Gameday Preview: Redskins vs. Cowboys
By: Les Barnhart
Category: Washington Redskins News
September 19th, 2005
It's Dallas week again. The Redskins and Cowboys will renew one of the league's greatest rivalries this week when they meet on Monday Night Football. The two teams will square off in the "Big D" on a night in which the Cowboys will induct Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith into their famed "Ring of Honor". The fact that this is happening prior to a Redskins game and the three being honored may be three of the most despised Cowboys by Redskins fans makes it even worse. It only makes sense that the Cowboys do that since the Redskins as of late, have served as the whipping boys for the hated Cowboys. The Redskins have only won once in the last fifteen meetings between the two storied franchises. The Cowboys and Redskins will meet on Monday Night Football for a record 14th time, with the Cowboys holding a 7-6 advantage.
The Cowboys come into the game after going into San Diego and beating the Chargers, 28-24. The Cowboys revamped defense played well despite giving up the 24 points as they make the adjustment to the 3-4 scheme. That defensive unit may be what allows the team to entertain thoughts of returning to the postseason. They drafted heavy on the defensive side of the ball and came away with solid playmakers that will make an immediate impact. On paper, the Cowboys appear to have a better defense than last season and that unit wasn't all that bad. While they are still adjusting to the change in their defensive schemes, they just held LaDainian Tomlinson to 72 yards on 19 carries while holding the Chargers to 291 yards total offense. The Cowboys defense went into the Chargers game intent on shutting down the running game as the Chargers were without All Pro TE Antonio Gates. With the change at quarterback for the Redskins, the Cowboys may likely have the same approach on Monday night. If they can shut down the Redskins running game and force Brunell to throw, the Redskins may be forced into the area of their offense that has to be considered their weakest.
To say that the Redskins quarterback situation is tenuous would be like saying that popcorn at the movie theatres is overpriced. They will head into Dallas with Mark Brunell under center after he was named the starter on Monday over a healthy Patrick Ramsey. That decision has stirred a week long debate about what Ramsey's role, both present and future is with the club. Whoever is charged with leading the offense will need to get into synch with the receivers and the new offense. The offense, despite only posting nine points against a formidable Bears defense, did amass 323 total yards (159 passing and 164 rushing). The offensive line played very well but will head into Dallas with Jon Jansen sporting two casts, one on each of his beefy thumbs, after breaking his right thumb against the Bears. The success of the running game will again dictate the amount of success that the Redskins offense has and that will mean that the offensive line will need to be able to control the very active Cowboys defensive front. The Redskins wore down the Bears on their way to getting Clinton Portis his 121 yards on 21 carries as well as a solid change of pace running by Ladell Betts. Portis heads into the game averaging 101 yards rushing in 45 career games and has gone over the century mark in 2 of his last 4 games. The Cowboys will undoubtedly look to shut down the running game and force the Redskins to pass. Unfortunately for the Redskins, the Cowboys also have a solid secondary which picked off Drew Brees twice and allowed 188 yards through the air. The key to the Redskins offense will again to play smart, ball control offense and wear down the Cowboys defense with the running game.
The Cowboys offense looked solid in the opener against the Chargers with Drew Bledsoe at the helm. Bledsoe's reunion with coach Bill Parcells offered the Cowboy fans something to be excited about as the offense looked energized on both the ground and through the air. On three occasions, Bledsoe brought the Cowboys back and on the final comeback, they posted the winning touchdown with 3:06 left on the clock. Julius Jones' 26 carries for 93 yards helped open the passing game up for Bledsoe to toss three touchdown passes (two to Keyshawn Johnson). While the Chargers have a decent defense, it certainly isn't at the level of the Redskins. The Redskins defense hasn't allowed more than 100 yards rushing in their last 6 games and hasn't allowed more than 18 points in their last 7. They held Chicago to 166 total yards in week one. The Cowboys will be tested by Gregg Williams' aggressive, blitzing unit as the Redskins are stingy on both sides of the ball. It is hard to attack the Redskins in one particular area but leave it to Parcells to find a way to exploit an area of the defense. Being able to rattle Bledsoe into turning the ball over and limiting the success of Jones on the ground should be the top priority for a unit that has yet to have Lavar Arrington see substantial playing time. The Cowboys have a decent receiving corps with Keyshawn Johnson, Patrick Crayton and will probably activate newly acquired Peerless Price for the game. Mix into the fold their standout tight end Jason Witten and it is easy to see why Bledsoe as well as Cowboy fans are excited. This Cowboys unit has as much talent if not more than the Aikman-led Super Bowl teams of the 1990's.
With a game this close, it may come down to field goals. The Redskins just lost John Hall to an injury (quad) and he may not be available for the game. The Redskins have signed former Terrapin Nick Novak to serve as a replacement. The Cowboys, who also seem to be changing kickers, will have Jose Cortez to bang it through the pipes.
Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells will be meeting for the twentieth time, with Parcells holding a decided upper hand in the outcomes, 13-6 and winner of the last 8 meetings against the Hall of Fame coach. Surprisingly, Joe Gibbs is looking to open a season at 2-0 for only the fourth time in his NFL career. The Redskins have certainly had their struggles against the self proclaimed "America's Team" and will again look to stem the tide of Cowboy dominance, especially at Texas Stadium, where the Redskins haven't won since 1995. For the Redskins to go to 2-0 and stay atop the NFC East standings, they will need to play better on offense and take advantage of their scoring opportunities with something more than field goals. If the Redskins can find success with the ground game and take the physical game to the Cowboys, they could spoil the party for the home crowd and in the process, begin to restore the swagger and pride to an organization that is in desperate need of it.
Key Player Match-Ups:
Jason Witten v. Marcus Washington
By Les Barnhart
Witten is a tight end out of the "hybrid" mold. He is big and strong, yet he also posesses the ability to catch the ball. He has good body control which he uses to get separation from the defender. He has enough speed to make the defender respect his ability to get downfield.
Washington is one of the quicker Redskin 'backers and also has great awareness. He plays the run better than the pass but his coverage skills are good enough that he cannot be exploited. He uses his hands well and can run with most tight ends. Like a majority of linebackers, he struggles to cover quick backs out of the backfield.
The matchup between Witten and Washington should be an interesting one. Last season, Witten was a huge target but in the Chargers game, Bledsoe looked to the wideouts more often. That could be due to the coverage that Witten now commands or Bledsoe may just be using him as a secondary reciever. Washington is quick enough to cover Witten and both should find their workloads full on Monday night.
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