These are the words that have been echoed throughout WFT nation this week leading up to the big-time matchup with the Cowboys on Sunday. Four weeks ago, it seemed like the Washington Football Team was dead in the water, and fans began to pay more attention to how high they would pick in the draft versus the product on the field. Now, after four consecutive victories, Washington finds themselves in the first NFC Wild Card spot with a chance to make a division title push. Dallas has looked inconsistent the past few weeks; they struggled against the Raiders, and while they dominated the Saints, their offense looked…off. Sunday is the first of five straight divisional matchups to end the season for Washington, and none are bigger than the heated rivalry with the Cowboys.
Here are three keys for Washington to keep the win streak going on Sunday against the Cowboys:
Pressure Dak Prescott
Just 10 months after a horrifying compound ankle fracture, Dak Prescott was back on the football field leading the Cowboys prolific offense. Through 13 weeks, Prescott has led Dallas to a division leading 9–4 record and the fourth seed in the NFC. The only thing that has limited Dak since his return has been his rushing capabilities. In just five games last season, Prescott had three rushing touchdowns compared to the single rushing score he has this season. Due to his injury, he prefers to stay in the pocket and trust his throwing abilities as well as his stellar receiving core, and Washington can take advantage of this. The Cowboys have had a quality offensive line so far, but the same can be said for Washington’s defensive line. If the d-line is able to get in Prescott’s face quickly, he will be forced to roll out of the pocket and throw on the run, which he isn’t nearly as comfortable doing anymore. Jonathan Allen is playing like a top five defensive tackle in the league and will hopefully lead Washington’s defense to success on Sunday.
Contain Micah Parsons
If we re-drafted the 2021 NFL draft, Micah Parsons would almost certainly be a top-five pick. The Penn State product is the runaway for Defensive Rookie of the Year in most eyes, and it’s well deserving. Parsons has racked up 72 tackles, a league-leading 16 TFLs, 10 sacks, 25 QB hits, 50 pressures and two pass breakups in 12 games. He’s an absolute blur rushing the passer, and he is simply everywhere on defense. Washington did a good job of containing Maxx Crosby last week, and Parsons presents a similar challenge. The o-line has been impressive this season blocking the run and pass, giving fans no reason to expect anything different on Sunday. If the big men are able to block up Parsons and give Heinicke time to throw, that will also help our next key, which involves the always-incredible Terry McLaurin.
Get back to Terry McLaurin
After numerous highlight reel catches, 100-yard games and touchdowns, Terry McLaurin has finally established himself as one of the premier receivers in the league. This is McLaurin’s third straight year of being the WR1 in Washington, and he has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Taylor Heinicke knows this and emphasized targeting McLaurin the first half of the year. In Weeks 1–7, McLaurin had at least eight targets five times; since then, however, he’s had just one instance. While some of that may be attesting to the respect opposing defenses are giving him, Heinicke still needs to look McLaurin’s way more often. Especially now that Logan Thomas is officially out for the season, McLaurin is far and away Washington’s best red zone target. There is a very good chance that Trevon Diggs will be lining up across from McLaurin all afternoon. Although he leads the NFL with nine interceptions, Diggs has struggled to stay in coverage with talented receivers. The last time Washington played Dallas at home? McLaurin absolutely burned Diggs for a 52-yard touchdown after talking trash in his face the previous play. After unofficially adopting Diggs in 2020, McLaurin should have the mental and physical advantage all afternoon, making it vital for an influx of targets to head his way.
Every year, each team has a few games that feel like a playoff game, and Sunday certainly feels like it will be one. The Washington-Dallas rivalry is second to none, and everytime they play, it is easy to expect a great game. Emotions will be running high, but hopefully Washington will be able to push through and beat Dallas, putting them in a great position to make the playoffs for the second straight season.