It's on....Sunday Night Football for all the whole damn division. Fed Ex Field is the site, ESPN 980 AM, 94.3/92.7 FM, ESPN980.com is your exclusive home for all day and night coverage of the Washington Redskins pursuit of their first NFC East crown since 1999, against the Dallas Cowboys.
Our pregame, wall-to-wall coverage starts at NOON and doesn't end until 3 AM - win or lose. Please crank up your radio on your way to the stadium, or in your tailgate, during the game and of course on your way home.
With that said, let's go "Inside the Numbers" for this do-or-die (for the Cowboys) spectacle. The Redskins as everybody is aware, can clinch a playoff spot before the game, if both Chicago (@ Detroit) and Minnesota (vs. Green Bay) lose, but can only clinch the division and a home playoff game next weekend with a victory.
SERIES SUPERLATIVES (AND FRANCHISE WOES): The Redskins have not swept the Cowboys since 2005, which was also the last time they won six games in a row (five in the regular season, one post-season).
The Redskins have only beaten Dallas in two out of the last eight meetings, including Thanksgiving Day. The last time the Redskins won two in a row over the Cowboys was the regular season finale in DC in 2007 to clinch a playoff spot, and the 2008 matchup in Dallas (Jim Zorn's first year).
This is essentially a playoff game, in any reasonable mind. The Redskins and Cowboys have played twice in the playoffs, and Washington won both times. 1972 and in the 1982 NFC Championship game.
While it's not a true playoff game, it could be the final game either team plays. The Redskins have lost the final game of the year they have played in during the last four years (@Philadelphia, vs New York, @San Diego, @San Francisco) and the Cowboys are a pretty astonishing (2-10) in Week 17 games since 2000, including a 27-6 loss at FedEx in 2007 to wrap up the regular season and a 20-14 loss in Washington to end the 2002 season, and finish (5-11). In other words, the Redskins are partially responsible for that late season misery.
The Cowboys lost on the road to the Giants, 31-14 in a similar battle for the NFC East last year. They wrapped up the 2010 season with a 14-13 win in Philadelphia, to finish (6-10) so in other words, it was a meaningless win. In the 2009 season, they shut-out Philadelphia 24-0 in Arlington to make the playoffs and won the only playoff game of the Tony Romo era, the next week. Before that win, they had lost a hard to figure NINE in a row in regular season conclusion games.
Since 2000, the Cowboys have won by year 5 games (2000), 5, 5, 10, 6, 9, 9, 13, 9, 11, 6, and 8 games in 2011. Since 2000, the Cowboys have lost by year 11 games (2000), 11, 11, 6, 10, 7, 7, 3, 7, 5, 10, and 8 games in 2011. They can finish no better than (9-7) with a win, and the 22nd divisional title in the franchise's history. They can finish no worse than (8-8) and of course would be eliminated from the playoffs for the 9th time since the turn of the century.
On a cumulative basis, the Cowboys are a remarkably average (104-103) since 2000, with four playoff appearances, and two divisional titles with one playoff win during that span. The Redskins of course have been a hot mess as well since the last time they won a divisional championship (1999), with a cumulative (90-117) record, two playoff appearances and only one playoff win.
Since and including the 2000 season, the Cowboys have lost their final two games of the season an alarming 5 times, and with a loss on Sunday night -- would make it six times overall after losing in overtime to the Saints at home last week.
In those final regular season games since 2000, the Cowboys have been outscored (281- 160) and have scored ten or fewer points in six of those games, and have scored 15 or fewer points, in nine of those 12 games.
HOME COOKING? : With a win, the Redskins would win a home game for a 5th time this year, which hasn't happened since 2007. To put that into context, the four wins they already have this year at FedEx, equals the two-year combined mark from 2010 and 2011. The Redskins would also improve to (5-1) against the NFC East, for the best mark against the division since 2005.
The Cowboys are 9-6 at FedEx Field. The opener of the Mike Shanahan era was on Sunday Night Football, a tight Redskins win, 13-7. In 2009, the last home game of the illustrious Jim Zorn era, the Cowboys shut out the Redskins 17-0 on Sunday Night. The year before that (on a Sunday Night Football stage as well), the Cowboys beat the Redskins 14-10 at FedEx.
RUN, RUN, FAKE, RUN, PASS, TD: Seems like most of the Redskins drives this year, doesn't it? Maybe not that easy and in that order, but you get the point. Our Washington Times/ESPN 980 Redskins Insider, Rich Campbell posted these numbers via twitter yesterday (@Rich_Campbell). The Redskins are 2nd in the NFL in terms of most runs vs. passing plays, behind only Seattle - who is a likely wild-card round opponent next weekend. San Francisco (also a possible first round opponent) is 3rd on the list, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jets who are at a 50/50 rate.
What's that list tell us? The first three teams (Seattle, Washington, San Francisco) all are playing very young/rookie quarterbacks with Colin Kaepernick getting his first starting experience over the last two months. The last two teams (KC & New York Jets) have brutal quarterback situations.
The Redskins' run to pass split is 52.9% - 47.1%, while the Dallas Cowboys are (34.9-65.1, run/pass), per Campbell's research. Dallas is the second-most pass heavy attack in the league. The Associated Press says the Cowboys are passing an NFL-high 66.3 percent of the time; while Redskins opponents throw an NFL-high 64.8 percent of the time against Washington. No doubt, the footballs will be flying around on Sunday night, even with windy conditions expected. One item to note that is a huge difference from the last time these two met on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys did not have RB DeMarco Murray and stud left tackle Tyron Smith did not play as well.
