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Dallas Cowboys News & Notes: How Much Should The Starters Play Against The Redskins?

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Latest Cowboys headlines: Romo, Cowboys not backing off against Redskins; "No houseguests" on Cowboys defense; O-Line looking for redemption against 'Skins defense.

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Do the Cowboys rest some stars week 17? - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
In his Twitter mailbag, Archer tries to address a question that's on everybody's mind right now: How much should the starters play against the Redskins?

If we are to believe Jason Garrett, then he will play his guys Sunday at Washington. That doesn't mean he will play them the entire game. I understand the desire to avoid the risk of injury with the Cowboys essentially locked into the No. 3 seed, but it would go against Garrett's raison d'etre. His entire process is built on being your best every day.

These aren't the Cowboys of the 1990s who could turn it on when they needed to. This team has to play at 100 percent every day of the week and if they don't they get exposed. I'm all for playing the stars this week. If somebody gets hurt, then you just have to shrug it off. They won't be canceling the game. Not to go all Herm Edwards here, but you play to win the game.

Romo, Cowboys not backing off against Redskins - USA Today
Romo is approaching the game against the Redskins with the exact same mindset, preparation and focus he has for every game.

"I go in with the exact same mental approach I do every game," Romo said. "If you're a football player and there's a game, there's only one way to play and it's hard the whole time. You go all out. I think you're doing a disservice to the game and your team if you don't play that way."

Cowboys seek to find meaning in finale vs Redskins - San Antonio Express-News
This report spells out what needs to happen for the Cowboys to secure a bye week:

For the Cowboys-Redskins outcome to have any significance in the playoff picture, at least one other game Sunday has to end in a draw. The Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East and will earn a first-round bye with losses by Seattle and Arizona — regardless of what they do against their division rival. But they can also get a bye through multiple other scenarios.

"There's a playoff scenario with us winning the game that will give us an opportunity to get a first-round bye," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said, "so we're going to take advantage of what we can take advantage of."

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O-Line Looking for Redemption Against 'Skins Defense | Scott Crisp, NBC DFW
Crisp writes that there's no secret to what the offensive line needs to do to correct their pass protection woes from the last game against the Redskins. Travis Frederick explains.

"They’re not going to try to trick you," Frederick said of the Redskins’ pass rush, per David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. "They’re just going to do it and they’re going to do it well. We have to try to find a way to outmaneuver that. They’re going to try to put pressure on Tony and put some hits on him. It’s our job to kind of correct that, get it fixed and find ways to adjust to that."

Tony Romo, Cowboys ready for aggressive approach from Redskins’ defense - The Washington Post
According to Romo, the offense will be ready for Haslett's shenanigans (Hat tip to BTB-member FuzzyLogic1).

"I think the last game they caught us with some Cover-zero blitzes – we call them our ‘all outs’ – and we will be a lot more prepared just for that side of things," Romo said. "And they play some trap coverages and other things you’ve got to be prepared for. You can create some big plays if you execute certain things the right way and so we are going to try to do some of that."

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Marinelli on Cowboys defense: "Everybody is hustling and hitting. No houseguests." | Brandon George, DMN
Rod Marinelli, in his own succinct way, explains why the defense has worked so well recently despite the absence of stars:

Marinelli said the defense has been able to get more pressure on the quarterback by winning more one-on-one battles and making a few subtle changes. He said the Cowboys have benefited from playing a little more Cover 2 in the secondary.

"Team defense is really special," Marinelli said. "When you play team defense, guys are playing their gaps and their assignment and the standard is high that everybody is hustling and hitting. No houseguests. Everybody has got to tackle, everybody has got to hustle, and it’s fun when you’re playing that way. They’re just a bunch of unselfish guys who go to work every day."

Cowboys defense has dramatically decreased number of big plays allowed this season | Brandon George, DMN
Last year, the Cowboys allowed 78 plays of 20 yards or more, but have only allowed 52 of these plays so far this year, George writes.

"Big plays are certainly a point of emphasis for us," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Coming out of last year, it was maybe the most important emphasis for our defensive team. One of the big points of emphasis is just become a better tackling team. We’ve really emphasized that. You have to tackle well. The best defenses tackle well. If it’s a 12-yard gain, it’s a 12-yard gain. We tackle them. Twelve-yard gains don’t become 60-yard touchdowns. And the importance of doing that and doing that well, consistently well, is really critical to playing good defense and preventing big plays."

