustles and stays after quarterbacks, but lacks a playmaker. They will mix coverages; last season it was a lot of Cover 2, but they’ve used more of the Seattle-type looks this season. They don’t trick teams up front, though they will stunt. Teams have had success spreading them out with three receivers and running (85 carries, 500 yards). File that away for Monday. They will give up yards after contact -- an average of 1.94 per carry (27th in NFL). They have some who can rush with a little power and the Redskins have holes on their line, but overall the Cowboys only have seven sacks and no one has more than 1.5. Corner Orlando Scandrick has played well against Washington. Linebacker Rolando McClain is a surprising twist, leading Dallas with two interceptions and playing well for the first time in a tumultuous career. The Cowboys rank ninth in points allowed. The key: few big pass plays (only 16 for more than 20 yards, which is best by a team with seven games and second overall) and few trips to the red zone (19 -- only one team with seven games has faced fewer). Again, when your offense controls the ball, scores a lot and doesn’t turn it over, it helps your defense a lot.
For the 16th time on “Monday Night Football,” the Dallas Cowboys will meet the Washington Redskins.
Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17) have met on "Monday Night Football" more. The Cowboys come in with a six-game winning streak, their longest since 2007, and the Redskins halted a four-game losing streak last week.
Just looking at the records -- Cowboys 6-1 and Redskins 2-5 -- this should be an easy win for Dallas. But that is not the case in this series. Only two of the past 12 meetings have been decided by more than a touchdown.
NFL Nation reporters John Keim and Todd Archer bring you this week’s game preview:
Todd Archer: It looks like Colt McCoy will start against the Cowboys, so at least one Texas kid will make the start for Washington -- if not the one everybody expected at the start of the season in Robert Griffin III. But I want to talk RG III. When he comes back, it’s his job, but if he continues to look only so-so in his return, when do the Redskins start to wonder if he is the long-term guy?
John Keim: I think there’s already some wonder. There’s no doubt about his talent but he has to get a better grasp of the offense and what the coaches need from him. There was some frustration over the pace of his development this summer, especially compared to Kirk Cousins’ growth. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s the truth. However, they also have a commitment to developing Griffin, who still has a massive amount of talent -- and, as we saw two years ago, a guy who can be a major playmaker when used properly. I think he can still make plays while learning and so do they. The final half of the season will be all about his development. You can’t turn him into some robotic quarterback but he has to show some strong development if he wants them to give him a fifth-year extension in the spring. Otherwise, he’ll be playing for a new contract next season.
DeMarco Murray showed in the past that he could be a good runner, but what he’s doing now is extraordinary. I know they have an excellent offensive line, but has something changed with him as a runner? Or is he a by-product of the talent around him?
Archer: I can’t guarantee this, but I think something changed for him last Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Lance Dunbar carried 12 times for 82 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the game. Murray had 17 carries for 63 yards in that game and really had left a lot of yards on the field not only in that game but in a lot of games. He wasn’t seeing things well at all. But I think seeing Dunbar perform so well he knew he needed to pick his play up. Since then he has had nine 100-yard efforts in his 11 games. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I think that could be something. Plus, he and running backs coach Gary Brown spent a lot of time looking at defensive fronts and how to find the softness in those fronts with the designs of the run. Runners have to feel natural. They can’t become robots. Murray has found a good blend of being natural while also understanding what the fronts will do to not only stop him but potentially help him.
Jason Hatcher had 11 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle last year with the Cowboys. He signed a good deal with Washington to return to 3-4 defensive end. How is he playing and do you think he will have some extra motivation entering this game?
Keim: Yes, I do. It’s always natural, as you know, for a player to play at a different emotional level against his former team. And he made it clear that he doesn’t regret signing here despite Dallas’ success. But he is playing pretty well here. He’s clearly their best defensive lineman and one of their best players overall defensively. Jay Gruden has wanted some players to take control and rattle things a little bit and there have been times Hatcher has tried to be that guy. He has three sacks, but he’s done a nice job taking on double teams and occupying blockers. He plays with some fire and they need that. My worry for him is that he’ll wear down -- he’s had a couple of nagging things -- and if that happens they’re in big trouble up front.
At what point did you say, "This team might be for real." Did you see hints of this sort of season being a possibility back in training camp?
Archer: I didn’t have that feeling at all. I still have some questions, honestly. I went into training camp thinking they would be 8-8. After camp I thought about dropping them down to 6-10 but decided to stick with 8-8. I figured the offense would be fine. There’s too much talent on that side of the ball not to be above average. I believed Scott Linehan would bring it all together after it was something of a disjointed mess in 2013 with Jason Garrett still kind of involved, Bill Callahan calling plays for a passing game he didn’t really know and Tony Romo having a large say. But what kept me from thinking anything better than 8-8 was the defense. There were many times in practice the offense just embarrassed them. There was one practice where Murray and Dunbar wouldn’t get touched until 10 yards down the field. There were few interceptions. It was beyond bad. And I didn’t think it made sense to rely a ton on Rolando McClain given his history. I’ve remained somewhat skeptical but after taking care of New Orleans, they've really opened my eyes. I think this team is just rolling with a ton of confidence right now.
People will look at the records of these teams and think it will be an easy Dallas win. I think I know better. What is it about the Cowboys, even when things are not going so well for Washington, that makes the Redskins raise their level of play?
