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How Worried Should the Redskins Be about the Dallas Cowboys?

SB Nation logo SB Nation 9/12/2019 Tom Garrett
a group of baseball players standing on top of a field © Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Dallas Cowboys

2018 Record: 10-6 (1st, NFC East)

2019 Record: 1-0 (T-1st, NFC East)

Outlook: With the Eagles needing to recover from an early-season tailspin, and the Redskins suddenly down two quarterbacks, the Cowboys nearly won the NFC East by default in 2018, their fortunes altered dramatically for the better by the mid-season acquisition of deep threat Amari Cooper. Dallas went on to earn its first playoff win in four years, topping Seattle 24-22 in a Wild Card game before falling to the Rams 30-22 in the Divisional round.

The biggest story for the Cowboys this off-season was the uncertain fate of Ezekiel Elliott’s hold-out. That saga resolved itself in time for the start of the regular season, and Elliott helped the Cowboys to a season-opening win over the Giants, totaling 63 scrimmage yards and scoring once.

In that game, Dak Prescott torched New York for 405 yards and four touchdowns as Dallas prevailed convincingly, 35-17. Cooper and former Packers star Randall Cobb performed well, as expected, but Michael Gallup wound up as the Cowboys’ top receiver, hauling in seven balls for 158 yards.

The Giants’ Saquon Barkley was customarily explosive and got his yardage, but the Cowboys’ defense was tough inside the red zone, holding New York to 10 points until a garbage-time touchdown late in the fourth. Dallas now comes to Washington with a chance to put a two-game cushion between itself and its arch-rival before September is even half over.

How Worried Should the Redskins Be?: Very worried. I don’t think the Cowboys are any better than the Eagle team the Redskins nearly beat on the road in Week One. In fact, I picked Philadelphia to win the division. And I certainly think Washington’s defense is better than the Giants’.

Still, when New York was able to bottle up the returning Elliott, Prescott killed the Giants with his arm. The Cowboys, like the Eagles, have a bona fide deep passing game, and that aspect of the Philly attack burned the Redskins more than once and turned the tide of the entire contest.

On the plus side, Washington’s passing game was significantly better than I expected. Say what you will about Jay Gruden, but he has been consistently good at opening scripts since he was an OC. The Eagles game was no exception, as the Redskins moved the ball very well through the air for much of the first half.

Case Keenum was rock-solid when he had time to pass, which was most of the game. The offensive line failed to establish the run (part of which relates to play selection, obviously), but the protection was exceptional for the most part, and Terry McLaurin looks like the real deal we all hoped he would be after catching some flashes of his potential in preseason.

But put all of that aside for a moment.

You know what really worries me?

When Gruden, asked about Adrian Peterson’s role on the team, says “If we have a game where we think we can run the ball 55 times in a game in I-Formation, then, sure, I’ll get him up.”

This is bad leadership.

Even if Gruden believes that in his heart, and even if he says it in coaches’ meetings, saying this publicly, even tongue-in-cheek, is foolish. It creates unnecessary drama, negative attention, and resentment.

From a purely motivational and strategic standpoint, this is a jarring blunder by Gruden. He essentially said that Peterson—who ran for over 1,000 yards last year after being signed off the street when Guice tore his ACL—has no role on the team so long as Guice is healthy.

To be precise, Gruden said that the only way Peterson would be worked into the game plan is in a scenario that is quite obviously impossible.

There’s no reason to be this dismissive of a popular veteran. It further hurts Gruden in the eyes of fans, but, infinitely more importantly, it potentially alienates him in a locker room that was already opposed to Peterson being benched.

Now, of course, Derrius Guice is dealing with an injury, and Peterson appears to be the primary ballcarrier again after being a healthy scratch against the Eagles. Here’s hoping he runs for 250 yards and five touchdowns. If the Redskins can win, they’re right in the thick of the divisional race, and could be there to stay. Beating the Cowboys is perennially a cure-all for whatever ails the Redskins, on or off the field.

But the more likely outcome is that Washington falls to 0-2 in another competitive game, and Gruden’s attitude toward Peterson simply greases the skids on Gruden’s involuntary departure from D.C. if the Redskins’ record continues along a downward trajectory.

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