Game SnapShot: Dallas at Washington

This is the 88th meeting between the Cowboys and Redskins, Dallas leads the overall series 51-34-2. The Cowboys won the earlier meeting this year, 21-14 on November 2nd in Dallas. Dallas has won 11 of the last 12 meetings but the Redskins won last meeting at FedEx Field, 20-14 in 2002.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/14/03
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston

SERIES: The Cowboys (8-5) at the Redskins (5-8). 88th meeting. Dallas leads the series 51-34-2. The Cowboys won the earlier meeting this year, 21-14 on Nov. 2 in Dallas. Dallas has won 11 of the last 12 meetings but the Redskins won last meeting at FedEx Field, 20-14 in 2002.

2003 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 16th (13th rush, 16th pass); defense 1st (6th rush, 1st pass). Redskins: offense 23rd (18th rush, 17th pass); defense 22nd (25th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Redskins coach Steve Spurrier has slowly begun to lean more heavily on the ground game, but will be hard-pressed to equal last Sunday's 48 running plays with RB Chad Morton expected to start due to injuries to Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts. QB Tim Hasselbeck is managing games well, and Spurrier will likely move him around more since Dallas got constant pressure in the first meeting. Dallas' struggling offense would benefit from the defense creating some turnovers and short fields. Coach Bill Parcells wants more from his running game to set up play-action passes, and QB Quincy Carter must improve his shaky decision-making in recent losses.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys: Carter has thrown eight interceptions and only one touchdown in the past three losses. ... The team is 8-2 when it leads in time of possession. Redskins: WR Rod Gardner has a reception in 44 consecutive games and has at least 50 receptions for the second consecutive season. ... K John Hall leads the NFC with 11 touchbacks.

PREDICTED SCORE: Cowboys 17, Redskins 14

--QB Quincy Carter got a vote confidence Jerry Jones, who has taken a franchise quarterback off the team's offseason to-do list.

Coach Bill Parcells wasn't as definitive.

"First of all, I wouldn't address Quincy this time of year. We've got more important things on the horizon," Parcells said. "I think he has done a reasonably good job to this point."

Parcells gave an insight into what he considers a really good job when he talked about former Giants quarterback Phil Simms. He called Simms "a man's man" and praised him for being mentally strong enough to handle Parcells' demanding ways and the pressure of playing in New York before eventually winning a Super Bowl.

Parcells does not know if Carter has Simms' fortitude but realizes the next three games should be a good indicator.

"Yeah, so far," Parcells said when asked if Carter has handled adversity well. "But, you know, there's a difference between not going in the tank and making a positive response. There's a difference. We've got to try to make a positive response. I don't think he's going in the tank. I know he's not."

Carter said he is ready to show a positive response and justify Jones' praise.

"That's great. I'm really flattered. That is my goal. I want to be the future here," Carter said. "At the same time, I want to win football games here. Mr. Jones understands how much I want to win. He knows that's what is most important right now and, right now, I am just focused on Washington."

--LB Scott Shanle, who was recently waived by the Rams, was signed to the Cowboys' roster Wednesday. Shanle replaces running back Aveion Cason, who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Shanle won't play this week as he is still recovering from a leg strain.

Shanle was suspended four games this season for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

"I personally had seen this guy this summer, I believe he was a seventh-round pick with the Rams, I kind of liked what I'd seen," Bill Parcells said. "Our scout who scouted the Rams this summer had an excellent report on him. That same scout had seen the guy in college and didn't have quite as high an opinion on him. But once he saw him this summer, he changed his opinion; thought he had mistakenly graded the guy too low and uh, he just gives us a very young guy, He's a little bit bigger, over 6-2 and he's 245, and has good speed. You can ask Volk about him. He played with him in college."

