Three things to know ahead of Washington-Dallas on Thursday Night Football...
1. When Dallas and Washington met back in Week 8 on a muddy, sloppy day, Ezekiel Elliott carried the Cowboys to victory—his 150 rushing yards were seven more than Dak Prescott had passing. Washington’s run defense was strong when the linebackers shot gaps, and it was weak when they didn’t. Expect linebacker Zach Brown and Co. to be aggressive Thursday night, especially with Elliott now out of the equation. Those underneath defenders will have to be cautious, though; last time Prescott beat them early with play-action passing between the numbers.
2. When Washington lost running back Chris Thompson to a broken leg, they lost their most dynamic screen weapon. And their second-most dynamic screen weapon, Trent Williams, has been in and out of the lineup (Williams missed the Thanksgiving game against New York with a knee injury, and he’s a gametime decision for this game). He’s the most athletic left tackle in the NFL… unless you think it’s the other left tackle in this game, Dallas’s Tyron Smith. Either way, Williams’s ability to get out in space and land blocks on the move is critical to Washington’s backfield screen game, especially its wide receiver screen game.
If Williams plays, we’ll get our first true look at how dedicated Jay Gruden will be to the screen game with Thompson gone. Washington mostly ignored it against the Giants (their first game without Thompson), but that could have been a function of Williams’s absence.
3. Dallas has benched cornerback Anthony Brown, who had a surprisingly stellar season as a sixth-round rookie in 2016 but has been up and down in ’17, and they’re now going with second-round rookie Chidobe Awuzie. Washington’s offense posts a challenge for an inexperienced cornerback—not so much because of the wide receiving talent (it’s average outside) but because of how many plays feature switch releases, with receivers crisscrossing each other’s paths off the line of scrimmage. Those switch releases gave Dallas’s secondary trouble back in Week 8.
Bold Prediction: Dez Bryant will have his first 100-yard receiving game of 2017. Dallas will align him on the left side, away from Josh Norman, and run him on post and dig routes.