In first game, Dallas was no match on defense
ASHBURN -- After the Thanksgiving Day game, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan proclaimed his group handled the "college stuff" well. It was the rest of the Redskins' offense that provided problems.
Ryan's assertion isn't completely accurate. The Redskins did hurt Dallas, indirectly at times, with portions of their so-called college attack. But Ryan is right in that it was the Redskins' basic offense that was the issue.
Which brings us to Robert Griffin III's sprained right knee. His running ability, at least on designed runs, wasn't what delivered a 38-31 win. It was his right arm. Not that his legs didn't help; Dallas pressured him enough that he had to move in the pocket. And he kept the ball out of the zone read option on three occasions. He also executed a sprint rollout for a touchdown pass. It's likely that Griffin's legs will be a bigger part of his game than they were last week vs. Philadelphia.
Dallas' defense is banged up, but it's not dramatically different than what Washington faced the first time. It does have a new nose tackle in Sean Lissemore -- though perennial standout Jay Ratliff missed the first game, too. And linebacker DeMarcus Ware is playing with a shoulder injury that might require offseason surgery. But the Cowboys have six regulars on injured reserve (the Redskins have four).
Both the Giants and Eagles fared better against the Redskins' offense in their second meeting for whatever reason. Against New York, the Redskins went from 480 yards and 23 points in the first meeting to 370 and 17 in the second. Against the Eagles, Washington went from 361 yards and 31 points to 313 yards and 27. Yet the Redskins went 3-1 in those games, including wins in both of the rematches.
"I think it's a little bit overrated whether it's your first time or second time," Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "Once the game starts, it can be totally new, and you have to see what's going on and be ready to adjust."
Still, the Redskins will test the Cowboys' discipline, just as they did in the first game.
They didn't just need Griffin's legs in that November game. Here's how they produced:
Deception » The Redskins scored two touchdowns in which they fooled the eyes of the defense. On Aldrick Robinson's 68-yard catch, the safeties were caught staring in the backfield thanks to a zone read fake. By the time safety Danny McCray realized it was a pass, Robinson was two yards in front of him, and it was too late as he sped past.
On the 29-yard touchdown pass to Niles Paul, the Redskins set it up all game with Paul blocking inside from this look. He angled that way from the start, and when there was a play fake, Dallas was doomed. Nobody covered Paul.
Finally, Santana Moss' 23-yard catch came off a play-action in which he ran a deep cross. Dan Connor could be seen looking to his left as the ball was thrown to the other side over his head. Plays like that force the linebackers to drop and often turn their backs to the quarterback.
Individual effort » Griffin was on point with his passing, perhaps as accurate as he has been all season when it came to throwing intermediate and deep. He hit Robinson in stride on the 68-yard touchdown pass; his sprint rollout and back-shoulder pass to Santana Moss for a 6-yard touchdown was perfect. Griffin converted six of 12 third downs with his passes.
But Pierre Garcon's 59-yard catch and run was all him. With a linebacker on the outside, Griffin had to throw the ball inside. That forced Garcon to make a terrific grab, then burst as he hit the ground.
Cutback runs » Running back Alfred Morris rushed for 113 yards on 24 carries. It should be noted that his second-best run, a 15-yarder, came one play after a Griffin 14-yard keeper out of the zone read -- and a 10-yarder followed a Griffin 9-yarder. But for the most part, Morris hurt Dallas with cutback runs. The Cowboys did a good job preventing long runs, but he was consistent: 17 of his runs went for at least three yards; 12 went at least four yards.
Time and again Morris drew the linebackers one way, and once they committed, he cut back the other way.