Cowboys defense vs. Redskins offense
Running game: This isn't your daddy's counter-trey offense. I watched the game tape of the Redskins/Vikings game and this version of the Redskins offense definitely has a different feel. Parcells has talked vaguely about it, that both Joe Gibbs and Al Saunders come from the Don Coryell offensive tree, but the offense the Redskins are running now has the feel of Kansas City's offense, a much more unpredictable offense. It's true; the Redskins were all about attacking the edges of the Vikings defense.
They were running sweeps and stretches while throwing hitches, flares and bubble screens out to the edges. The between the tackles power running game was a secondary thought in this new offense. They still ran the counter-trey and such on occasion, but the focus was on getting outside. At least initially, later in the game they ran with some conviction to the middle. But when the cards were on the table in the 4th quarter, they went back to attacking the edges. This tells me that this is where Al Saunders feels more comfortable.
Which makes for an interesting dilemma this week. A 3-4 defense is usually best attacked with the power running game between the tackles. There are the two natural soft spots in front of each guard which make an inviting target for power runners. The flip side is it's harder to get outside on a 3-4 defense because of the 4 linebackers who add speed to the run defense. Also, with two linebackers in the middle, it's harder for guards to get to the second level and cut them off from pursuing the edges. So will Washington go with the strategy from last week, or will they pull out the old Joe Gibbs-style power running game and try to bust Dallas up in between the tackles?
Clinton Portis should be available to the Redskins, but they also have big backs Ladell Betts and newly acquired T.J. Duckett. Dallas needs to contain Clinton Portis, either on the sweeps or the middle runs. He's the key to Washington establishing a running attack. Duckett would seem like a good bet to get some inside runs to soften up the Dallas run defense and pull Roy Williams closer to the line.
The Cowboys won't want to commit Williams to the run, instead hoping to stop the Washington running attack with the front seven. If Washington runs like they did last week, there will be a lot of pressure on DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis to hold outside contain, and Anthony Henry and Terence Newman will be asked for more run support than usual. But facing a 3-4 defense, I think Washington will go back - to some extent - to the Joe Gibbs power game. Bradie James and Akin Ayodele will need to be stout and defenseive ends Chris Canty and Marcus Spears will have to stay at home and not over pursue on the counter runs and reverses to Moss and Randle El.
Passing game: The Redskins tried to revamp their wide receivers, adding Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El to help mainstay Santana Moss. Last weeks effort probably wasn't what they had in mind. Randle El caught 5 passes but only had 34 yards to show for it. Lloyd brought nothing to the game, so once again Moss was the lone deep threat. Dallas will take note and try to roll a safety over to help on Moss (I know, visions of last year) and make Randle El and Lloyd prove they can hurt the Cowboys. Otherwise, the Cowboys secondary will mug Moss all night long.
Where Washington might be able to get some easier yards in their passing game is by utilizing the backs out of the backfield on screens, flare patterns to the flats and other short passes. DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis will get a stiff test of their coverage abilities this week and they need to make sure tackles on completions. Chris Cooley is also another target in the short passing game who will add to the problem. Last week, Dallas gave up a lot of yardage on passes underneath because their LB's were getting very deep drops. If Washington sees that happening again, they'll target it all night long. The Dallas LB's and safeties will have a full night's work ahead of them controlling the short passing game.
The Vikings were able to get some pressure on the Redskins by running blitzes, especially from the middle. Dallas was pretty conservative last week in terms of who they rushed and the blitz packages that they called. This week, they need to mix it up a little more. Brunell isn't the scrambler he used to be and will throw the ball away regularly to avoid the sack. Dallas will attempt to strike the right balance between getting pressure on Brunell and not leaving wide open zones underneath for the Redskins backs and TE's.
The other thing Dallas needs to be aware of is all the shifting Washington does pre-play. The Redskins have always employed some motion in their offense, but last week Washington took it up to a new level. Bradie James and rookie Pat Watkins need to recognize what's happening in the shifts and get the defense aligned properly.