The Washington Redskins head to Dallas this week, as one of the greatest rivalries in sports will see yet another chapter told, on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys will be looking to build off of their come-from-behind 27-24 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers last week; while the surging Redskins will be looking to hold on to the momentum that has carried them to their first 2-0 start since 2007.
The season is just two games young, but the Cowboys are banged up at a mid-season level. Tony Romo and his much maligned rib cage have been the topic of much conversation this week, but less has been made of the injuries to wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring), running back Felix Jones (shoulder) and center Phil Costa (right knee). All are questionable for Monday night, and all are integral parts of the Cowboys' offense. Cowboy coach Jason Garrett gave his team an extra day off this week to get ready, and injury news out of Texas has been hard to come by.
Romo has apparently healed magically from the punctured lung that seemed to nearly spell his demise last week, and it would appear that he will be ready to go on Monday. Austin's injury will likely keep him out of the line-up, and push Dez Bryant to the front of it, despite Bryant being inactive last week because of a bruised thigh (See this week's match-ups for head-to-head information on Bryant).
In the true spirit of Dallas Week, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall was quick to bring attention to the Cowboys injury issues: "I want to get a chance to put my helmet on whatever's hurt. Romo's ribs - I'm going to be asking for some corner blitzes. If I know Felix Jones' shoulder's hurt, I'm not going to cut him. I'm definitely going to try to hit him up high, so that's just part of it."
Hall's comments became quick flashy news, and instant bulletin board material for the Cowboys, but is it really likely to make much difference? Bulletin board material is only significant when it lights a fire that wasn't already there. There shouldn't be a soul in either dressing room that isn't fired up for this game.
The Cowboys did get some good news on the injury front - cornerback Terence Newman looks to have finally recovered from a groin injury, and will likely line-up against Santana Moss (See this week's match-ups for head-to-head information on Moss / Newman).
Rex Grossman will look to pick up where he left off against the Cowboys last season. The Redskins quarterback got the nod over Donovan McNabb in last year's trip to Dallas, and went 25 of 43, for 322 yards - a career second best until this season. This time Grossman will be looking for a better result as the Skins lost 33-30 in that game, and have lost four of the last five meetings. Grossman's worst enemy can be himself (see this week's match-ups), so he'll need to minimize mistakes, and hold on to the football. So far in 2011, he's done a great job of managing the game and playing within himself.
An integral part of Grossman's success will be staying away from the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware. 2010's sack champion had 15 1/2 sacks, and already sits atop the NFL with four for 2011. He will line-up against the Redskins second year left tackle Trent Williams (See this week's match-ups for head-to-head information on Williams / Ware), but will likely be moved around the line of scrimmage throughout the game. There is no simple way to shut down Ware - it will take tight end help, and it will take a 60-minute effort - and he'll still likely get through once or twice. He's a special player.
The Redskins have their own special sack machines on defense, and yes, that is now plural. The Cowboys will have to try and find a solution to the combination of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, and so far, nobody has been able to in the first two games. The Redskins haven't had a pair of edge rushers of this calibre since Dexter Manley and Charles Mann were striking fear into the opposition. The Cowboys offensive line will be banged up with Costa's injury, and with former Redskin Derrick Dockery also being unavailable - so they're ripe for the picking.
Defensive co-ordinator Jim Haslett has to be licking his chops about this week's match-up. The combination of o-line injuries and the depleted receiving corps, means that Haslett can be even more aggressive with his blitz calls. Add to that, the fact that LaRon Landry might make his long awaited 2011 debut, and it could be a long night for Romo and his ribs. Landry is chomping at the bit to get out on to the field and make plays, "Don't calm me down. Let me go. Untame this beast, man. It's been a while."
Landry will be a game-time decision, along with half of the Cowboys offensive starters.
Perhaps the most important facet of the Redskins' game, that will need to be firing on all cylinders, is their run game. Both Tim Hightower and Roy Helu have looked very good this season, and along with the offensive line, have allowed Washington to dominate the opposition in time of possession. The Redskins lead the league with 35:33 per game, or an average of 10 minutes more than their opposition. In an away game in a hostile environment, against a team that has struggled to move the ball on the ground, this could prove vital to Washington's success.
Hightower picked up 96 yards last week on 20 carries in basically one half of work. Helu picked up from there and posted 74 yards on just 10 carries, and proved to be too much of a change of pace for the Cardinals to handle. The Redskins don't need to fix what isn't broken. Can the Cowboys slow down the Redskins backfield?
There's too much riding on this NFC East match-up for the Redskins to be able to blow as many opportunities as they did against Arizona. While the season is obviously still very young, any divisional game is crucial to tie-breakers and while the Redskins probably aren't thinking playoffs right now, the last Redskin team to go 3-0 not only made the playoffs, but provided the franchise's last playoff victory.
One thing that is a given about Monday night's game - it's sure to be fought with tooth and nail. These teams don't like each other, and neither do their fan bases. The rivalry is a great one - the animosity is real. It's Dallas week, and fans of both teams wait with bated breath.
It's going to be nasty. Don't miss a minute of it!
Here are this week's head-to-head match-ups.
Santana Moss vs. Terence Newman By: Grant Paulsen Twitter Handle: @granthpaulsen
Terence Newman is expected to make his season debut on Monday night. He missed the entire preseason and Dallas' first two regular season games with a nagging groin injury.
