How the Cowboys can leave D.C. as winners going into the playoffs

The Dallas Cowboys officially broke the Jimmy Johnson Ring-of-Honor curse, which immediately seemed to have an advantageous impact. Not only did the Detroit Lions fool the referees in the game to aid a Cowboys victory, but the Philadelphia Eagles were upset at home by the Arizona Cardinals. This allowed Dallas to control the outcome of the division and the twoseed in the NFC playoffs.

The task isn’t complete, though. The Cowboys still need to go on the road and beat a division rival in cold weather conditions. Road games have been a Dallas issue this season; add cold weather and a FedEx Field venue that’s proven difficult in the Dak Prescott era, and this win is no guarantee.

The Cowboys have the second-most Pro Bowl selections of NFC teams, with seven. Their QB is a top MVP candidate; they have possibly the best receiver in the NFC and two top defensive player of the year candidates. The team needs to show up, handle business, and accomplish some tasks in the game to get a victory, plus a few things to be ready for a playoff run.

How they win: Get the run game going

Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Two critical mistakes, one from CeeDee Lamb and another from Prescott aside, the putrid rushing game allowed the Lions to remain in a game that they didn’t truly belong in. It rained all day on Saturday in DC and the run game could be crucial to a victory for Dallas because it is tough to pass the ball on the east coast in January.

Washington has the ability to run, even if their play caller hates to hand it off. In these conditions, against this pass rush, with both offensive tackles out, it’s likely even Eric Bieniemy will lean on the run game. If the Commanders can control the game rushing the ball and Dallas struggles, this game will be down to the wire.

Beyond Week 18, the Cowboys must show an ability to move the ball on the ground going into the playoffs. Dallas doesn’t need to be a dominant run team, but they need to be able to run at points so the whole offense isn’t all on the QB.

How they lose: Lose the turnover battle

Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Sam Howell will start for the Commanders and for a defense like the Cowboys that thrives off turnovers, that is positive news. Howell leads the league in interceptions and has only four starts he hasn’t thrown an interception in this season He has thrown 10 picks in his last six games. In that time, he has only thrown three touchdown passes. He was going to be benched for Jacoby Brissett, before Brissett suffered an injury in practice.

The Commanders QB will give up the ball, and if the Dallas offense is on point, they can help make them have to throw by playing well and putting up points. Dallas isn’t a great run defense, but it will be hard for Washington to continue to run if they are down two scores or more all game. The type of defense the Cowboys want to play is complementary. The better the offense, the better they become, because with a lead, they can unload their hellacious pass rush. Where the Dallas defense has struggled is if the games come down to the last drive.

The last two games are perfect examples. They gave up a game-winning drive to the Miami Dolphins and a potential one to the Lions. It will be on the offense to put this game out of reach and that won’t happen if they give the ball away. Prescott has been a top-tier QB in turnover worthy plays, if that continues, then the likelihood of the Cowboys losing the turnover battle is rare.

How they win: Finish off All-Pro seasons

Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

No team should take any game for granted. This season Dallas has already fallen to the Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Cleveland Browns with their third-string QB, and the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts. If the Cowboys don’t show up prepared to play Washington, they could be upset, but winning this week can be more than just on the score board.

Dallas has multiple players who made the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl team is partly a popularity contest because it is voted on by the fans, but those players could make an even better team, All-Pro.

Lamb is likely a lock along with Tyreek Hill, and Micah Parsons is another probable First-Team All-Pro as well, but others could need a final moment.

Prescott needs to be the other QB alongside Lamar Jackson, and he will need a big game to get himself above Brock Purdy with any certainty. Zack Martin hasn’t been the guarantee he typically is and has the toughest matchup going up against Daron Payne. DaRon Bland broke an NFL record and should be an All-Pro as the league leader in interceptions and defensive scores, but he has had a few bad games so helping shut down the Commanders wouldn’t hurt.

The special teams pair of punter Bryan Anger and kicker Brandon Aubrey both could be on the All-Pro team.

How they lose: Injuries going into the playoffs

Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

If the fanbase was asked,what the worst thing that could happen, it would most likely be answered by saying, blowing the two seed to the Eagles. The truth is playing the NFC South champions and the 49ers in the second round with Prescott, Lamb, Parsons, and Martin is preferable to playing the Packers at home without one of those key players.

The most significant loss for Dallas would be a major injury going into the playoffs. It has unfortunately happened too often to teams. Bradley Chubb, the Miami Dolphins top edge rusher was just lost in a game that the team was losing by 30. Last season saw the Dolphins lose their QB last season right before the playoffs and Derek Carr was an MVP candidate for the Raiders a few seasons back when he was lost to a season-ending injury. These things do happen regularly.

FedEx Field is probably the worst stadium in the league when it comes to causing injury. Last season Dallas played there, and their horrible performance was due partly to being cautious about an injury right before the playoffs. Even the opposing teams most vocal leader, Allen, mentioned that the Cowboys weren’t going all out in the game. Dallas needs this win, but even more, they need to escape as healthy as humanly possible. An injury in this game could be the most significant loss the Cowboys could have.

You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or YouTube on the Across the Cowboys Podcast.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire