Frisco -- Both the Cowboys (3-3) and Washington (3-2) are coming off of bounce-back wins as they square off at FedEx field today at 3:25 pm. A win by either would ensure at least a share of first place in the muddled NFC East race, but more importantly, provide much-needed momentum in what has been an uneven start to the 2018 season for both teams. Let's check out the matchups and storylines in this week's edition of "Cup of Joe."
Risky business: Dak on the run
Dak Prescott set career highs with 11 rushes for 82 yards in the Cowboys blowout win over the Jaguars. The focus this week has been on how much Prescott should run moving forward. Finding the right balance will be difficult, but it's becoming increasingly more apparent, Dak using his legs needs to be a staple for this offense to be productive.
Double-digit carries raise his risk of injury, but part of the balancing act depends on how many of those are called runs versus getting out-of-the-pocket in scramble situations. Perhaps Prescott will be more willing to tuck it and escape the pocket when the reads aren‘t as clear as he’d like. But recall he dribbled the ball twice when fumbles bounced right back to him early in the Jacksonville game. He doesn’t figure to be that lucky moving forward, so ball security has to be priority one as Prescott relies more on his feet.
Communication is key
Running back Zeke Elliott and offensive lineman Zack Martin were among the Cowboys leading the call for better communication in Washington. There are many facets to the problem. Some of the communication is spoken, some of it unspoken, and sometimes the issue is players not seeing the same look the same way. The Cowboys seem committed to over-communicating which probably won‘t be a bad thing. Scoring early to help get the offense find a rhythm and quiet the Washington crowd won‘t hurt either.
In terms of communication, you must also consider all the new personnel throughout the offense. Offensive lineman Joe Looney is doing well at the center position, but he can‘t be expected to communicate on the level of Travis Frederick, who in the past, Dak Prescott has called a “genius” at deciphering defensive looks. Guard Connor Williams is seeing the pro game for the first time. There are several new receivers taking their first crack at this offense, and the tight ends are expected to do more in the run game. Calling for better communication is great, but putting action behind the talk is key. Don’t expect the mistakes to go away overnight.
Peterson out to make a statement
Washington running back Adrian Peterson is battling ankle and shoulder injuries, but expect him to be out to wreak havoc. In his 11th season, he ranks 15th among NFL rushers, and still averages a healthy 4.4 yards/carry.
Peterson grew up in Palestine as a big Cowboys fan. He expects that upwards of 75-percent of his family members will be rooting for the Cowboys. He needs 125 yards to today to pass Cowboys icon Tony Dorsett for ninth place on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
Peterson eliciting the quote of the week from Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He said if there was Aan “all man team,“ Peterson would be “on the first unit.”
Cowboys defensive line must add to Washington's offensive issues
The talk this week in Washington has been about quarterback Alex Smith’s struggled to fully grasp Jay Gruden’s offense. Smith has lead Washington to just one second-half touchdown in five games. Gruden criticized Smith Monday, saying the veteran in his 14th year is holding onto the ball too long. That should have the Cowboys defensive line licking their chops.
The Cowboys are in the top 10 in the NFL with 18 sacks on the year, and that’s with DeMarcus Lawrence not getting any the past couple of weeks he’s been battling a flared up torn labrum. Lawrence (shoulder) along fellow defensive linemen Randy Gregory (knee), Taco Charlton (thumb), and Maliek Collins (knee) have all been on the injury report but were all full participants Friday. That bodes well for the Cowboys in terms of putting pressure on Smith.
The Cowboys may have figured out something on offense in the blowout win against Jacksonville, one of the NFL’s better defenses. Look for Prescott to show off his mobility and that defense to get after Alex Smith, who is 1-and-2 against the Cowboys in his career.
Cowboys win 27-23, building momentum in Washington.