R.F.K. gave way to FedEx Field. The Redskins are no longer the "Over the Hill Gang", unless you count Mark Brunell. Doomsday? They've been replaced by, well, a bunch of guys not named Randy White or "Too Tall" Jones. Tom Landry has become Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs has morphed into... Joe Gibbs? Regardless, I'm sure Clint Longley is not holding the clipboard on the Cowboys sideline.
Still, this game has a familiar feel to it. Maybe it's having the two former, and now current, NFC East coaches stalking the sidelines. Perhaps it's because a December game once again means something for both teams, taking us back to a distant time in a distant NFL. Whatever it is, it's the fiercest rivalry in the NFL, and it's back on. It's the Cowboys vs. Redskins, circa 2005.
Dallas (8-5) goes on the road in search of a victory to boost their playoff chances while Washington (7-6) strives to fend off elimination. The stakes are high, for the teams and the coaches. Legacies are re-written when coaches un-retire. On Sunday, Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs try to add another chapter in their storied careers, at the others expense.
Click below to read the offense vs. defense breakdown.
Dallas Offense vs. Washington Defense
Cowboys Rushing Offense - 114 ypg (14th) vs. Redskins Rushing Defense - 106 ypg (12th)
Cowboys Passing Offense - 219 ypg (14th) vs. Redskins Passing Defense - 193 ypg (11th)
Cowboys Total Offense - 332 ypg (13th) vs. Redskins Total Defense - 299 ypg (9th)
Let's go through the checklist. Dallas on the road? Check. Dallas playing an aggressive blitzing defense? Check. Weather possibly a factor? Check. Dallas to play conservatively on offense? Maybe.
The Redskins have a banged up secondary. CB Carlos Rogers and S Matt Bowen are questionable and neither practiced on Friday. CB's Shawn Springs and Walt Harris returned to practice on Friday and are listed as probable. Whatever combination the Redskins field on Sunday, they are going to be less than 100%. In addition, LB LaVar Arrington missed practice yesterday and is listed as questionable. Parcells claims that the Redskins injuries won't affect his gameplan, but his denials ring hollow. If the weather cooperates, Dallas will test the banged up secondary early, and if they are found wanting, will exploit them regularly.
Defensive coordinator Greg Williams has built the Redskins defense on an aggressive blitzing scheme. Dallas will count on tackles Rob Petitti and Torrin Tucker to handle their men without help, leaving the RB's and TE's to deal with blitzing defenders. RB Marion Barber should get increased playing time this game as he is the better blocker and pass receiver, ideally suited to combat the Redskins defensive philosophy. Last week Drew Bledsoe found his rhythm with TE Jason Witten and will look to him again early for quick routes underneath to help slow down the Redskins attack.
The Dallas line matches up well with Redskins front four, meaning the Redskins LB's will have to be active. Washington likes to get upfield in the gaps at the line to disrupt the blocking scheme, freeing the LB's to aggressively attack the runner. Dallas will counter with straight ahead running plays designed to quickly slip through holes and get into the secondary.
Expect Dallas to use a balanced offensive scheme. They will run the ball because that is what they do, but the Redskins defense is too good for a one-dimensional attack to be effective. Jason Witten is the key, if he is getting open early, Parcells will feel more confident letting QB Drew Blesdoe drop back. Witten and Barber give Bledsoe check-down opportunities, helping to avoid minus-plays. If Bledsoe takes advantage of them early, WR's Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson will get opportunities later. It won't be wide-open like last week, but it won't be the Giants game either.
Dallas Defense vs. Redskins Offense
Cowboys Rushing Defense - 106 ypg (13th) vs. Redskins Rushing Offense - 131 ypg (5th)
Cowboys Passing Defense - 194 ypg (13th) vs. Redskins Passing Offense - 199 ypg (19th)
Cowboys Total Defense - 301 ypg (10th) vs. Redskins Total Offense - 331 ypg (14th)
The Redskins like to run and they do it well. RB Clinton Portis is having a big year and will test a struggling Dallas run defense all afternoon. Washington has been relying on the legs of Portis more and more as the season progresses and Sunday will be no different. The Redskins are a physical, but mobile, run blocking team; they look to overpower a defense at the point of attack, whether it's straight ahead or by pulling linemen on counters and sweeps. Portis can run between the tackles, but is more effective when he gets to the edges. OLB's DeMarcus Ware and Scott Fujita need to keep Portis turned to the middle and ILB's Bradie James and Scott Shanle must take proper pursuit angles to cut off the cut-back lanes.
The Redskins passing offense has become stale over the second half of the season as teams are loading up to stop WR Santana Moss. Facing a safety over the top and a CB underneath, Moss has had little opportunity to use his best asset, speed. The Redskins have only one other serious passing threat in TE Chris Cooley, so the Cowboys secondary should be able to contain the Redskins passing offense. This will allow Dallas to cheat up a safety in an effort to shut down the run.
Until the Redskins prove to Dallas they can pass effectively, the Cowboys will be content to sit on the run. Pressure from Dallas will come in the form of run blitzes to stop Portis, not pass blitzes to get QB Mark Brunell. The game will be won or lost in the matchup of the Redskins offensive line and the Dallas defensive front seven. Whoever gets the better of this game within the game, will keep their team's playoff aspirations alive for another week.
Dallas will be marginally effective in running the ball and will rely on the passing game more than it normally would on the road. Jason Witten and Marion Barber will get open on quick passes early, slowing down the Redskin blitz. Clinton Portis will get his yards but scoring will be a problem for Mark Brunell and the Redskins offense. In the end, the Cowboys stretch out a lead in the second half, thanks to WR's Glenn and Johnson, and hold on after the Redskins are forced to abandon the run and go the air.
Dallas 24 - Washington 16