Keim: Yeah, this one sometimes defies rational thinking. I’m guessing this rivalry from a fan’s perspective is more one-sided to the Washington, D.C., area. Players say they hear a lot about the need to beat Dallas after they sign here or when they meet fans in the offseason. I mean, it’s a constant topic they hear about when out in public. So the importance of beating them is ingrained. However, I also think it’s about how teams match up. And as inconsistent as the Redskins’ defense has been of late, it's always matched up well against that offense. The Redskins might lose, but they always play better than anticipated (it seems). Dallas’ line had enough holes that the Redskins' front could expose, whether one-on-one or with stunts (which worked well in 2012). That line is, um, slightly better now it appears. Still, the combination of that matchup and the ability to make a few plays on offense -- remember Santana Moss? -- allowed them to compete more than anticipated in some games.
Are you sold on the Cowboys’ defense? If so, why? What concerns do you have about the team overall as we near the second half of the season?
Archer: I’m not renting on the defense, but I’m not sure I’m buying, either. They don’t rush the passer well. They can have spotty moments. I just don’t know if they can handle the burden when the offense has a down game and the offense will have a down game or two. It happens to every team. But they have far surpassed the expectations I had in camp (see previous answer). Rod Marinelli is doing a great job of using the players’ strengths. It’s not that he is really flexible with what he does. He’s just really basic with what he does and that allows the players to play fast. McClain has been a revelation but so has Justin Durant. He has more tackles in five games than he had in 10 games last year. Orlando Scandrick has played at a high level. Tyrone Crawford has fit in nicely as the 3-technique, which has made Henry Melton a situational player. They haven’t missed Morris Claiborne at all. But the biggest concern is the pass rush. They have seven sacks in seven games. DeMarcus Ware has seven in Denver. They can’t get to the quarterback and they’re not a big blitz team, although Marinelli has done it more than he has in the past. They’re counting on rookie DeMarcus Lawrence to make a huge impact when he comes back from short-term injured reserve Nov. 2. It’s a lot to put on a second-rounder but they really don’t have any choice at this time.
- Robert Griffin III. It’s not because anyone thinks he’s legitimately going to play -- it’s always been a long shot, as many of us stated Sunday night. But his progress is still pivotal, even in practice. Plus, the Redskins say he’ll give a statement Friday about his situation. Why he won’t talk is beyond me; he’s a mature 24-year-old and still the future of the franchise at this position. If you don’t trust him to say the right thing here, then that’s saying a lot -- and it also speaks to how much the organization remains haunted by last season. But to have him release a statement? Seems a bit odd. If he were coming off a suspension, then I get it. I don’t get this.
- Coordinators' turn to talk. Both Jim Haslett and Sean McVay will address the media Friday. For Haslett, the trick is defending an offense that is as hot as the Dallas Cowboys' -- and doing so while having to replace another starter. People can knock Brian Orakpo all they want, but he was a good all-around linebacker and he’s being replaced by a rookie in Trent Murphy, who may or may not be the future at this spot. As for McVay, I know I’ll talk to him about the red zone and, obviously Colt McCoy. The run game was an issue last week -- and the week before, etc.
- For the blog Friday, my Cowboys colleague Todd Archer and I preview the game (that’ll be live at 8 a.m. ET) and we’ll both have our predictions later in the day. Archer also wrote a story on quarterback Tony Romo becoming more accurate. Archer also talked with another of our colleagues, Jean-Jacques Taylor, about the Cowboys' defense. Yes, Friday means mailbag and also Three Things that I’ve Learned about the Cowboys, based on watching film and talking to players.
But other positions have some questions:
Right tackle: Gruden still isn’t sure who will start from among Tyler Polumbus, Tom Compton or even Morgan Moses. Gruden said it’s a close decision and said part of Polumbus’ problems this season stem from soreness in his knee. He also said Compton deserved a chance last week, which is why they alternated him with Polumbus. A rotation remains an option Monday.
Left guard: There really wasn’t any decision to make because it’s not as if Gruden had said anything about a change. But it’s also not as if Shawn Lauvao has been solid all season. So Gruden was asked if Josh LeRibeus would be getting more reps. “We’re not anticipating moving Shawn out of the spot at left guard,” Gruden said. “We feel good about him. We feel good about Trent [Williams]. Kory [Lichtensteiger] is doing a good job, Chris Chester’s doing a good job.”
Though coach Jay Gruden at times tried to keep some intrigue about the situation -- saying at one point they’d announce a decision at 7:30 p.m. Monday night -- he also was firm when asked if he was still proceeding as if McCoy was the starter Monday, “Oh yeah, yes.”
Gruden had said Wednesday that they wanted to make a final decision Thursday, giving that quarterback a chance to get all the reps. But that decision could come among the coaches Thursday night. It's still a major longshot for Griffin to start.
“Robert really hasn’t changed, there’s not a whole lot to say,” Gruden said. “He’s just steadily progressing in these drills. We’ll make a decision later on.”
Griffin was limited in practice Thursday, though he took some first-team reps. However, McCoy took the great majority of repetitions in team drills. For Gruden, the trick is to get Griffin some snaps as he’s returning from his dislocated left ankle while also preparing McCoy.
“We’re trying to get [Griffin] reps to get him ready to go because ultimately when it’s all said and done, when Robert’s healthy, Robert is the starter,” Gruden said. “We have to get Colt reps right now, but we also have to make sure we’re bringing Robert along at the right rate so when he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”
Gruden said Griffin has been cleared “to do just about everything. Now it’s, how’s he feeling and how is he holding up.”
Griffin has not spoken to the media about his situation, per direction from the team. He’s scheduled to give a statement Friday.
“He wants to play, no question,” Gruden said. “But he also knows he has to go through the process. He understands that. He’s a great competitor. He still has to get out there and throw these balls in the team drills to the wide receivers to get himself back in game form. It’s not so much the injury as it is getting himself ready from a mental and physical standpoint and playing football.”