Respect For The Redskins

IRVING, Tex. - What a difference a couple of months makes.

The last time the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys met was the third week of the 2011 season. The Redskins strolled into Cowboys Stadium with a sparkling 2-0 record and with observers around the league wondering if they really were an improved team. The Cowboys, meanwhile, had split their first two games, blowing a late lead against the New York Jets in the season opener and then squeaking out a 27-24 win over the San Francisco 49ers.

Washington was hailed as a team on the rise, while whispers persisted about whether the Cowboys would ever be more than a roller coaster of a team whose talent was tantalizing but whose results were maddeningly frustrating.

The jury is still out on the 5-4 Cowboys — the same team that blew the late lead against the Jets also gift-wrapped a game to the Detroit Lions after squandering a late lead and got drawn and quartered by the Philadelphia Eagles, but also scared the New England Patriots and hammered out impressive wins over the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills — but the Redskins have cratered since they last saw the Cowboys.

After Dallas rookie Dan Bailey kicked six field goals in his team's 18-16 victory over Washington, the 'Skins have fallen on hard times, bouncing back from the loss to Dallas with a 17-10 win over the hapless Rams and losing all five subsequent games. Starting running back Tim Hightower and star tight end Chris Cooley are gone for the year with injuries, the offensive line is being held together with duct tape and chewing gum and head coach Mike Shanahan has flip-flopped back and forth between quarterbacks Rex Grossman, who will start his second game of the season against Dallas Sunday, and journeyman John Beck. Washington even picked up Dallas castoff Tashard Choice a few days after he was cut by the Cowboys.

But Dallas safety/special teamer Danny McCray said the Redskins' 3-6 record — not to mention Washington's recent five-game losing skid — is not an accurate portrayal of the Cowboys' divisional rival.

"They have switched quarterbacks a few times — that's hard for any team," McCray said. "They lost their running back (Hightower) to a torn ACL, too, so I'm not surprised by their record. They're going through some things, but they're better than their record.

"You have to remember, every NFL game is hard. We just won (over the Buffalo Bills), 44-7, but it's not like they came out and wanted that kind of score, and it's not like we came out planning a score like that. NFL games are hard. The way (the Redskins') structure is going now, it's kind of going against them, but we don't want them to turn it around against us."

The Dallas defense began studying Washington's offense in detail Wednesday. Grossman played the first time the teams met, but Dallas head coach Jason Garrett because Shanahan has shown a willingness to switch back and forth between Grossman and Beck, the Dallas defense has to be prepared for either.

"You prepare (the defense) against the scheme," Garrett said. "You don't really look at it and say, ‘this guy does this and that guy does this.' (The Washington offense) is fairly similar with each of the quarterbacks."

"Fairly similar" is diplomatic coachspeak for "anemic." The Redskins rank near the bottom of the league in several offensive categories, including rushing yards per game (86.7, which ranks 31st in the league), total yards per game (310.1 — 27th), yards per play (5.0 — 25th), red zone percentage (40.74 — 29th) and points per game (15.1 — 28th).

When asked about the moving parts in the injury-riddled Washington offense, McCray showed that he clearly studied at the Garrett School of Diplomacy.

"They're pretty much the same," McCray said. "They run their offense and count on the defense to play great. If you have someone who can move like Michael Vick and then replace him with a stationary quarterback, that gives us as a defense a lot to prepare for.

"They lost (Hightower), but they have two good running backs (in Ryan Torrain and rookie Roy Helu) — three, now that they picked up Tashard."

McCray said it will be a little odd seeing Choice in burgundy and gold, but that he doesn't anticipate any of the Dallas defenders having any difficulty mustering up punishing hits for their former teammate.

"It's competition," McCray said. "I hit Choice in training camp. We're cool off the field — we're friends — but this is competition. We're both trying to win.

"It's not like we're expecting a cakewalk. It's a good game every time we play the Redskins."

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