--DE Ebenezer Ekuban knew the writing was on the wall, regarding his future with the Cowboys. The former first-round pick is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He hasn't been productive in what is a contract year and was made inactive last week for the Eagles game. Ekuban may have sealed his fate on Thursday when said Bill Parcells made a classless move by not informing him that he was going to be made inactive. Ekuban found out the morning of the game when his equipment was not in his locker. Parcells said he hasn't decided if he will go with Ekuban or Eric Ogbogu at defensive end against the Redskins. But said he bases his decisions on production. Ekuban has 2.5 sacks this year after registering just one a year ago. Ogbogu has 2.5 sacks in less than half the playing time of Ekuban.

--TE/DS Jeff Robinson has two touchdown receptions on two catches this season. He has as many touchdown receptions as Cowboys receiver Joey Galloway and one more than Raiders receiver Jerry Rice. He also has won Bill Parcells' respect.

"I'll tell you, he's won my respect as well," Parcells said. "Most of these guys that are 'snappers,' they have their little niche now and they live within that realm and don't do anything extra. Jeff's not like that. He takes a turn on the scout team. If you want him to practice at a certain position to help you out, he does exactly what you want him to do. I like him. I think he does a good job at what he does. Very good at what he does, and also he does anything additional that you want him to do. Now Jeff just didn't grow up to be a snapper. He was a football player first that could snap. He played some professional football prior to kind of gravitating toward the snapping in the latter part of his career, but he does a good job with what he does."

--RB Ladell Betts (forearm) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and will miss the Cowboys game.

--RB Trung Canidate (foot) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and appears likely to miss the Cowboys game.

--LT Chris Samuels (knee) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and appears likely to miss the Cowboys game.

--WR Taylor Jacobs (foot) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and appears likely to miss the Cowboys game.

--S Andre Lott (ankle) practiced Thursday and is questionable for the Cowboys game.

--WR Laveranues Coles (foot) didn't practice Thursday but is expected to play against the Cowboys.

--DE Bruce Smith (hand/knee) took rest days Wednesday and Thursday but should play against the Cowboys.

--LB LaVar Arrington (knee/ankle) sat out Thursday's practice but should play against the Cowboys.

--RB Rock Cartwright (ankle) practiced Wednesday and Thursday and should play against the Cowboys.

--RB Chad Morton (ankle) missed Thursday's practice with the flu. He and coach Steve Spurrier are hopeful he'll play against the Cowboys.

--LB Jeremiah Trotter (knee) practiced this week and will play against the Cowboys.

--QB Tim Hasselbeck continues to adjust to the differences between the West Coast offense (his background) and Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun. Now that Hasselbeck has played the bulk of three games, coaches will see if he can hang onto the ball a bit longer for deep chances. Hasselbeck's quick trigger has allowed him to be sacked just three times.

--Redskins tight ends have just 14 catches this season. Zeron Flemister and Robert Royal (now on injured reserve) are tied for the team lead with five receptions apiece. Although the tight end isn't emphasized in coach Steve Spurrier's offense, it remains unclear whether their poor production is due to scheme or talent.

--LB LaVar Arrington has put up decent numbers (98 tackles, four sacks, 19 passes defensed, 12 quarterback pressures) but isn't making the highlight-reel plays that defined previous seasons. He also hasn't spoken to the team's beat writers in more than a month.

--CB Champ Bailey has been up and down in a contract year but generally has gotten his job done. He has been somewhat hampered by injuries and the Redskins' lack of pass pressure. Speculation is that he would command a huge deal if he hit the open market, but the Redskins probably won't let him get there because of the franchise tag.

--Washington's coverage teams have been solid this season. The Redskins have not yielded a return for a touchdown, the longest kickoff return going 52 yards and the longest punt return 36.

From WR Terry Glenn's vantage point, the wide receivers began vanishing from the Cowboys' offense long before the big three -- Glenn, Joey Galloway and Antonio Bryant -- were shut out in Sunday's 36-10 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

So getting nada from a group that was once considered the NFL's best catching trio and, according to coach Bill Parcells, the primary sources of firepower on the Cowboys' offense, wasn't all that shocking to Glenn.

"It doesn't surprise us as much as it does you," he said. "It hasn't looked great all year. We are not running the ball well. We are not passing the ball well. We are not doing a lot of things well. You just got to grit your teeth and bear with it; hopefully it's going to open up."

