So-so Cowboys, Redskins trying to stop alternating W's, L's
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys and Jay Gruden's Washington Redskins have been the very definition of mediocre as the NFC East teams resume their rivalry.
The Cowboys are 3-3, while the Redskins head into Sunday's home game leading the so-so NFC East at 3-2 and with an 18-18-1 mark since the start of the 2016 season.
Neither club has managed to win two games in a row in 2018. Neither has dropped two in a row, either. They just keep alternating W's and L's.
Something has to give, because both are coming off victories.
"It's been a minute since I've had back-to-back wins," Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said. "It's very important for this team, for the confidence of this team."
The Cowboys look at it the same way, and they are well aware of the disparity between how they perform when at home (3-0) and away (0-3).
Garrett and Gruden have been criticized for various flaws, but both might have earned some breathing room with what happened in Week 6 against opponents who entered with winning records and strengths that would seem to be trouble for the weaknesses exhibited by Dallas and Washington.
Having been embarrassed by Drew Brees just six days earlier, then forced to deal with Cam Newton and a Carolina offense coming off a pair of 30-point outings, the Redskins relied on their defense to beat the Panthers 23-17.
Up against a talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense, and coming off a 16-point effort, Dak Prescott led the offensively challenged Cowboys to a surprising 40-7 triumph.
"I've said it before," said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 586 yards. "If we don't build on it, everything we did last week really means nothing."
Here are some things to know about the Cowboys and Redskins:
The Redskins do not play a team the rest of the way that currently has a record above .500. Their opponents' combined mark, including Dallas, is 27-38, a .415 winning percentage. Dallas' slate is not much tougher, although it does have to play New Orleans, which is 4-1. Still, the foes lined up on the Cowboys' remaining schedule began this week at 25-31, a .446 winning percentage.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
The Redskins and Cowboys are having trouble putting up points. They both rank among the 10 lowest-scoring teams, with Washington at 21.2 per game, and Dallas 20.5. The Cowboys' number plummets to 12.3 on the road.
MR. SMITH IN WASHINGTON
Alex Smith hardly has been a solution at QB for the Redskins, and Gruden was rather pointed in discussing his new guy's play. Smith's passer rating of 91.9 is barely ahead of the much-maligned Eli Manning's 90.9. "There are some things we've got to clean up. Get his eyes in certain progressions a little bit quicker and maybe get off some a little bit quicker," Gruden said about Smith. "Sometimes he hangs on too long, giving guys too much of a chance, where he needs get off of them, get to the next guy."
Running isn't anything new for Dallas QB Dak Prescott; it just seems more important with the Cowboys learning to live without Jason Witten and Dez Bryant in the passing game.
The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year ran for a career-best 82 yards last week; Roger Staubach, with 90 in 1971, is the only Cowboys quarterback who gained more on the ground in a game. The Cowboys are using more zone read, playing off the strengths of Elliott.
"Some teams are going to make him hand the ball off; some teams are going to make him keep it," Elliott said about Prescott. "It just depends on what the defense shows you."
Sunday's outcome could hinge on Dallas' run game — averaging 147.5 yards per game, No. 2 in the league — vs. Washington's run defense, which allows 90.2 per game.
Two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee could miss a fourth consecutive game with a hamstring injury, but for the first time in several years, the Cowboys feel as if they have adequate replacements. Leighton Vander Esch leads the team with 60 tackles, and middle linebacker Jaylon Smith has 57.
Nobody else has more than 35. Vander Esch is a rookie first-round draft pick from Boise State, where he was a walk-on. Smith was a second-rounder in 2016 after a devastating knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame.
"Each of those guys, they are playing more snaps," Garrett said. "They are seeing these different situations. They are becoming more confident football players."
AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon in Frisco, Texas, and AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.
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