Here's a key matchup from the final game of the 2012 regular season:
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Redskins’ secondary
He might be a Pro Bowl snub, but Cowboys WR Dez Bryant might be the hottest receiver in football with 808 yards receiving and 10 TDs over his past seven games. Bryant had nine catches for 224 yards and two 58-yard TDs last week and previously had 8-145-2 receiving against the Redskins back in Week 12, including an 85-yard score that helped give Dallas life after it was down 28-3 at one point.
Bryant, as has been the case, caught fire in the last matchup with the Redskins after halftime. (Last week was the first time he really was much more effective in the first half.) His size, strength and stamina often are reasons for this, as he can wear down corners throughout the course of the 60 minutes.
Redskins CB Josh Wilson played well early vs. Bryant in the first matchup early on but faltered in the second half by gambling a few times. He was asked to cover Bryant on a broken-pocket play from Tony Romo that lasted longer than most corners can hang tight, but Wilson used poor technique and judgment on the 85-yard score.
His competitiveness is a good quality and his quickness allows him to stay with Bryant, but Wilson’s lack of strength is a weakness the Cowboys will try to exploit. The problem is that the safeties end up being a weekly liability.
The Redskins are not going to be able to trick Romo the way they did Nick Foles — and he even burned Madieu Williams with a long TD pass — by changing fronts and disguising schemes. It could throw Romo’s timing off, but it’s not likely going to flat out perplex him. Zone coverage seems like the safest approach, keeping things in front of them, but the Redskins like to pressure and blitz.
They also will do anything else they can to win. Jim Haslett’s defense, if nothing else, has an edge to it. DeAngelo Hall spent most of the previous matchup against the Cowboys matched up on slot WR Cole Beasley, but that didn’t stop Hall from trying to get into Bryant’s head. Hall started jawing with Bryant, slapped his helmet and tried to engage him in a war of words on the field last time. Bryant has been warned by his coaches not to reciprocate if it happens again — and he appears prepared.
“That’s his style of play,” Bryant said this week. “At the end of the day, you need to be able to get into guys’ heads. Back then, it probably would have worked. But not now. I understand the game, I understand what other players want to do to benefit their game, but I am very confident about it.”
Bryant is mentally stronger, and he has not shown any physical weakness despite a broken finger that will require surgery when the Cowboys’ season is over. The Redskins must commit extra coverage his way — even if it means opening things up for TE Jason Witten (most catches in a season by a tight end in 2012) or WR Miles Austin (late TD pass last week). Romo, who hit for a season-high 441 yards in Week 12 vs. the Skins, still can thrive elsewhere but has the most success going to Bryant.
“Anytime you’re playing against a Pro Bowl [caliber] wide receiver, you have to play your best game,” Redskins head Mike Shanahan said. “It’s a challenge to our football team, especially our corners to play their best game. They both have that capability. Our guys have been playing at a Pro Bowl level, and they have to against a guy like this.”