Cowboys vs Commanders: 6 things to know about Week 18 opponent

The Dallas Cowboys have sewn up their primary goal, they’re in the playoffs. The only thing that can change there is seeding and there are a few different outcomes that change where the Cowboys finish. An NFC East crown is still in play entering the final week of the regular season.

To win the division, the Cowboys will first need to take care of business against the Washington Commanders in Week 18. A longshot, if Dallas gets help from the New York Giants and potentially the Arizona Cardinals, winning the division and the No. 1 seed are still attainable.

The Commanders were in position to make the postseason until losing last week, now only have pride to play for. Beating the Cowboys is always fun for a rival, and killing Dallas’ chances for a a division crown is motivation enough. Here’s what else there is to know about Washington in the season finale.

Turning to a rookie a QB

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When the teams first met this season, Carson Wentz was at quarterback for the Commanders. He threw for just 170 passing yards, had two interceptions and was sacked twice in Washington’s loss. When Wentz was injured a few weeks later, Washington  turned to backup Taylor Heinicke.

Washington went 5-3-1 with Heinicke, keeping him under center even after Wentz was fully recovered. The Commanders, controversially to many, returned Wentz as the starter last week in a losing effort and now flip to a rookie quarterback.

Howell is a fifth round pick out of North Carolina and impressed in the preseason, where he threw for 280 yards and score in the final exhibition game. He has yet to play in a regular season game.

The Commanders were going to play both he and Heinicke, but that plan changed thanks in part to Heinicke stepping aside for the rookie QB.

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Preparing for someone who they haven’t seen is never easy, but the Cowboys should be able to take advantage of the rookie quarterback.

They're on a losing streak

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To say the Commanders have collapsed this season is an understatement. Ron Rivera’s club was 7-5 and had won six of seven games through the end of November.

Since then, Washington hasn’t won a game. After a tie to start their December slate, the Commanders have lost three straight and are now 7-8-1 on the season. Last week’s loss to the Cleveland Browns knocked them out of the playoff chase.

It was a promising team in the middle of the year, but the Commanders have played their worst football at the worst possible time.

Two-headed monster at running back

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The Cowboys have had their struggles stopping the run and here comes the Commanders with two quality backs. Third-year RB Antonio Gibson started the season as the main man in the backfield, but that job is now Brian Robinson’s. The rookie is healthier than Gibson, who is battling a nagging foot injury and is questionable to play.

Robinson leads the Commanders in rushing yards with 797 and has two touchdowns on the year. The rookie runner missed the first game between the two teams but has played in every game since the Week 4 loss to Dallas. Since getting on the field, Robinson has outperformed Gibson and has at least 86 yards rushing in five of the last seven games.

Robinson doesn’t offer the same receiving skills that Gibson does and that makes them a dangerous duo who can beat defenses two ways. If Gibson plays, it’s a tough day at the office trying to stop one of the better running back tandems in the league.

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is scary good...

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Despite having spotty quarterback play, the fourth-year WR is having his best season in the NFL. McLaurin is just one yard off his career high for yards and is averaging over 15 yards a catch even though he doesn’t have the same number of targets he’s gotten the last two years.

McLaurin is 11th in the league in receiving yards, has four touchdowns, and is eighth in the league in first down percentage at almost 72%. That means if the Cowboys want to stop the Commanders in third-down situations, they better be aware of his whereabouts at all times.

The Cowboys, and especially cornerback Trevon Diggs, have held McLaurin in check over the last three games, limiting him to just five catches for 55 yards and no scores on 15 targets. That must continue if Dallas is to hold win their 13th game of the season.

... and so is rookie receiver Jahan Dotson

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There is no denying McLaurin is the Commanders best receiver, but the rookie out of Penn St. has been coming on late in the year. The first-round pick only has 471 yards receiving, but over half that total has come in the last four weeks.

The rookie leads the Commanders in touchdown receptions on the year with seven, and had a three-game scoring streak snapped his last time out.

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Dotson didn’t score last week, but he did put up the only touchdown against the Cowboys in the first meeting. Dallas’ defense has to be aware of Dotson if the Commanders get into scoring position since five of Dotson’s touchdowns have come inside the red zone.

Sacks are there for the taking

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The Commanders’ offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback, allowing 45 sacks on the year. That’s good for seventh worst in the league and the Cowboys got to the QB twice in the first matchup.

Dallas’ defense is third in the NFL with 51 sacks on the season. It had been a few quiet weeks for the defense before having multiple sacks against the Titans for the first time since Week 13 against the Colts.

Sacks aren’t all on the offensive line; the QBs take blame too and the Cowboys will now be playing against a first-time NFL quarterback. The opportunity to confuse a rookie and force him to hold onto the ball should help Dallas get to Howell.

Opposing offense have been trying to get the ball out quickly against this Cowboys defense in the last few weeks but starting a rookie could help Dallas get back on track in Week 18. Look for the Cowboys to pick up more than one sack against the Commanders in the regular season finale.

Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire