There wouldn't appear to be much reason to question the probable outcome when the surging 5-4 Dallas Cowboys face the slumping 3-6 Redskins at Fed Ex Field this Sunday. Most people will figure that this will be an easy win for the Cowboys; but does this great rivalry ever see a result that is conducive to where the two teams are at in the standings? In this 102nd match-up between the two rivals, anything goes, and records go out the window - the only thing that is certain is anger, fury and blood shed.
Dallas comes into Washington, fresh off a 44-7 pounding of the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys three straight wins have propelled them to just one game back of the division leading New York Giants, and with the Redskins, Dolphins and Cardinals as their next three games, Dallas has to see this stretch as a great opportunity to get all the way back to the top of the NFC East. At the very least, three wins would put them at 8-4 and in a great spot to take one of the wild-card spots.
The Redskins on the other hand, could not be struggling more than they are right now. Last week's 20-9 loss to the hapless Miami Dolphins was just the latest in a series of lackluster performances for Washington, and their fifth consecutive loss was the first such stretch in a decade. They have been outscored 115-53 in that span, and their injury-riddled line-up is exposing their depth issues.
So it would appear that there isn't even a reason to play the game on Sunday, but this is Redskins-Cowboys - arguably one of the greatest rivalries in sports. Even when the teams aren't in the upper echelon of the league - their battles can be epic. What can you expect to see?
The Cowboys will be getting running back Felix Jones back from injury, but he won't be getting his starting job back any time soon. Rookie Demarco Murray is not only playing terrific, but most would argue that he is the reason behind the Cowboys' recent success. Considering the Redskins have allowed 150 yards rushing per game, in their five game losing streak, Murray must be chomping at the bit for this match-up. He leads the league with a gaudy 6.7 yards per carry, and has posted 130+ yards in each of his last two games. The rookie out of Oklahoma has posted 601 yards since coming in for Jones - tops in the NFL during that span. He sits 11th overall in rushing despite far fewer games than those above him, and he has not only propelled Dallas to 3 wins in the last 4 games, he has made his quarterback look exponentially better doing so.
Tony Romo was struggling before Murray came in, but when your opposition is putting eight men in the box and still not stopping the run, it makes things that much easier for the guy under center. Romo was a rapier-like 23 of 26 last week for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Lest not anyone forget, that Romo put a dagger in the Redskins in the first game of this season's double-header, so he will be integral in how this match-up shakes out. Check the match-ups below for more information on Romo, and what the Redskins have to do to try and stop him.
The Redskins offense is infinitely simpler to talk about - they just don't have one right now. Rex Grossman was reinstated as the quarterback last week against the Dolphins, but to little fanfare, and with little success. Rex may look better at times than John Beck, but his favorite targets are still often wearing the wrong colored jerseys. Grossman threw 2 picks last week, including an absolutely crucial one in the redzone when the Redskins were within striking distance and had an opportunity to get back in the game. It was a momentum, and game-killer. Rex finished with just 215 yards despite being named quarterback about as late as could be, and the Dolphins having little time to game-plan for him. They didn't have to. Grossman's two interceptions give him eleven in his last five starts, to go against just four touchdown passes - those are terrible numbers at any level of football.
One would think that when quarterbacks are struggling so mightily, that a team would look to their run game for support; but the run game has become non-existent over the last 5 games - not just in output, but in attempts as well. Having amassed just 273 yards in their last five games, the Redskins have slipped to second worst in the league with just 86.7 yards per game. Incidentally, Cowboy Demarco Murray had 253 yards rushing against the Rams in his first game at starter - just 20 yards less than the Skins five game output. Washington's 202 rushing attempts are the league's absolute lowest total. Washington has to run the ball this week though - while the Cowboys rush defense doesn't look bad on paper at first glance, they have allowed over 500 yards rushing in their last three games (2nd highest), and running the ball is the only way to try and neutralize sack monster DeMarcus Ware. See the match-ups below for more detailed information on both the Redskins rushing game, and Ware's head-to-head with Trent Williams.
About the only thing that the Redskins do have going for them, is the play of their defense. The fact that they are still seventh in total points allowed per game, with the amount of time they have spent on the field, is testament to how great they're playing. They are allowing less than 20 points per game, have kept games close, and if the offense was contributing anything more than a three-snap break, the Redskins wouldn't be 3-6. Ryan Kerrigan continues to stake his claim that he is the defensive rookie of the year, and leads the NFL with four forced fumbles. He is a threat to the quarterback's well-being on every snap, and he never takes a play off. Forcing turnovers in this game, and capitalizing on their momentum, might be the only real chance the Redskins have of putting points on the board while their offensive confidence is at such a low.
The Redskins do also have special teams firing on all cylinders, as a point of confidence. Sav Rocca has been brilliant punting, and Danny Smith has his units near the top of the league in all categories - a fact made even more impressive by the number of times they have had to punt. Can it be significant in a match-up that looks so one-sided on paper? Field position is always important when your offense is struggling to move the ball, and they can additionally extend the field for the Cowboys offense. The Redskins need every drop of advantage they can find in this one.
The fact is, that Redskins/Cowboys games rarely go the way that anyone expects them to anyway - logic is often defied - and the hate that burns between these two organizations will often bring about unfathomable results. The Redskins will be counting on that 'Any Given Sunday' factor this week, because otherwise, they're heading for their sixth straight defeat for the first time since Norv Turner's squad 'accomplished' it, in 1998.
Dallas are 1-3 on the road, the unfathomable is not the impossible; that's why they play the games.
