With the draft looming and the NFL’s regular season less than five months away, it’s not too early to wonder aloud about who the more complete football team in 2018 will be between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. There’s no certain thing in pro football due to injury and roster turnover. However, it seems very likely the champion Philadelphia Eagles are the best the NFC East has to offer while the New York Giants are bringing up the rear. Let’s look at the two teams in the middle of the NFC East and who’s better at this pre-draft stage of the 2018 campaign.
The Cowboys’ running game was dynamite in 2016 thanks to a historically good offensive line and the emergence of stud rusher Ezekiel Elliott. Due to injury and suspension, Dallas fell back to earth. As a unit, the Redskins were decimated as Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine all flashed brilliance briefly before heading to the injured reserve list. Still, Elliott is so ultra-talented, we must give the edge to Dallas.
Dak Prescott’s sensational rookie season was followed by a downer in 2017. This is a pivotal season for Prescott to see if his star will ascend or if 2016 was a mirage. It’s safe to say we all know what Washington has with Alex Smith. He’s played at an above average level for many seasons. He’ll never be listed among the game’s best. Yet, his won-loss record over the past few years has been quite impressive both with the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the moment, the Skins have the better receiving weapons. Dallas is working things out with Dez Bryant and probably will add a wideout in the draft. Alex Smith, though, will have Jamison Crowder, Paul Richardson, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and those fine receiving backs we named above. Thus, Washington will have the better passing game in 2018.
Washington ranked dead last in rushing defense in 2017 and that’s why they finished below the Cowboys in the standings. The ‘Skins will have Phil Taylor, Jonathan Allen and free agent acquisition Pernell McPhee to shore that up for the 2018 season. Dallas lost Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber off their eighth-ranked defense with Hitchens being the huge blow. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to think that Dallas would slide below Washington in this area especially with 22-year old Maliek Collins coming back after starting all 16 games in 2017. He’s going to be a good one.
The Redskins lost a lot of their depth, but what remains is better than what Dallas has. Interestingly, Washington obtained Orlando Scandrick via free agency from the Cowboys roster. Scandrick and Josh Norman give the Redskins dependable veterans on either side of the formation. Jay Gruden has a history of coaching his secondary well, so I don’t see a drop off despite trading away future star Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for Smith.
The Cowboys have a great player on the edge in Demarcus Lawrence. In fact, I think he’s a top ten player at his position in the NFL. If there was one thing I truly enjoyed from watching the film of the 2017 Cowboys, it was reviewing Lawrence’s play to play motor. The Cowboys’ best offseason move thus far was making sure Lawrence didn’t sign elsewhere.
The Cowboys were significantly better on special teams than the Redskins in 2017 despite placekicker Dan Bailey’s woes. Punter Chris Jones was fantastic, and Ryan Switzer offered glimpses of greatness as a return man. Simply put, Dustin Hopkins will have to be better. Extra points are not automatic any more as evidenced by the two misses in the Super Bowl, but professional kickers must make all their 33-yard kicks in a league that prides itself in parity.
Both teams also should expect more from their coaching staffs. Washington especially blew games largely due to poor game management by Gruden and company. Their opening day loss against the Eagles set the tone for the season and their collapses at Kansas City, and most excruciating, at New Orleans, were season-definers. The ‘Skins should’ve easily been 10-6 when you review their 2017 campaign.
The Verdict: The Cowboys Should Finish Higher in the Standings
Dallas finished 9-7 in a very disappointing season. They did sweep Washington, though. Thus, as it stands, they’ll come into 2018 as the team with higher expectations. There will be more pressure on Jason Garrett in the upcoming season than ever before. If he folds under the pressure and they run into any problems with Elliott or their offensive line, their fanbase will turn on them and the season will be a nightmare. In that scenario, Washington will leapfrog them in the standings.
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert..@spot_Bills