Needing two wins in their final three games to guarantee their playoff dreams don't disappear, the Cowboys' offense needs to start opening up as soon as Sunday's matchup against the Washington Redskins.

And while they remain confident of an offensive revival because of their early success, there's no doubt that things haven't looked great lately for the offense as a whole and the receivers in particular.

"It's always frustrating to lose," said Galloway, the $42 million receiver who joked that he was a high-priced run blocker against the Eagles. "When you don't have a chance to help, that's more frustrating."

The receivers didn't get much of a chance Sunday partly by design, as the Cowboys (8-5) wanted to exploit the Eagles' suspect run defense. They even went with one-receiver sets for much of the first half and eschewed passes down the field.

But the struggles of the Cowboys' offense are not a one-game phenomenon. After an explosive start, this unit has been in steady decline.

Big plays in the passing game, once a staple, have continued to fade, just like deep passes to the wide receivers. The increasingly conservative attack is predicated on limiting mistakes by quarterback Quincy Carter, with an emphasis on shorter throws.

It's no surprise to Glenn that fullback Richie Anderson is now the team's leading receiver with 50 catches for 342 yards, including 24 receptions over the past four games. Or that 17 of emerging tight end Jason Witten's 29 receptions came in the past three games.

While Glenn is the Cowboys' second-leading receiver with 43 catches, he has only 11 in the past five games. Bryant has 11 in that span and Galloway has only eight. The trio aided their decline with many drops.

"Any time you have a young, inexperienced quarterback, you are going to have the tight end and running backs get more passes," Glenn said. "He [Carter] is a little gun-shy at times, not wanting to make mistakes and causing turnovers. You cater to what he is good at. I didn't realize that at first. But I realize that now. You have to put the quarterback in position to win, use his strengths. I think that is what Coach Parcells is doing."

It is also what Parcells likely will continue to do. He wants Carter to play conservative, mistake-free football.

Simply, the third-year pro from Georgia is more of caretaker than a let-it-rip-all-over-the-field kind of quarterback in his first full season as a starter.

"I don't think we're ever going to be able to indiscriminately throw the ball right now," Parcells said. "You can't make him something he's not, not right now."

While Carter's stats -- he has completed 238 of 409 passes for 2,664 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions -- support Parcells' theory, they are not solely about Carter's limitations, but those of the team in general.

The deep opportunities have disappeared because of the team's inability to run the ball with any consistency. Opponents are no longer using a safety to defend the run and playing more zone coverage in the secondary.

That the pass blocking has been especially leaky when Carter takes more than a three-step drop also has affected the Cowboys' ability to throw the ball down the field and get receivers involved.

"Last week we were talking about the running game," Parcells said. "Now we're talking about the passing game. So that ought to tell you what you need to know. There hasn't been enough continuity on both ends to create balance."

The Cowboys' last big offensive game came against the Redskins on Nov. 2, when they rushed for 208 yards and passed for 192 in a 21-14 victory.

On Wednesday, Parcells all but guaranteed that the wide receivers will not be shut out again this week. But he also said the Cowboys weren't going to stray too far from their conservative, mistake-limiting philosophy.

"I don't think we can play anybody else's game," Parcells said.

Washington is looking forward to an improved pass rush in 2004, ironically once history's best pass rusher has retired.

Veteran Bruce Smith has taken up space at the crucial right defensive end position for several years now, depending on when one deems his effectiveness to have waned.

Smith, who said this week that he will retire at season's end, was solid as a first-year Redskin in 2000, when he recorded 10 sacks. But he had just five in 2001, nine (most coming late in the year) in 2002 and this year he has just four.

Along the way, Smith has griped about his playing time and gone to the owner with his frustrations, putting pressure on defensive coordinator George Edwards to play him more than made sense.

Also hurting Washington has been the so-so play of Regan Upshaw, who was signed to start at right end but has just one sack. Next season, the Redskins could acquire a bona fide pass rusher to play right end and rotate in Upshaw to keep him fresh.

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