by Jamual Forrest, special to Breaking Burgundy
The Washington Redskins want to reclaim their status as the beast of the NFC East. That starts with taking down the reigning champs.
Yes, Dallas is and will be the team to beat in the division heading into the 2017 season. Leading the Cowboys' balanced yet potent offensive attack are two second-year players: Quarterback/NFL Rookie of the year Dak Prescott and running back force Ezekiel Elliott. Yet neither budding star is the most respected feature of their offense. That would be the line, which not only produced three Pro Bowlers in 2016, but dominated virtually every opponent they faced this season. Yes, including the Redskins.
That leads to the obvious Redskins question: Now what?
Catching up with Dallas means Washington upgrading its front-7, specifically along the defensive line. In two games against the Cowboys, the Redskins gave up an average of 133 ypg on the ground. The Cowboys were highly effective on third down, converting on 50% of such attempts in both games. Although the secondary wasn't without flaws, the defensive issues start in the trenches. There was no consistent pressure. Not just against Prescott, but many of the quarterbacks they faced.
The biggest issues for Washington were on the defensive side in part because they lacked speed on all three levels and effective big men up front. At the moment, the Redskins simply lack bodies on the line.
There's an opportunity to capitalize in free agency, especially on the defensive line. Potential targets should include nose tackle Dontari Poe (26, Kansas City Chiefs), Brandon Williams (27, Baltimore Ravens), Bennie Logan (27, Philadelphia Eagles), and Calais Campbell (30, Arizona Cardinals). Each of these options are solid to imposing against the run game and have high motors. Though the oldest of this bunch, Campbell also offers help an elite interior pass-rush presence.
Defensive lineman occupy space in part so linebackers can swoop in for tackles. Inside linebackers Mason Foster and restricted free agent Will Compton are a solid pair at times, but not game-changers. Once again, free agency offers help and hope. Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons and Buffalo's Zach Brown are physical linebackers with sideline to sideline speed, especially Brown.
Washington's new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky knows the importance of making an offense one-dimensional, That's crucial against Dallas with the run game being the primary focus. That's what the Redskins need to do beat the Cowboys. Good thing is this plan works against just about any opponent they’ll face.
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