The Dallas Cowboys haven't won convincingly all season, but if they're going to make a statement, Thursday would be the time. At home and against a surging and desperate division rival, the Cowboys can put a ton of pressure on the New York Giants by putting forth another top-notch Thanksgiving performance against the Washington Redskins.
Here's what they'll need to do in order to ensure that happens.
Add Pass-Protection Support on Offense
The Cowboys can't afford to protect Tony Romo in such a horrible fashion for the second straight week. Romo was sacked seven times against the Cleveland Browns, and this Redskins team has the ability to get to the quarterback despite mediocre sack numbers this season. They're desperate, and they know the best way to pull off an upset will be to force Romo and the offense to make mistakes.
With left tackle Tyron Smith very unlikely to play due to a high-ankle sprain and the interior of the line also depleted, Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan have to give the line reinforcements by utilizing a lot of John Phillips and Lawrence Vickers as pass-blockers. In other words, lots of two-tight end sets and lots of crowded backfields.
That means fewer three-receiver sets and less work for Kevin Ogletree, but the 'Boys can afford to do that against a very weak Washington secondary. So long as they draw up a lot of screens and shorter, timing-based routes, they'll be able to suck Washington in before striking it big with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant or Jason Witten.
Keep in mind that top Washington corner Josh Wilson is also a question mark with a shoulder injury. This is a secondary that—with Wilson—has been beaten for 20 touchdowns and has given up more 20-plus-yard passing plays than all but six other teams (and more 40-plus-yard passing plays than only two others). Regardless of the run support, as long as Romo is able to work in the pocket, he and his three-headed receiving monster should have a huge day.
Keep It Conservative on Defense
The Cowboys didn't blitz Brandon Weeden much at all on Sunday, so I don't expect much different from Rob Ryan against another rookie quarterback Thursday. Blitzing RG3 is too risky, and Ryan will expect to get natural pressure from DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher et al against a somewhat shaky offensive line.
Ryan would be smart to keep strong run defender Anthony Spencer home a lot so that Spencer can help Dan Connor and/or Ernie Sims against Alfred Morris. That would give Bruce Carter a chance to focus fully on containing Griffin as a runner.
With that approach, the 'Boys wouldn't be able to sacrifice in, or give much help to, the secondary. But this is the kind of game in which they might be able to afford that. Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick should be able to deal with the Redskins receiving corps without a ton of help, and safety Danny McCray is more than capable of dealing with tight end Logan Paulsen when required.
With Pierre Garcon less than 100 percent and Fred Davis hurt, the Cowboys have to stick to a lot of single, press-man coverage and rely on Ware and Co. to apply enough pressure to prevent Griffin from making big plays with his arm while hoping that Carter, Spencer and the rest of the linebacking corps can slow down a running game that is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season.