When getting ready for this game, there was no doubt in my mind that the Washington Redskins would give the Cowboys their best shot. Defensively, the Redskins were still playing hard despite being put in terrible position by their offense. The Redskins' offense was as bad as any as I've studied this season, and the majority of their struggles had to do with the quarterback play of Rex Grossman and John Beck.
I really felt the Cowboys defense would be able to take advantage of how poorly Grossman had played since being put back into the lineup after Beck proved he couldn't handle the job. But when you struggle to get consistent pressure and you struggle with communication problems, even poorly playing quarterbacks can enjoy success.
Redskins' receivers had too much room to operate
For the previous two weeks, the Cowboys secondary had been outstanding. Against the Redskins, however, there were too many plays where receivers had room to operate. It all really started to fall apart when Orlando Scandrick was flagged for holding after he was beaten off the line because he wasn't in good position and had to grab his man. There was another time where the Redskins spread the Cowboys' defense across the field, forcing Terence Newman to play between two receivers on the outside because Gerald Sensabaugh failed to get over in coverage and replace Abe Elam, who had blitzed. It resulted in an easy pitch and catch for Grossman.
Scandrick also failed to get his hands on David Anderson during an out-and-up route, which resulted in a nice gain for the Redskins. If Scandrick gets his hands on Anderson in the 5-yard zone, he has no shot at getting that ball.
The Redskins drove into the Cowboys' red zone, and Grossman was able to deliver a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Jabar Gaffney. On the play, Sensabaugh thought he had inside help from Frank Walker, who was lined up at the other safety. At the snap, Gaffney runs up, nods to the outside and then gets Sensabaugh to have to try and adjust to him. Sensabaugh got turned and was unable to get back inside, and Walker wound up jumping an across-the-middle route underneath when he should've been helping Sensabaugh with Gaffney.
Loose coverage proves costly for Newman
While Scandrick and Sensabaugh had their struggles, so did Newman. He didn’t play near as aggressively as he had against Buffalo or Seattle. Maybe it had something to do with the chopped-up condition of the field and he didn't have confidence in his footing. Nevertheless, he played way too cautious on routes.
There was only one time where he drove on a ball, and that was on a pass over the middle to Anderson. Newman read it well, avoiding Anderson and knocking the ball down. Newman's problems were a result of always being four to five yards off in coverage. On third-and-11, Newman allowed Gaffney to run up the field and turn inside with plenty of room to catch the ball. Newman was a good four yards off.
There was another time where Newman got bumped off coverage when covering Donte Stallworth and couldn't rally to make the play. In previous games, Newman had been played much more physical.
Hatcher, Ratliff stand out on defense
When teams were able to run the ball against the Cowboys, it was mainly because of the poor play of the defensive ends. When the defense had success stopping the run, it was because Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore did a nice job of holding blocks at the point of attack.
If I had to give a game ball to one of these ends, I would hand it over to Jason Hatcher, who clearly outplayed former teammate and Redskins DE Stephen Bowen. Hatcher was able to get pressure several different ways. Ryan used him on twist stunts and over the guards in the nickel. Hatcher was always working his way up the field in the passing game, but he also did a nice job of stacking blockers at the point of attack.
Jay Ratliff keeps putting outstanding games together as well. He is one of those players that you really don't appreciate until you go into the lab and break his work down. Ratliff was strong at the point in the running game, overpowering center Will Montgomery several times, causing problems inside for the Redskins' zone running scheme. Ratliff was able to draw a holding call that brought back a nice gain on a pass play to tight end Logan Paulsen in the flat. In this game, the numbers were there for Ratliff, who has played well the last several weeks.
Where was Ware on game-tying drive?
Nobody appreciates the fine work of DeMarcus Ware and what he means to this team on a weekly basis more than I do. There is no questioning his talent and passion, but it's my job to point out flaws that I see during my film study. In this game, the defense allowed the Redskins to drive the ball down the field and score the game-tying touchdown. The 12-play drive -- for another weekend -- showed the Cowboys' defense couldn't close the game out, much like they couldn't against the Jets, Lions, and Patriots. On that final drive in regulation, the Redskins only doubled Ware once. On four of the plays, he was matched up against Jammal Brown. On the other eight, he went against young LT Trent Williams. The result for Ware: Not one sack or even a pressure.
Romo makes most of second-chances
Tony Romo won this game for the Cowboys, plain and simple, through his abilities to buy a second chance with his feet, think on the move and deliver a play when his team needed it the most.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys were going to have difficulties running the ball against the Redskins' defensive front. As well as DeMarco Murray had been carrying the ball, this was a game where the blocking was less than perfect and he had to fight for every yard.
Romo's reads and execution were spot on. Where he was at his best was his ability to feel the pressure and move to avoid it. Two examples were on touchdown passes to Laurent Robinson and Jason Witten.
Romo on the run: Example No. 1
Robinson did an outstanding job of getting in position to catch the ball. When the play started, it looked like Robinson was going to be brought in motion to create a bunch formation, but Romo did not bring him inside. At the snap, Robinson had to work up to the goal line and then sprint across to get Romo's attention. On the other side, Dez Bryant was jammed at the line.
With the pocket closing around him, Romo moved to his left to buy more time, and Bryant was trying to work himself free in the corner of the end zone. At the same time, Robinson is in the clear but is quickly closing ground to the Redskins corner on the other side of the field.
Romo, moving to his left, pointed to the left corner of the end zone to try and freeze the defender to that side. Bryant tried to work back that way, but Romo really was trying to create space for Robinson along the goal line.
At the moment of truth, Romo, instead of leading Robinson with the ball into the defender, throws the ball behind Robinson so he can brace for the catch. Robinson is able to adjust, make the catch and secure the touchdown.
Romo on the run: Example No. 2
On the TD pass to Witten, it was really a heady play by two veteran players.
Once again, Romo has to deal with pressure, but he's able to spin to his left to avoid the rush. Witten, on the right side of the formation, runs a curl at about 12 yards. When he turns, Witten sees Romo spinning out of the pocket, so he starts across the field to mirror the direction that his quarterback is turning.
Romo doesn't see Witten at first, but Witten makes himself available up and across the field. The Redskins had no safety help in the middle of the field where Witten attacked. Moving to his left and with pressure in his face, Romo delivered a strike to Witten, who was able to finish the play by getting to the end zone.
Less is more for DeMarco Murray
I knew it wasn't going to be easy for Murray, but the way he carried the ball was more impressive than his 250-yard effort vs. the Rams. On fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, with the Cowboys trailing 17-10, Jason Garrett decides to go for it.
On the field, Garrett has three tight ends, one wide receiver and Murray in the backfield. John Phillips is lined up as a wing to the left and comes in motion across the formation. Martellus Bennett is lined up on the line right, with Witten slightly off the line to his right. WR Robinson is wide left.
At the snap, the Redskins defense pinches down inside on both sides in an effort to clog the middle. Montrae Holland pulls from his left guard to the right. On the front side, Witten, Bennett, Tyron Smith and Kyle Kosier all block down inside to cave the edge.
Holland managed to get around the corner with Phillips out on the support. Holland pulled to block London Fletcher, but missed. Murray is now heading for the edge as Phillips loses contact with DeAngelo Hall, who is able to grab Murray in space. Murray, however, is much too strong for the cornerback and is able to finish the run by carrying Hall an extra four yards for the first down. The drive later was capped with the game-tying touchdown pass to Robinson.