Expect to see Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong test him with double-moves on deep routes in the early-going of Monday's game. Moss has traditionally given Newman fits, playing Dallas 11 times since coming to Washington and averaging six catches and ninety-yards per contest. He's had a pair of two-touchdown games against the Cowboys and should be expected to be targeted at least a half-dozen times in week-three.
Moss' 11 catches are tied for the most by any Redskins' pass-catcher this season. Expect to see him take advantage of the holes in Dallas' porous secondary, which will be without Orlando Scandrick again this week.
Dez Bryant vs. DeAngelo Hall By: Andre Mitchell Twitter Handle: @MrDCSports
With the injury to Miles Austin, Dez Bryant looks to go into Monday night’s matchup as the number one receiver. Dez himself is coming back from a bruised quad that kept him out of last week’s game. If Bryant is fully healthy, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall will have his hands full. Bryant is a very physical receiver with speed to burn the defense.
Hall had the task of checking Larry Fitzgerald last week, arguably one the best receivers in the NFL. Hall did a solid job with the exception of a 73 yard TD reception by Fitzgerald, where he was left on an island during an all out blitz. Hall has to stay disciplined in this matchup against Dez Bryant.
Romo often looks for kill shots and if Hall bites on a pump fake or double move it will be all she wrote. Expect to see Dallas try to work the ball in to Bryant on WR screens and make D. Hall try to come up and tackle him. Bryant is a very determined runner after the catch. Hall will have to go low for his legs as Bryant is very good at using a stiff arm to break tackles.
So far Hall has taken a more dedicated approach to tackling this season; he’s going to need to be even more spirited with his effort this week. This will be an important match-up because Hall may not get as much safety help as needed with other targets like Jason Witten on the field. The Redskins are going to need "high reward" DeAngelo this game and not "high risk" DeAngelo.
Trent Williams vs. DeMarcus Ware By: Justin Partlow Twitter Handle: @JTPartlow21
With a promising young left tackle taking on one of the top pass rushers in football, this is arguably the premier matchup to watch on Monday night. Let's get to the guys individually then to the matchup itself.
First Trent Williams, the gifted LT from Oklahoma has certainly had an up and down career so far as a Redskin, but has shown to be making strides and developing into a franchise LT. What he does best is use his athleticism in pass protection and in the running game. Trent though has his flaws and it still stems from him being more of a "raw" OT coming out of college. He has a tendency to make a mistake in pass pro in his one-on-one matchup, and in turn it leads to a QB pressure or loss. What Trent has shown though, is improvement playing low in his stance, and the ability to finish his blocks and make sure his QB’s blindside is protected.
Now let's go to DeMarcus Ware. The man is a freak pass rusher and without a doubt, one of the best in the game. Since coming into the league, he has always put the fear into an opposing offense on how to game plan around him. He’s dominated every OT he’s played against and doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. What he does best is use his combination of speed and strength to wear down his opponent and make the big time plays. It’ll be interesting to see what moves Ware will use on Trent and if he can consistently win battles, or if he struggles against Williams and his athleticism.
This matchup has the ability to be the one that people will remember if both are playing their "A" game. If Trent can keep his pad level low and not allow Ware to beat him on the inside moves, then Trent could make this a one sided matchup. One the other hand if Trent plays high and over-relies on his athleticism, then Ware will have a field day with him. Overall, this is a huge game for Trent in his quest to becoming the franchise LT that everyone hopes and believes he can be.
Rex Grossman vs Rex Grossman By: Kevin Ewoldt Twitter Handle: @HogsHaven
The most intriguing matchup of the Redskins vs Cowboys game is Rex Grossman vs Rex Grossman. As optimistic as Redskins fans have been this month, we are all collectively waiting/expecting for that game-losing mistake to happen from the former Spurrier protege. I think of Grossman as that alcoholic Father who's been on the wagon for several months. Life has been great the first few weeks, but we all still hold our breaths waiting for that day for him to come home bombed and wreck sh*t up.
Rex currently maintains a 90.6 QB rating, which is ranked 15th in the NFL. The defense has bailed Grossman out of some bad mistakes early, which sums up his Super Bowl run with the Bears. It's clear, however, the offense is running smoother this year with a power-punching RB game to alleviate pressure.
As for the Cowboys, their Rob Ryan defense is ranked 4th in the NFL overall in yards allowed and 2nd best in rushing allowed. The Cowboys 10 sacks, best in the NFL, is priority #1 for Rex Grossman when watching game film. DeMarcus Ware has been terrorizing QBs with 4 sacks already. Ware will certainly have his moments vs Trent Williams, so how will Grossman respond?
My two biggest issues with Grossman is that he fails to see the blind side pressure and he consistently puts the ball on the ground. This year he has only fumbled once, so maintaining control is key. Our defense can hold off the Cowboys depleted offense, but not if they're consistently getting the ball on our own 30.
The AZ Cardinals' defense had a lot of success the first half against Grossman when they pressured. For some reason, they stopped bringing it in the second half, and the Redskins, who have veteran WRs everywhere, were able to get open and the Skins picked them apart. If we know anything about the Ryan brothers, they are not shy about blitzing. Like the Cowboys game last year, I expect a lot of dink and dunks and misdirection plays to counter the blitzes.