Even in a more typical season, any game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins is likely to go way off script. In 2013, the year the NFC East fell off a cliff and into a yawning chasm of football ineptitude, I would not be surprised to see anything from a 3-2 score with NFL records set for turnovers to a game that exceeded the ridiculous offensive numbers of the Cowboys' last game with the Denver Broncos. Weird things just go down in this rivalry.
Increasing the pressure on both teams is the fact that one of them is going to come out of this game with momentum and a very good position in the division, where the first team to seven wins may have it locked up this year. And the Redskins should be doing all they can to avoid a second loss in the division. Dropping this game would put them in third place behind the Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, and would kill any momentum they may have from their first victory of the year over the Oakland Raiders. Hungry teams can be dangerous teams.
The Cowboys cannot afford to lose their focus in this game. The offense has to continue to perform at a high level. It may be a bit much to expect a franchise record passing mark or three 100-yard receivers, but Tony Romo and the rest of the offense cannot let down. For the defense, they have to show up this week. Some redemption is needed.
Mental toughness is the real key for this aspect of the game. Dallas has the unfortunate reputation of playing to the level of the competition in recent seasons. They certainly showed they can play up last week. Now, they must avoid the flip side of that. Despite the early season struggles, the Redskins still have some weapons and they cannot be taken lightly.
There are two areas that I think the Cowboys must get a handle on if they are to remain at the front in the division race.
When Dallas has the ball they face a secondary that should be easily exploitable. Romo showed what he can do when he has the time against the Broncos and with Miles Austin coming back, he has an array of targets that is as good as any in the league at the moment. And the offensive line has finally been playing well this season.
But that line faces a challenge in the Washington pass rush. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are an excellent set of bookend edge rushers that will let us find out just how good Tyron Smith and Doug Free really are, and nose tackle Barry Cofield is going to put Travis Frederick to the test. The line is going to have to do its job but Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan also have to make sure they don't ask Romo to sit and wait for slow-developing routes. He needs to use DeMarco Murray and some quick releases to slow down that pass rush. Last week was Terrance Williams' breakout game. Perhaps this week will give Cole Beasley a chance to show what he can do with a lot of quick slants out of the slot and other fast plays. Once they get the Redskins worried about those yards in the middle of the field, they will be able to use Dez Bryant, Austin and Williams. However, the Cowboys have to protect Romo
Defensively, Dallas cannot let Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris eat up huge chunks of yardage the way they did in the horrid season-ending game from 2012. So far, they have not broken loose on teams but Morris comes into the week with the twelfth highest average yards per game. And Griffin has had a bye week to get better and to work on the game plan. This is where the Dallas linebackers will have to step up. They can't let the read-option get going. Force RG3 to beat us with his arm. If the game becomes a contest between two passers, I'll take Romo over Griffin any day. But if Morris and Griffin get the read-option working, it could be another rough day for Monte Kiffin's crew.
Those are the main traps that Dallas has to avoid. They need to control the game. Dallas needs to get a win or this becomes a very grim season.