Dallas' defense isn’t complex - John Keim, ESPN Washington
Sometimes it's interesting to look at the Cowboys from an outside perspective, and Keim provides just that in this post. One of the three things Keim writes about in this post is the simplicity of the Cowboys' defense.

It’s hard to believe how Dallas’ defense has played this season statistically. The Cowboys rank 16th in total yards and 16th in points allowed. Of course, they also have an offense that scores a lot and leads the NFL in time of possession per game (33 minutes on the nose). That matters quite a bit. Other metrics aren’t so good for the Cowboys: They allow 5.79 yards per play and they’re 28th on third downs (44.3 percent). They’re also 30th in red zone defense. But they’re tied for fifth in creating turnovers with 27.

It’s not the most talented bunch and they leave gaps in the run game with their penetration; that’s one reason the Redskins feel they can always run on them with their outside zone. They don’t do a whole lot to fool teams, not as much as others at least. They will stunt with their linemen and occasionally with seven on the line (saw a safety and linebacker stunt through the middle).

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Prediction: Cowboys finish perfect on road - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
Archer confidently predicts a 31-17 Cowboys win, largely because he feels Jason Garrett won't take his foot off the pedal.

Bob Sturm’s Xs and Os: Examining the two longest touchdown passes vs. Colts | DMN
The Sturminator turns his attention to two plays from the Colts game. The first is the TD pass Witten (which we had also reviewed here on BTB), and for which Sturm provides some great animated gifs and this thought:

This is "Shotgun 02″ with Romo in empty, 3 threats to his left (83-89-82) and 2 to his right with 11-88. Why is that important? Well, this is the same personnel grouping that has been taking teams apart in Philadelphia that we featured here and in Chicago that we broke down and featured here. If you love this stuff like I do, you should really review those two pieces and break down how they are playing this awesome chess game. It is a week-to-week dance where they know that defenses are figuring out how to deal with this look and then manipulating them to do the bidding of the Cowboys offense. It is quite enjoyable.

The second play is Brandon Weeden's TD pass to Terrance Williams,

DeMarco Murray set to wrap up NFL rushing title despite sore left hand, flu-like symptoms | Brandon George, DMN
Murray will get the NFL rushing title on Sunday, aqnd needs only 29 rushing yards to surpass Emmitt Smith’s franchise record of 1,773 from 1995.

Cowboys Friday Practice & Injury Report: DeMarco Murray Returns To Practice - Blogging The Boys
The Cowboys have everybody healthy except for Doug Free and Dekoda Watson, and even DeMarco Murray rejoined the team after missing practice on Thursday with an illness.

Robert Griffin is probable vs. Dallas Cowboys - John Keim, ESPN Washington
Griffin was a full participant in practice yesterday after taking a day of rest for his shoulder, Keim writes. Griffin is probable for Sunday's game.

Tony Romo & Jason Witten make PFF's team of the week - Pro Football Focus
Not even the staunchest defenders of PFF's grading system have any idea how their QB grading works, so it's nice that Romo (deservedly) makes their team of the week, but this just raises more questions about why Romo gets the love this week, but not in other weeks. Anyway, we'll take it as a Christmas present and not ask too many questions.

Quarterback: Tony Romo, DAL (+5.8). Completing 90% of his passes, and throwing for four touchdowns, Romo’s big performance edged his place in the Team of the Week ahead of Russell Wilson. A smart and efficient performance with plenty of good throws throughout, Romo has the Cowboys on a roll heading into the playoffs.

Tight End: Jason Witten, DAL (+4.3). Romo’s favorite target on Sunday, Witten caught all seven passes thrown his way for 90 yards and a touchdown. That was similar to Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz, but Witten beats him to the starting spot due to his impressive work as a blocker too.

Nick Hayden "feels faster" after cutting hair | FOX Sports
Hayden donated eight inches of his hair to Children With Hair Loss, an organization that helps children with medically-related hair loss.

"It's kind of nice. I kind of feel faster out there without it," Hayden said. "We'll see if it helps at all, but I could tell my helmet was a little loose today."

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And then there's this:

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Get your picks in for the BTB Pick 256 Challenge season finale!

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You have until kickoff on Sunday to submit your picks, but why let time go a wastin? Here's the link to the entry form.

If the link above doesn't work for whatever reason, use the following alternative, which does not autofill your BTB user name into the entry form.

Alternative Pick 256 Entry Form

As of this morning, we already had 179 votes logged. In early voting, the Cowboys are favored over the Redskins, with 95% of the picks coming in for the Cowboys, while 79% are taking the Giants over the Eagles in other NFC East action.