Two months is an enternity in the NFL, and that means that the Dallas Cowboys team that the Redskins played back in September will look very different from the one they will see on Sunday.
Lets start by looking at the personnel differences. The Redskins may be fortunate enough to miss WR Miles Austin for a second time this year. He’s recovering from a hamstring injury. Dez Bryant was hobbled when the team’s played in September. He would appear to be at full health. Felix Jones could miss another week as well, he’s been out for a good amount of time. The guy who backed up Jones in September was Tashard Choice, he is now a Redskin. The Cowboys lost starting LG Bill Nagy for a significant amount of time and have not seen Derrick Dockery since the last time these two teams played. Montrae Holland missed practice today with an illness, but is expected to start at LG.
The most surprising thing about the Cowboys offense this year is how well their offensive line has played. That started during the first meeting between these teams, but it proved to not be a fluke. The Cowboys offensive line has been a strength of the team. Second year Center Phil Costa is the weak point, but it’s hard to attack a center, this is simply a matchup that the Redskins need to win.
Fortuantely for the Redskins defense, the Cowboys still lack the personnel to get multiple in terms of formation to stretch the opposing defense. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have developed an identity as an offense: they are now a vertical offense that relies on (and gets) the big play. Laurent Robinson, who was just picked up by the Cowboys off of waivers prior to the first game with the Redskins, is now a big play threat for the Cowboys. Dez Bryant is playing very good football. No group for the either team has improved more since the last time these teams played than the Cowboys’ recievers.
The Cowboys offense is as predictable as it is talented. When they want to run the ball, they go with two backs (bringing in FB Tony Fiametta), and sometimes two TEs, and they run behind the fullback. Demarco Murray has emerged as the lead back for the Cowboys not because Murray is particularly special, but because he did well with his opportunity, and rare is it for a Dallas running back to not be bitterly teasing and disappointing at the same time. Overall, the Cowboys running game is still not a threat, because you can always decide to outnumber the Cowboys in the box if need be. Where the Cowboys killed the Redskins in September was on the draw play from the singleback. That has not been a big play for Dallas since that game, but the Redskins are going to see it until they prove they can take it away. Putting Perry Riley in for Rocky McIntosh should do the trick, but the interior line of the Redskins must also stay up to the challenge.
Finally, there will be a full game stategic battle between Jim Haslett and Tony Romo now that Romo is finally beating teams with his intelligence as well as his arm. Haslett was a significant victor in the game last time against Romo, although Romo ended up getting the last laugh. In two meetings between Romo and Haslett, Dallas has scored exactly one offensive touchdown. If you are rooting for a Redskins upset, there is evidence that the Redksins have Romo’s number. Of course, Romo has weapons that will negate the effectiveness of the gameplan the Redskins used last time. It’s going to take a new approach to get home to Romo in this game.
Of late, Romo is killing teams with five receiver spreads by getting them to show their hands and then making a play with his legs. This is exactly how he beat the Redskins last time. The Cowboys offensive line has done a remarkable job in one-on-one protections vs. the blitz, which makes blitzing Romo a tough task. If I’m going to come after Romo, I want to come from the edges and make their running backs block guys like Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins love A gap pressures, but I’d put those on the back burner for a week.
Defensively, the Cowboys are much the same team that the Redskins faced earlier in the season, but they are not the run stuffing monsters they appeared to be earlier in the year. They don’t play great assignment football, and they will give up the edge on runs. ILB Sean Lee remains their best player against the run, but like London Fletcher, if you can get Lee blocked, you can run on the Cowboys. The pass rush is pretty much exclusively provided by DeMarcus Ware. The Redskins typically do a good job against Ware, but Kyle Shanahan simply cannot afford to go another whole game against Dallas again with two or three guys in every pattern.
The Cowboys coverage has been much better in years past due exclusively to the healthy and highly effective season veteran CB Terrence Newman is having. Like in all other years, they are incredibly reliant on the pass rush to force the ball to come out in time in order to hold the other teams offense down, and that pass rush is incredibly dependant on Ware. If the Redskins can protect the quarterback with just six guys, and can put at least four guys in the pattern on every play, the Cowboys will struggle to slow down Rex Grossman. But it’s not clear that the Redskins have any reason to believe that they can hold the Cowboys down with just six guys.
Last game, the Redskins pre-emptively forced the Cowboys into max coverages by running seven and eight player protections the entire game. They also, with the exception of the end of halves, held DeMarcus Ware quiet. But Rex Grossman did not throw the ball well in that game, and he torpedoed Kyle Shanahan’s gameplan in doing so. It’s okay though, it wasn’t a great gameplan to start.
The Redskins go into this game short four of the twelve receivers and tight ends on their extended roster. Chris Cooley and Leonard Hankerson are on IR. Santana Moss and Niles Paul will not play. That means that the recently signed David Anderson will come out of the slot for Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney on the outsides. Armstrong has had a dreadful season, but he can be the hero of Dallas week if he is aptly prepared. The Cowboys have always struggled to account for him.
The Redskins are likely to be overmatched this week. We know already that the Redskins are not going to try to run the ball. Fred Davis will likely be a large part of the gameplan. Even though Dallas knows this, they will still have match-up issues. They struggled to handle the Bills’ bigger, more physical passing targets, opting instead to get physical with less imposing targets such as Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones. The Redskins receiver group offers no physicality to match-up outside of Davis, Logan Paulsen. Because of this, you should keep an eye on fullback Darrel Young this week.
If the Redskins want to be in this game at the end, they’ll have to avoid Dallas’ splash plays and create some of their own in the first half. I have no guesses as to how they will be able to do this. They haven’t proven capable in the recent past, and Dallas has controlled the air space against everyone. I think the Redskins defense has the potential to rise to the challenge. As for the offense? I don’t think they’ll be able to outscheme or outplay the Dallas Cowboys.