Department Of Defense

IRVING, Tex. - With the possibility of making a strong run towards the playoffs the second half of the 2011 season, the Dallas Cowboys are doing everything but taking arch rival Washington lightly.

A game into the second half of the NFL season, the Washington Redskins look like a completely different team from the one that turned a lot of heads with a 3-1 start to the season.

Since their fast start, the Redskins have gone from one of the National Football League's most impressive teams to one of its worst. Five consecutive losses — including a lethargic-at-best 23-0 shutout at the hands of the Buffalo Bills — will do that. Head coach Mike Shanahan, who was viewed as an offensive genius when he had John Elway and Terrell Davis steering his offensive ship, now changes quarterbacks more often than he changes his socks. Injuries have ravaged the Washington offense, as the Redskins have managed just 20 points over the last three games combined.

But while the Redskins' offense has struggled, Dallas head coach Jason Garrett said this week that the Washington defense remains strong. The numbers — Washington is 12th in the NFL in average yards allowed per game, 17th in rushing yards, ninth in passing yards per game and tied for eighth in points allowed per game — suggest more middle-of-the-pack status.

Dallas tight end John Phillips agrees with his coach that the Redskins — particularly their defense — might be getting overlooked because of their freefall through the NFC East standings. But he said that he and his teammates are not getting lulled into believing that Sunday's game will be easy, despite the fact that Dallas just blew out the same Buffalo team that shut out the Redskins Oct. 30.

"The Redskins are still a good football team," Phillips said. "Their record doesn't necessarily show it, but they're a good team. You have to be ready for a fight when you play them."

Phillips said the strength of the Washington defense can be found in outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who have combined for 82 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 10.5 quarterback sacks through their team's first nine games.

"Those guys are really good," Phillips said. "They're big, fast and tough, and both of them can really rush the passer. We (tight ends) are going to help with (blocking) them, but they're a lot for tight ends to deal with."

Phillips said he has equal admiration for Washington's ageless (36) inside Linebacker, London Fletcher, whose 106 tackles this season are 35 more than the next-highest total on the Washington defense.

"They still have Fletcher," Phillips said. "It seems like he has been playing forever, but he keeps making plays and keeps playing at a really high level. He's so smart — there really isn't anything you can show him that he hasn't seen before."

Phillips said he fully expects the newest member of the Washington offense — ex-Dallas running back Tashard Choice — to share what he knows about the Cowboys' offense with his new team's coaches.

"Remember, they have (former Dallas defensive end) Stephen Bowen over there, too. It would be naïve to think TC and Bowen aren't spilling the beans about everything they know about our offense and defense. (The Redskins' coaches) are right to pick their brains.

"We understand that. If we had guys who came from Washington, we would be doing the same thing. We just need to execute what we do and we should be alright."

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