By Kevin McGuire
After playing on Thanksgiving, both the Dallas Cowboys (5-6) and the Washington Redskins (5-6) are back in action on Thursday night this week in an NFC East rivalry game. With each team coming in with identical losing records, the stakes are fairly high as the season begins to hit the final stretch. Win and you remain on the fringe of the NFC playoff radar. Lose and you may have to begin looking ahead to the draft and next season.
When They Last Met
In the first meeting between these two old rivals this season, the Dallas Cowboys fed running back Ezekiel Elliot to the tune of 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 33-19 victory on the road. Dallas took control of the game in the second half by outscoring the Redskins 19-6 after halftime. Dak Prescott was 14-of-22 for 143 yards in the game for Dallas. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins was picked off in the final minute of the game by Byron Jones, who returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.
Game 4 without Ezekiel Elliott
The Cowboys will once again be without running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott dropped a legal battle with the NFL over the status of his six-game suspension handed down by the league prior to the start of the season. Elliott has already missed the last three games, which have all been losses for the Cowboys, yet he remains the team’s leading rusher with 783 yards and seven touchdowns. Former Redskins running back Alfred Morris has been the primary running back in his absence. He has not scored a touchdown in the last three weeks as the offense has gone missing along with Elliott.
Scoring Outage in Dallas
The impact of not having Elliott has been devastating for the Cowboys, but there are some concerns that go beyond simply not having him on the field. The Cowboys have failed to score more than nine points in any of their three games during this span. After scoring an early touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys have scored 7, 9, and 6 points in their last three games, respectively. Playing Washington could be a slight cure for those offensive woes. Washington ranks 25th in the NFL in scoring defense.
Washington has been more competitive than the record may suggest
The Redskins are so close to having a winning record this season, but costly mistakes and defensive shortcomings have tended to hit at the worst possible times. Two of Washington’s double-digit losses in division play have come with late turnovers by Kirk Cousins being returned for touchdowns in the final minutes. Washington has defeated the Rams and the Seahawks. Washington hung in with both New Orleans and Minnesota, and even Kansas City when it looked like the Chiefs were a contender (they are not anymore). While the record is what it is, do not be surprised if Washington once again plays a close game. Can they find the upper hand at any point and take advantage of the opportunity?
Why the Philadelphia Eagles will be watching
Because the Cowboys, Redskins and New York Giants have all been having their various struggles, and the Philadelphia Eagles have been flying high with the NFL’s best record, the Eagles can clinch the NFC East on Thursday night without playing a single down of football. If Dallas loses, then the Eagles will clinch the NFC East Division championship. If Dallas wins, then the Eagles will have to try to take care of business themselves on Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. At this point, the Eagles winning the NFC East is inevitable. It would take a mammoth collapse at this point to not see the division be won by Philadelphia.