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Bold Predictions, Part 2: Ground Game

Bold Predictions, Part 2: Ground Game

The two teams have had very similar seasons. Of the 12 games they each have played so far, not counting the one against each other, nine have been against common opponents. The comparative results are muddled. The Redskins got bombed by the Giants, the Cowboys split with them, Washington beat Philly, Dallas swept the Eagles (second Redskins meetings with those two, of course, are pending). They both lost to the woeful Raiders and beat the woeful Cardinals and Niners. Denver won in Dallas and at home against Washington while Kansas City lost on the road to the Cowboys and beat the Redskins at Arrowhead. Washington edged the NFC’s top team, the Seahawks, at FedEx while Dallas lost a heartbreaker to them in Seattle.

On top of that, both teams have been living on the edge all year long. All but three of the Redskins’ games have been in doubt in the last two minutes of the game and the same can be said of all but three of the Cowboys’ contests this year.

Is there any reason to believe that Sunday’s game will be any different than 75% of the games that each team has played this year?

No. This one will be a tense, hard-hitting affair that will go down to the wire.

When the two teams last met, it was expected that Gregg Williams would call blitzes on Drew Bledsoe at least three out of every four plays. Williams crossed them up, calling very few blitzes and keeping his backs and linebackers in coverage. It was bend but don’t break approach and it was effective as Dallas put up just the 13 points. Any defensive coordinator will take that any day. Look for Williams to blitz more, but not a lot more. He’ll see if Phillip Daniels can beat tackle Torrin Tucker, a rookie who has been filling in for the injured Flozell Adams. If Daniels can generate some pass pressure, as he has been able to the past few games, look for flooded zones and two-deep coverage. If he can’t, Williams will bring some more heat, but will do so judiciously.

One way or another, the Dallas passing game will be limited. The Cowboys will find the going tough on the ground as well. Since the beginning of November only the Tomlinson-led Chargers have been able to muster more than 62 yards rushing in a game. Julius Jones is having a king-sized sophomore slump, failing to get 100 yards in a single game all year. He won’t on Sunday either. Rookie Marion Barber can sting you here and there and is a nice complimentary back, but he has nobody to compliment.

Gibbs will play this one close to the vest. Those who gnash their teeth at the “Clinton left, Clinton right, pass, punt, fight, fight, fight!” style of offense had better wear a mouth guard to prevent wear and tear on their dental assets. The lovely Redskins cheerleaders had better be on alert; plenty of Mark Brunell passes will be fired in their direction as the quarterback stays away from killer interceptions. You can get away with three picks against the Cardinals; you can’t against the Cowboys.

The key will be Portis and his offensive line. We haven’t heard any tell of Portis, in Riggo-like fashion, go to Gibbs and tell him “Give me the ball,” but the result has been the same. His top three games of the season in terms of carries have been in the past three weeks. The ground game was cranked up not only to beat the Rams and Cardinals, but also in anticipation of this coming game.

If Portis is getting more like five yards a pop and the Redskins are in third and short—or, better yet, rarely in third down at all—the Redskins will control the game and, if they avoid the killer mistake that has plagued them so often both this season and in the past seven years against Dallas, they will pull out the win.

The numbers say that Portis, who is averaging 4.3 a carry, should be able to hold up his end of the deal and run for about a buck and a quarter. It says here that after years of every bounce going Dallas’ way, the Redskins are due a few more or, at least, an equality of breaks.

That adds up to a Redskins win, one that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats until the final gun.

Redskins 16, Cowboys 14.


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Matt Ryan throws some serious shade at Kyle Shanahan for the Super Bowl loss

Matt Ryan throws some serious shade at Kyle Shanahan for the Super Bowl loss

Matt Ryan spoke to CBS Sports' Pete Prisco about the loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl and how the Falcons will rebound in 2017. 

In the process, he took a shot at former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's play-calling and put some of the blame on his style of coaching for the disastrous fourth quarter.

