Thursday Night Preview: Who Has the Edge in This NFC East Clash?
Tonight's contest features two NFC East squads that trail far behind the Philadelphia Eagles for the division lead, but both fighting to cling to hopes of a wild card spot. Coming of a win on Turkey Day, Washington will look to continue that momentum, while the Dallas Cowboys are mired in a funk, dropping their last three games.
Washington has shot up our current power rankings. They are only 5-6 so far, but they rank 11th, per our models, while the 'Boys are a bit further down, ranking 27th.
Who can keep their slim playoff hopes alive? Let's dig in and find out.
Leading the charge for the visitors is Kirk Cousins, who ranks second in passing yards and 15th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.12) among the 39 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs this season. In terms of Passing Success Rate -- or the rate at which his drop backs result in positive NEP -- Cousins ranks 11th (48.16%). He's been very strong this season.
Dak Prescott, meanwhile, is faring worse, especially of late. In 2017, among the same group of quarterbacks, the Dallas signal caller languishes 27th in Passing NEP per drop back (-0.02). In his last three games, Prescott has thrown for a total of 500 yards, no touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.
Running Back Play
Samaje Perine has taken over lead-back duties with Rob Kelley suffering an ankle injury, and Perine has been fantastic over the last two weeks, rushing a combined 47 times for 217 yards. For the season overall, the rookie runner hasn't been so hot -- among the 43 running backs with 70 carries or more, Perine has recorded a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.08, good for only 29th in the league.
The Cowboys have been a different offense with Ezekiel Elliott out on suspension. Last week, Rod Smith and Alfred Morris equally split 18 carries, with Smith gaining five more yards than Morris and scoring once. Morris, however, did catch his lone target out of the backfield. Both have been efficient runners -- Smith owns a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.10, while Morris sports a mark of 0.08.
These defenses are in two very different spots. Washington has been solid all season long, ranking 11th (per our schedule-adjusted numbers) in overall defense, while the Cowboys have struggled, checking in 30th.
Washington has been solid against the pass, sitting 16th, and they clock in 19th versus the run. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have been roasted equally, ranking 24th against the pass and 26th against the run. A big part of those struggles is missing linebacker Sean Lee, who has been out for the last two games and will also miss tonight's contest. With Lee out, the Cowboys have allowed 65 points over the last two games.
Using Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate -- which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent -- both teams have gotten after the passer pretty well. Washington has sacked opposing passers 28 times on their way to an an adjusted sack rate of 8.1%, which ranks 6th in the league. Dallas has notched 28 sacks, as well, but the Cowboys come in a bit farther behind at 13th with an adjusted sack rate of 6.9%.
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