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Cowboys’ Pass Defense Could Boost Redskins’ Offense

A pass-happy Redskins offense may be able to take advantage of the Cowboys’ defensive struggles, which include allowing more than 400 passing yards to their opponents three times this season.


ASHBURN – If anyone hadn’t seen Robert Griffin III work his magic over the Redskins’ first 10 games last season, his Thanksgiving matchup with the Cowboys turned many into believers.

Griffin, playing in his first game in his home state, threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-31 victory. He completed 19 of his 27 passes, only one of which was intercepted, and though the Redskins kept the defense off balance with plenty of zone-read looks, he ran just seven times for 29 yards.

That game wasn’t the Redskins’ first back from their bye week – they had played four days earlier against the Eagles, also a victory – but it set the tone for a seven-game winning streak that would eventually land them in the playoffs for the first time in five years.

As the Redskins returned from a week off on Monday, they see no reason why a similar outcome couldn’t lead to comparable results.

“You’ve got to take each game, each year as a new experience,” Griffin said. “You know, they’ve got the same guys there, but they’ve got a totally different scheme and they’ve bought into that scheme, so we have to attack that. We can’t just attack those individual guys. I think it is totally different, but at the end of the day, we want to have a similar result – and that’s the win.”

Griffin has been reduced to a pocket passer over the Redskins’ first four games, running the ball sparingly after undergoing surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his right knee now nine months ago. Early deficits in the first two games eliminated Washington’s running attack; the offense was much more balanced in the next two.

The Redskins will again try to establish the running game, especially after Alfred Morris gashed the Cowboys for 113 yards and a touchdown on Thanksgiving and 200 yards and three touchdowns in the regular-season finale.

But there may be a greater opportunity to throw the ball in the next game. The Cowboys have surrendered more than 400 passing yards in three of their first five games, including 450 yards to Eli Manning in a season-opening victory over the Giants and 414 yards to Peyton Manning in their 51-48 loss to the Broncos on Sunday.

In total, Dallas’ pass defense has allowed an average of 326.4 yards per game this season, ranking second-to-last in the league. Of the team’s five interceptions, only three were by defensive backs.

“We’ve run into some good quarterbacks, first of all,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. “Having said that, we need to play better on defense, and with our pass defense, we just need to show it up and just be a little bit more consistent in how we’re covering people and how we’re defending them and make some plays on the back end.”

The Cowboys have struggled this season as they make a transition away from their hallmark 3-4 defense and into a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Garrett has said that such a shift should take roughly two seasons, and it’s been even more difficult with outside linebacker-turned-defensive end Anthony Spencer out for the season and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff also battling injuries. They also released veteran Will Allen, who started at strong safety but had been surpassed by rookie J.J. Wilcox, earlier this week.

Redskins receiver Santana Moss said he hasn’t paid too much attention to the changes in the secondary, noting only the players he’s likely to face and their abilities, but fellow receiver Pierre Garçon has taken note of one thing – the three 400-yard passing games.

“It’s a number that stands out, because they’re giving up a lot of passing yards, but they’re a good defense,” Garçon said. “You never know how they’re gonna play. Some games they shut down the passing game. Some games they give up a lot of passing yards. It’s not really one thing that they necessarily do well. It just says that they can be passed on.”

A version of this story appears in Thursday’s edition of The Free Lance-Star.