Braves on the Warpath?

Cowboys expect to see an improved Redskins team Sunday. <BR>

When the Cowboys went to Landover, Md., to face the Washington Redskins Sept. 27 at FedEx field, the game marked the renewal of the rivalry many consider the best in the NFL. The Cowboys have owned the series lately, and continued the trend three months ago with a 21-18 victory over the Redskins.

The teams that will meet Sunday at Texas Stadium bear little resemblance to the teams that squared off three months ago.

The Cowboys employed a pass-first offense against Washington, getting 214 passing yards and a touchdown from Vinny Testaverde -- and a key third-down option pass from FB Richie Anderson to Terry Glenn -- to overcome the modest rushing threat of Eddie George and Anderson. Dallas now runs an offense geared around fast-rising rookie RB Julius Jones -- to overcome the somewhat erratic recent passing of Testaverde.

The Redskins, on the other hand, were under the guidance of veteran QB Mark Brunell, whose mobility was vital to overcome wilting arm strength. But Brunell played with a tender hamstring, limiting his mobility. Many of his 325 passing yards came late in the game, when the Redskins were playing catch-up and were forced to pass. RB Clinton Portis managed 94 yards on 94 carries, and WR Rod Gardner had two touchdowns. The 'Skins will feature a new look this week, as Patrick Ramsey has taken over the offense from Brunell. Ramsey (6-3, 222) is bigger than Brunell (6-1, 217) and is equally mobile, if not as fast in a straight sprint. More importantly, Ramsey is more durable than Brunell, and his arm looks like a bazooka next to Brunell's BB gun. In nine starts, Brunell completed 49.8 percent of his passes for 1,194 yards and seven touchdowns. In just five starts, Ramsey has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,291 yards and seven touchdowns of his own.

Stopping the Redskins "starts with our ability to stop the run," Dallas DT La'Roi Glover said. "If they can run, that opens up their whole offense."

Glover pointed out that while Brunell might be a step faster than his younger replacement, the Redskins actually move Ramsey around more.

"Brunell's actually a little faster than Ramsey," Glover said. "But with Ramsey in there, they do more with waggles and bootlegs. They roll him out of the pocket more."

As the season has gone on, the Redskins have developed more targets for the passing game. Gardner caught the two touchdowns against the Cowboys, but he remains a clear-cut No. 2 in the passing game, with 45 receptions this year for 610 yards and five touchdowns. Laveranues Coles, despite season-long battles with a multitude of injuries, is the team's primary receiving threat, with a team-leading 80 receptions this year for 860 yards. Portis (40 receptions) and rookie TE/FB/HB Chris Cooley (31 receptions) also figure heavily into the team's aerial attack.

Dallas was ranked as the No. 1 defense in the NFL last year, but injuries to the likes of Darren Woodson, as well as inexperience and inconsistency at other spots (like right cornerback) have caused the Cowboys to tumble through the ranks of the league's defenses.

Washington is now the heavyweight in the battle of the defenses, ranking second in the league and loudly claiming a desire to finish the season as the league's top unit. The Redskins' defense made its case Saturday in San Francisco, forcing a pair of fumbles and snagging four interceptions, one of which was returned 78 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Antonio Pierce, who leads the team with 136 tackles.

When Dallas beat Washington in September, the Redskins were without injured LB LaVar Arrington. He returned to the Washington lineup last week (albeit in a reserve role). Rounding out Washington's LB corps Marcus Washington, who second on the team with 110 tackles this year. Despite the Redskins' stellar defensive performance this year, Washington is the team's lone Pro Bowl selection, despite standout seasons from Pierce, CBs Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot, rookie S Sean Taylor and DT Cornelius Griffin. Springs and Taylor have a team-leading four interceptions this year, and Griffin leads the team with five sacks.

"They have a tremendous defense," Dallas QB Vinny Testaverde said. "They've gotten some guys hurt this year, but they're outstanding. Their front four is good, their linebackers are quick, their secondary is good."

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