Here are this week's head-to-head match-ups:
Redskins Run Game vs Cowboys Run Defense By Grant Paulsen
The Redskins can't run the ball and as a result, the team's offense has become inept. In Washington's last five games, all losses, Washington has rushed for a total of 42, 92, 26, 52, and 61 yards. Not coincidentally in that time the Redskins have managed minuscule scoring outputs of 13, 20, 0, 11, and 9 points. If you can't run the ball in the National Football League you're not going to win, and Washington is finding that out the hard way.
Moving the chains on the ground won't get any easier for the Redskins this Sunday against Dallas. The Cowboys are giving up 106 rushing yards per game, which ranks 11th among the NFL's 32 teams. In a week-three matchup with the Cowboys back in September, Washington compiled just 65 yards on 22 carries and that was with Tim Hightower carrying the ball behind an offensive line that included left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (out for the season), right takle Jammal Brown (questionable with a groin injury) and tight end Chris Cooley (also out for the season).
If the Redskins offense is going to improve in the coming weeks, Washington is going to have to find a way to be balanced offensively. When team's don't respect your ground attack , throwing the ball down the field becomes mission impossible (which is why Mike Shanahan's team has managed just 10 compltions of 25 or more yards, 16 less than the Cowboys on the season).
Expect to see Kyle Shanahan stick to the run early against the Cowboys, even if it's more for quantity than quality. Ripping off some decent runs is the only way Washington will keep DeMarcus Ware and Dallas' pass-rushers from teeing of on Rex Grossman.
Redskins Pass Rush vs QB Tony Romo By Andre Mitchell
The last time these two teams met, the topic of discussion was Romo's broken ribs, punctured lung, Kevlar vest, Romo saving babies from a house fire…well not the last part but it was all about Romo. The Dallas Cowboys used a max protection scheme to protect Romo but the Redskins made a concerted effort to get to Romo. That aggressiveness ultimately cost the Redskins the game as Jim Haslett sent one too many full house blitzes. This game Romo appears to be at full health and is playing some of the best football in his career over the past few games. The Cowboys won't be forced to max protect for him so this should open up opportunities for the Redskins pass rushers.
Ryan Kerrigan continues to make a push for Defensive Rookie of the Year, it will be imperative that he get to Romo and force a fumble. Nearly every one of Kerrigan's 5 sacks this year have resulted in a fumble. The key in this match-up might still be Brian Orakpo. He's only had 0.5 sacks in his career against NFC East opponents. This is very disappointing for a guy who's regarded as one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. The pass rush may have a boost with the emergence of 2nd year player Perry Riley, the team's new starting inside linebacker.
The Redskins pass rushers will have to be careful about over pursuing against Romo as he is a very mobile and crafty when dodging pass rushers. While rushing the passer is an imperative goal in every game, this game the importance will be heightened dude to how explosive the Romo and the Cowboys offense has been over the last couple of weeks.
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall By Emmanual Benton
Dallas Cowboys WR, Dez Bryant is coming off a strong performance against the Buffalo Bills (6 rec, 74 yds, 1 TD), in which he continued to flash greatness. He's a rising star in the NFL, and is beginning to become more involved in the Cowboys offense. In the last Redskins vs Cowboys matchup, Dez had 4 receptions for 63 yards, averaging 15.8 yds. His most notable catch came on a crucial 3rd and 21, with a little over 2 mins remaining in the 4th quarter. Most Redskin fans quickly blamed that conversion on Redskins DB, DeAngelo Hall, however that was a clear example of what Dez Bryant does best... He's a playmaker. Bryant isn't a possession receiver, he doesn't catch many balls, he makes plays. DeAngelo Hall was in a "no win" position when Redskins Defense Coordinator, Jim Hasslet called a zero blitz, leaving DHall on an island against Dez Bryant. It was a great job at ad-libbing, and working center field.
Last week, Brandon Marshall quietly had 7 receptions for 98 yards on DeAngelo Hall. A lot of his catches where in between the numbers, which is an area Dez likes to work. DHall can't allow Dez to consistently run routes in front of him. This is an area of DeAngelo's game that's typically okay... He tends to struggle with biting on routes, and double moves. However, DHall has to play smart/physical football, in order to win this matchup.
Redskins LT Trent Williams vs Cowboys DE DeMarcus Ware By: Justin Partlow
In their first matchup this year, Trent had probably his best game of the season. Ware wasn't as effective as he normally is. Coming into this head-to-head though, Trent is still recovering from the injury and DeMarcus has taken his game to another level, and established himself as the premier pass rusher in the NFL. This matchup is pretty simple, just like the first meeting - Trent is going to need to play with perfect technique, or else this could be a long game for the Washington Offense.
Lets get down to the nitty gritty here. Trent has been playing hurt, and it has been a factor, but he's the best OL for this team and him out there means a ton to a Redskins Offense that is struggling mightily. In the first matchup Trent caused problems for DeMarcus with his ability to stay low and not allow the DeMarcus to beat him with his pad level. This time Trent is going to have to play with that leverage plus more, as he's still not at 100% recovering from his injury. Trent can be one of the best OL in all of football but this injury will have an effect on him this Sunday.
Now lets go to DeMarcus, who in my opinion is the top pass rusher in the NFL with Jared Allen as a close second. It was thought that he'd struggle with Wade Phillips gone, but that hasn't been the case and Ware is playing at his typical All- Pro level. What he needs to do this week again, is get low and under Trent and not allow Trent's power to overwhelm him. That's what happened as well in the 1st matchup and even last year, Trent was able to overpower him in the running game as well in the passing game. If DeMarcus can stay low and play like he's known to, then this could be a long game for Trent.
Overall in this matchup it pains me to say it, but I like DeMarcus to win it. He's shown to be on a different level. While I really like Trent's improvement this year, his injury will affect him and I see DeMarcus just wearing down Trent to the point he just takes over in the 2nd half.
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