Just because you try to run, doesn't mean that you are good at it. However, the Redskins are clearly doing just fine in that category, as they lead the league in rushing yards per game at 162.3, which helps them rank first in yards per play at 6.2, and first in the NFL in yards per first-down plays at 6.47.
As for Murray, since returning to the lineup on December 2nd, he's run for (23-83, TD) against Philadelphia, (21-53, TD) in Cincinnati, (14-81, TD) vs. Pittsburgh, and (11-40) vs New Orleans, but also caught 4 passes for 51 yards. Since returning, Murray has caught a total of 16 passes for 123 yards, catching 4 balls in each game. One huge problem for Murray the last two weeks? He's fumbled in costly spots, one deep inside Steelers territory going in for a score, and last week, while the Cowboys were backed up deep in their own territory, leading directly to a Saints touchdown. No doubt, Jim Haslett's guys will be focused on stripping the ball in cold weather. The Redskins have recovered 10 of 17 fumbles by opponents this year, and during the streak have been credited with four turnovers via fumble recoveries.
THE GOLDEN ARMS? Per ESPN Stats and Information - " Robert Griffin III has shown the ability to effectively deal with the pass rush and use the deep ball to his advantage this season. Griffin has a Total QBR of 97.7 against five or more pass-rushers this season, the highest in the NFL. Griffin has completed 68.4 percent of his passes against added pressure, the second-highest percentage in the league, and is one of three quarterbacks that have not thrown an interception this season against five or more pass-rushers. Griffin was 6-for-7 for 131 yards and two touchdowns when he faced added pressure against the Cowboys in Week 12. Griffin has also completed 50.0 percent of his passes on throws more than 20 yards downfield this season, the highest rate in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks. Griffin has thrown six of his seven touchdown passes on such throws against NFC East opponents, and threw two touchdowns on throws more than 20 yards downfield against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving."
Also per ESPN Stats and Information: "Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has 14 touchdown passes on throws of at least 15 yards downfield this season, tied for the most in the NFL. Romo has 10 touchdown passes on such throws since the start of Week 9, two more than the next closest quarterback. The Redskins have allowed 13 touchdowns passes on such throw this season, the the most in the league, and 18 plays of 30-plus yards. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has six touchdown receptions on throws at least 15 yards downfield, the most in the league."
I couldn't decide if these numbers belong in the Cowboys failures in the final game of the season area, or in the Tony Romo section of the blog. I say he deserves his own space. Romo is far from perfect, but...Romo is 2nd (behind Troy Aikman) in every statistical category in Cowboys history - except for two key ones. Super Bowl Championships, and oh yeah, touchdown passes. Romo actually ranks higher in the latter,(175 -165). The problem for him is that most Cowboys fans are complete MORONS, like many irrational sports fans are. He is the highest rated QB in the 4th quarter in NFL history ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young, Tom Brady, and Kurt Warner. Romo has a 102.4 rating in the final period, and also ranks 2nd in completion percentage at 63.9%, behind Young at 65.2%. Bottom line, Romo has thrown 55 touchdowns to 21 picks in the fourth quarter, and way too many fans and a lot of blithering idiots in the media, think that he can't handle pressure.
Sure, Romo AND the Cowboys are 12-14 in the months of December and January, but Eli Manning has struggled at times during December as well. He's even played a few bad playoff games, but of course the difference is - the Giants are run by a real general manager and have a legitimate football organization and Jerry Jones runs essentially a football brothel down in the Lone Star State.
Romo is (55-37) as a starter, a job he inherited in 2006. We pointed out that the Cowboys could drop to (104-104) since 2000 as a franchise with a loss on Sunday night. Without Romo numbers and leadership, their record would be (49-66) or basically the Redskins pre RG III.
Romo in his final game of the regular season in each year of his career looks like this. He's a total of (109-165) 1,229 passing yards, 7 TD's, 5 Interceptions in parts of six games. His season was cut short in 2010, but his final game against the Giants is included (a brief performance) as is the 2007 loss to the Redskins that meant nothing for the Cowboys, who had the # 1 seed locked up. Romo played for part of that game as well.
His playoff performances are less than fantastic, but nowhere near what his critics blast him for. He's (80-135) 59.3%, 832 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT and a passer rating of 80.8. His TEAM is (1-3) and the Cowboys have a net of minus 16 points in those 4 games. Again, nowhere near bad.
3rd Down is THE DOWN: The Cowboys come to Washington converting on 43.2% of third-down opportunities ((86-199) and yielding 39.8% on the money down (76-191). The Redskins offense is up to a season high 35.2%, while the defense allows opposing offenses to convert 43.6% of the time.
The Redskins actually have more net yards than the Cowboys do (5,770 - 5,698) but to show you how remarkable this season has become, only has 23 more net yards than the Redskins defense has yielded, (5,770-5,747) or a 15-game average of 384.7 -383.1. The Cowboys defense has yielded 5,326 yards or an average of 355.1 per game. They've also been on the field for 925 plays (61.6/game) as opposed to the Redskins defense, which has been on the field for 970 (64.6/game). Those three plays per game average difference could account for the 383.1 - 355.1 per game average difference between the two defenses, and based on the third down percentage breakdown we put up above, could decide the game.