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in," Ryan said. "As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

Those are some harsh words from Ryan and not exactly a ringing endorsement of Kyle Shanahan. This loss will surely haunt him should he never get back to another Super Bowl.

"There's always going to be a little sting," Ryan said. "You never lose that. Hopefully we've got four Super Bowl victories after this one, but that doesn't mean we won't still be like, 'Damn, let's talk about the other one we should've had."

Redskins fans may be able to relate to Matt Ryan's pain as some were vocal about Kyle Shanahan's play-calling during his time in Washington. Maybe Kirk Cousins takes notice of Ryan's comments as well before he considers San Francisco next off-season.

MORE REDSKINS: REDSKINS STATEMENT WAS A MISTAKE, BUT WON'T HAVE IMPACT ON THE FIELD

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Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Over/under: Redskins running backs in 2017

Redskins running backs over-under

The Redskins’ running backs depth chart looks quite different from how it did a year ago. Rob Kelley, who was “ninth-string” back last year per Jay Gruden, is the starter. Samaje Perine enters the mix with expectations that exceed those normally assigned to a fourth-round pick. Chris Thompson is the constant as the third-down back. What kind of numbers will they put up this year? Redskins Insiders Rich Tandler and JP Finlay go over-under on some Redskins running back stats. 

Rob Kelley, 1,000 rushing yards

Tandler: If you project Kelley’s production in the nine games he started over 16 games it comes to about 1,050 yards. He had his ups and downs in those nine starts and he will have them this year. But he should have enough ups to be able to average the 62.5 yards per game needed to hit the thousand-yard mark. Over

Finlay: Unlike wide receivers, where 25 guys broke the 1,000 yard mark in 2016, it's getting harder and harder for a running back to hit four-figures. In 2016, only 12 RBs ran for more than 1,000 yards, and only eight got over 1,100 yards. As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, less backs are getting the carries sufficient for a 1,000 yard season. The Redskins haven't had a 1,000 yard rusher since Alfred Morris in 2014. While I think Kelley gets the bulk of the yardage, I think it caps out about 900 yards and Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine creep into the total. Under

RELATED: Who's next at QB for the Redskins?

Kelley, 10 rushing touchdowns

Tandler: He scored six as the starter last year and doing the math that comes to 11 over 16 games. But last year there wasn’t a player like Perine, who could come into the game and vulture some touchdowns after Kelley did the work to get the ball in goal to go position. Under

Finlay: Sorry to keep going back to stats, but last year only seven running backs got to 10 TDs or more. Only seven! Hard to see Kelley getting there on a team that didn't run all that much, or all that well either, in 2016. Under

Samaje Perine, 500 rushing yards

Tandler: It tough to set a line for a guy who hasn’t played. I’ll go off Matt Jones’ 2015 rookie season when he gained 490 yards while sharing time with Alfred Morris. If Perine averages four yards per carry, which is not hard to do, he’ll need about eight carries per game to get to 500. It’s close but if Kelley is effective, as I believe he will be, Perine might not get enough carries to have a chance. Under

Finlay: Tandler's Matt Jones comp pretty much works for Perine, but Jones had explosive speed that Perine doesn't have. A better comp for me was Derrick Henry last year as a rookie with the Titans. DeMarco Murray was established as the top dog, and Henry worked for a productive 490 yards. Under

MORE REDSKINS: Offer to Cousins not nearly enough

Chris Thompson, 60 pass receptions

Tandler: His role is beyond just third down. If the Redskins are behind in the fourth quarter, Thompson is usually in there to try to help spark a rally. Along with TE Jordan Reed and WR Jamison Crowder, Thompson will benefit from Kirk Cousins’ familiarity with him. Over

Finlay: Thompson should be a strong contributor in 2017, but 60 catches is a lot for a running back. Only David Johnson (80) and Le'Veon Bell (75) went over that number in 2016, while James White had exactly 60 catches. Thompson grabbed 49 balls in 2016, an impressive total. I could actually see Thompson getting a bigger percentage increase in carries, he had 68 rushes last season with a very solid 5.2 YPC, than catches. Under

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