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Amari Cooper latest test for Redskins’ defense as it tries to snap slump

November 21, 2018

ASHBURN The temptation to view Thursday’s Redskins-Cowboys contest as the “Colt McCoy game” is understandable. A lot of attention is being paid to the Washington offense, and how it will look with McCoy filling in for the injured Alex Smith.

But for about half the game, the Redskins’ defense will be tasked with slowing down a Dallas offensive unit that’s added Amari Cooper since the last time the two sides met.

It hasn’t been the most solid stretch for Washington’s defense lately. The Redskins allowed 38 points to the Atlanta Falcons. Though they held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to three points, the Redskins gave up 501 yards of total offense.

And while they forced three turnovers against the Houston Texans last week, the Redskins allowed an uncharacteristic 139 rushing yards.

The Redskins had to scheme for quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson in some of those games, and coach Jay Gruden said the team will have to “switch back a little bit” to defend the Cowboys’ rushing attack of Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.

“Obviously Zeke is a major force and Dak running with his legs. It’s very important to try to corral him a little bit with some of the zone reads and the bootlegs and quarterback runs,” Gruden said. “We had a good plan against them last time but I know Dallas will have an answer, as we should try to improve on what we’ve been doing the last couple weeks.”

The Redskins held Elliott and Prescott to 33 rushing yards apiece on Oct. 21. It was Elliott’s season lows for both rushing yards and yards per touch (2.2).

The Cowboys like to establish the run they are in the top half of the league in rushing attempts but coach Jason Garrett did not feel Elliott’s struggles last time made it any more necessary to get him going early in the rematch.

“Zeke obviously is a big part of what we do offensively,” Garrett said. “We like to hand him the ball, we’d like to throw it to him and get him involved in our offense and he’s typically been a pretty good player for us.”

But the biggest difference in the rematch will be the presence of Cooper, whom Oakland traded to Dallas the day after the first Redskins-Cowboys game in exchange for a first-round draft pick.

It’s likely fans will see Josh Norman follow Cooper wherever he lines up, as the cornerback has shadowed opponents’ No. 1 receiver for a few weeks while Quinton Dunbar rehabs a shin injury.

“In Dunbar’s absence we’ve had to travel a little bit more, and I think (Norman has) done a pretty good job,” Gruden said. “You’re talking about Mike Evans and Hopkins and Julio Jones and he’s done a pretty good job ... Each week is a great challenge. Different skill set for each receiver that he plays against, but Josh is a guy that’s gonna study.”

While Dallas nabbed Cooper at the trade deadline, the Redskins made their own move, of course, when they acquired safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. His involvement in the defensive backfield will bolster Washington to face Cooper and Cole Beasley.

Clinton-Dix has faced Dallas in each of the past three seasons when he was a Packer.

“I’m pretty familiar with their scheme and operation, what they like to do,” Clinton-Dix said. ”(Washington’s) defensive guys around me have been putting me in the right position, giving me keys, giving me tendencies so I can be successful on Sundays.”

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