NFL Week 12: Key matchups for Washington Football Team versus Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day

Expectations might not be high for this matchup. After all, it's a clash between 3-7 teams who are starting backup quarterbacks...

Oct 25, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team at the line of scrimmage during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Week 12: Thanksgiving is upon us, and that means the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day slate is here. This is the time of the year to be thankful for all the blessings in life and to fill up turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. But most importantly, this is the time to watch some beautiful football. Washington Football Team fans can rejoice as their team faces the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.

Expectations might not be high for this matchup. After all, it’s a clash between 3-7 teams who are starting backup quarterbacks. Despite their abysmal records and countless injuries, the winner on Thanksgiving will grab the top spot in the NFC East.

Dallas shocked the NFL by beating the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11, giving this team a lifeline. Meanwhile, after consecutive losses, Washington rediscovered the win column against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The Thanksgiving matchup may not be filled with star players on dominating teams, but the game will be extremely competitive with a lot at stake. Here are the three key matchups for a pivotal NFC East clash between the Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys in NFL Week 12.

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Alex Smith vs Andy Dalton: The battle of forgotten quarterbacks

Alex Smith forgotten? The quarterback is delivering the greatest comeback in sports. Smith’s unbelievable recovery from a devastating injury that nearly took his life deserves the spotlight. However, we also can’t forget that Smith is still a good quarterback.

The 36-year-old is doing some incredible things right now. Entering Week 11, he’d thrown for 300-plus passing yards in consecutive games. While he fell short of that mark against Cincinnati, he recorded his first victory since Week 10 of 2018.

He’s not the only veteran signal-caller who will take the field. Andy Dalton returned in Week 11, leading the Cowboys to victory over Minnesota. Winning the NFC East seemed unthinkable after Dak Prescott’s heartbreaking injury, but Dallas could be sitting in first if it wins on Thanksgiving Day.

Dalton has more weapons than Smith. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup make up one of the NFL’s best receiving corps. While Ezekiel Elliott has declined with time, he is still an excellent running back and looked healthy against the Vikings en route to his first 100-yard rushing game of the season.

Smith at least has an improving offense — or perhaps he’s elevated the play of those around him. Terry McLaurin is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL, and Antonio Gibson is a rising star. The rest of Washington’s offense is inconsistent, though. 

These two forgotten quarterbacks will determine the outcome of the Thanksgiving matchup. When it’s all over, one fan base will be thankful to be in the playoff hunt. 

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Washington’s pass defense vs. Cowboys’ offense

Washington’s defense has been one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season. Many expected the pass rush to thrive with Chase Young, but the secondary has been a pleasant surprise under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Entering Week 12, Washington ranks among the league’s best defenses in key statistics. It is allowing the fewest passing yards per game (195.4), is tied for the seventh-most interceptions (nine) and has the seventh-lowest quarterback rating allowed (88.9). So while the pass rush is getting home, Washington’s defense is also getting the job done on the back end.

As mentioned above, Dallas boasts a plethora of weapons on offense. Even without Prescott, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is finding creative ways to move the chains. Against the Vikings, Lamb found some success on jet sweeps, and the team’s versatility is difficult to plan for. 

There’s no denying this offense has taken a step back since Prescott went down, but it’s also not remotely as bad as the unit we saw in the 25-2 loss to Washington. With Zack Martin at right tackle, Dalton gets more time to throw and the running game is hitting its stride.

Both teams will have a short week to prepare for Thursday’s matchup, so it will be worth watching how they prepare and then execute their game plans.

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Washington’s mental errors vs. the officials

If it were not for untimely penalties and other miscues, Washington would be at least 5-5. However, the team is young, and while blunders are to be expected by default, the mistakes have surely been costly. 

A botched two-point conversion by Kyle Allen derailed the team’s Week 6 hopes of beating the NFC East rival Giants. A few weeks later, Chase Young’s roughing the passer flag set up a game-winning field goal by the Detroit Lions in Week 10. 

The issues have persisted. Whether it’s struggling to pick up fumbles, dropped passes, unnecessary penalties, or any other ill-fated play, it’s culminated in a 3-7 record to date.

Washington needs to limit the self-inflicted wounds, especially on a national stage with an opportunity to grab the top spot in the NFC East. The Football Team has averaged six penalties per game on the road, which doesn’t bode well for this trip to Dallas.

Head coach Ron Rivera will need to emphasize eliminating these critical failures that have prevented his players from winning more, because from a talent and production standpoint, the defense is playoff-ready. Having a seasoned leader in Smith at the most important position may be just what the locker room needs to band together for a run at the division crown. If Washington can avoid shooting itself in the foot, a Thanksgiving win is possible.