Dallas Cowboys

The Washington Redskins ran the Dallas Cowboys out of playoff contention in season finale

By Matthew Postins 

Staff Writer

Go home.

It was win or go home for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Washington Redskins and they’re heading home after a 28-18 loss. The offseason starts Monday for the Cowboys.

For the second year in a row the Cowboys lost a winner-take-all game in Week 17 and finished the season 8-8. With Jason Garrett as head coach the Cowboys are one game above .500.

Garrett should be back next year. But it will be interesting to see how many of these Cowboys come back in 2013. For all of the hard work the Cowboys expended in trying to get themselves back in the playoff race, it didn’t pay off.

Where do the Cowboys go from here? We’ll see.

Here’s how it all broke down.

Run Offense: In a game where Washington’s Alfred Morris rushed for 200 yards, the Cowboys were fairly effective even though they gained just 100 as a team. The Cowboys averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and that’s the more important figure to look at. Between DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones and the offensive line the Cowboys did enough to get the Redskins defense to respect the ground game. The difference in this meeting was the fact that Murray and center Ryan Cook played. The Cowboys used inside runs and stretch plays to try to soften the Redskins defense. The Cowboys offensive line played better than the first meeting as well. Overall the run game certainly wasn’t as effective as Washington’s, but it was more effective than in their first meeting and it helped in the bigger picture.

Pass Offense: Tony Romo will get slammed for what happened on Sunday night and that’s probably justified. He threw interceptions on the Cowboys’ first two possessions and he was fortunate it led to nothing. The third interception? Yes, Romo was fooled by the linebacker and the Redskins defense made a great call. But like on his second interception he underthrew the ball and the play itself – a slow-developing screen on the outside – was a pretty low-percentage play when it was clear that the middle of the Redskins defense was now vulnerable. The lack of execution was on Romo. There were flashes of the Romo we had seen in the past six weeks, especially on the touchdown pass to Jason Witten and the touchdown drive late in the game. But Romo didn’t play at the high level we’ve seen the last six weeks. That’s because the Redskins blitzed him with impunity and, more often than not, won the numbers game when it came to blockers. The Cowboys were unable to find a solution to protecting him. Witten had a fine game, as always. But the big plays the Cowboys have relied on in past weeks simply weren’t there. The Redskins handled Dez Bryant, who left late in the game with an injury. Wide receiver Miles Austin fought an injury the entire game. Tight end James Hanna had a solid game when used in four- and five-wide sets for the injured Austin.

Run Defense: This run defense was pounded for nearly 300 yards rushing. Morris gained 200 yards and scored three times. This was a perfect storm from a game plan standpoint. The Redskins knew that the Cowboys were soft inside with the loss of players like nose tackle Jay Ratliff, linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter and safety Barry Church. Several players on defense weren’t on the roster at midseason. The Redskins pounded the middle all night and, until the fourth quarter, the Cowboys help up enough to keep the Redskins out of the end zone and keep the game close. What Morris’ big game did, however, was suck in Dallas’ defense when it came to the read option and play action. Quarterback Robert Griffin III’s injury obviously limited him, but when he scored in the second half it was a result of a read-option play that shifted the entire Cowboys defense to the right and opened up the entire left side for Griffin. Give Dallas credit for giving up most of Morris’ yards between the 20s and then bowing up in the red zone until a Jason Hatcher roughing the passer penalty put the Cowboys in a hole too deep to climb out of.

Pass Defense: Griffin had just 100 passing yards. How did that happen? The Cowboys emphasized downfield coverage and the few times that Griffin tested it the secondary, led by corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, were in the right position. The Cowboys eliminated the big downfield plays that killed them in November. What Washington did to react was use its superior play-action and short passes to move the football. A couple of short play-action screen passes to Pierre Garcon set up rushing touchdowns. As the game wore on the Cowboys lost inside position on slant and other inside routes, which allowed the Redskins move to the football on key downs. The one thing the Cowboys really needed to do on Sunday night was force a turnover, but they were unable to do that against a Redskins team that has committed the fewest in the NFL.

Special Teams: Dwayne Harris had a fine night on returns. He had a big punt return to start the game and give Dallas great field position. That drive ended with an interception. Harris’ 40-yard return set up the final Dallas touchdown to cut the Redskins lead to 3 points. The Cowboys, unfortunately, followed that score by giving up a 49-yard return on the kickoff to Washington tight end Niles Hall, a horribly timed failure in coverage as the Redskins scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

Coaching: Garrett called more run plays than expected and the run game was effective. There wasn’t much to quibble with in play calling or game management. The larger issue was execution. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan again did yeoman’s work with a unit that was missing so many key starters it wasn’t funny. The whole unit didn’t break until late in the game, giving up a lot of yardage between the 20s. Ryan couldn’t find a scheme to allow his injured pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, to be effective at all.

Injuries: For Dallas, Miles Austin went down in the second quarter with an ankle injury and was in and out of the game. Washington safety Madieu Williams left in the second quarter with a left arm injury but he came back. Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer left the game in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury but returned.  Redskins offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Dez Braynt left for the locker room in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg issue and did not come back.

Inactives: For the Cowboys, RB Phillip Tanner, DL Rob Callaway and NT Jay Ratliff. For the Redskins, DB DeJon Gomes, WR Brandon Banks, WR Dezmon Briscoe, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, LB Vic So’oto.

One more thing: The first penalty of this game was called with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter. Dallas and Washington entered the game as two of the three most penalized teams in the NFL.