A second straight divisional meeting to open the Cowboys’ season has tension heightened at this early stage of the campaign. While you can argue whether or not Dallas’ road trip to Washington presents a ‘must win’ scenario, there are key matchups on both sides of the ball that are without doubt crucial for victory.
Dez Bryant vs Bashaud Breeland
To be fair, Josh Norman is the obvious trash-talking, jaw-jacking, social media-stopping contest all of us are dying to see (including some of the folks in East Rutherford it would seem). But before we get to Bryant’s need for cold-steel focus against #24, he’ll need to make sure he takes care of business against #26. Antonio Brown’s Monday night exploits aside, Breeland is a burgeoning stud at cornerback, and has done an effective job being physical to disrupt Bryant early in his routes in the past. As the Cowboys (hopefully) look to get the ball in their playmaker’s hands, its key for Bryant to consistently win off the line and give Dak Prescott an open and explosive target to feed.
Byron Jones vs Jordan Reed
While DeSean Jackson posts fear-worthy speed and Jamison Crowder’s quicks proved nightmarish in Week 17 last year, the most damaging threat to the Cowboys defence on a down-by-down basis is Jordan Reed. An athletic, physical run-after-the-catch freight train, nullifying the Washington tight end is key to preventing Dallas’ “bend but don’t break” scheme from fissuring, particularly in the red zone. Thankfully, Jones has proven one of the best erasers of elite tight ends in his young career. When deployed man-on-man down near the line of scrimmage, the 2015 first rounder has the ability to remove Kirk Cousins’ regular mismatch target. Let’s just hope Dallas’ safety rotation was a week one experiment safely nestled at the base of Rod Marinelli’s trash can.
Terrell McClain, Tyrone Crawford & Cedric Thornton vs Scherff, Lichtensteiger & Lauvao
For the Cowboys to clamp down on Washington’s aerial attack, it’s vital for McClain, Crawford & Thornton to create initial pressure up the middle. Why? Because Kirk Cousins is inefficient pushing the ball over the top and all-too-eager to fire short of the sticks. By cramping or collapsing the pocket, Dallas’ defensive interior can force two positive outcomes: Dangerous and off-target throws downfield, and undercooked short passes that allow the likes of Sean Lee and Barry Church to rally to the ball. Against the run, Dallas was inconsistent to kick off the season, with McClain the impressor with five stops. However, the late-game alleys that opened for nearly 7 yards a pop against the Giants can’t re-emerge in Washington. Matt Jones is the type of downhill back that can be frustrated by gap discipline and power at the point of attack, a task that will fall heavily on the Cowboys inside trio.