Nonetheless, there remains both a dislike and respect between the teams, and any game against an NFC East rival is an important game. So what do the Cowboys need to do to continue their domination of their rivals from the nation's capital?
Don't Let Clinton Run
The Redskins might have the most unbalanced offense the Cowboys will face all season. As RB Clinton Portis goes, so goes Washington. Viewed as one of the most explosive backs in the league during the first two seasons of his career as a member of the Denver Broncos, Portis exploded into the hearts of Redskins fans last year, taking his first carry of the season for a 64-yard touchdown against Tampa Bay.
After that, however, Portis failed miserably to produce the big plays that had become his signature. With the Redskins, Portis seemingly was asked to become John Riggins, Jr., pounding away between the tackles. But he wasn't built for that style. Portis arrived in Washington as a lean, slithery sprinter who head coach Joe Gibbs tried to make into a battering ram of a ball carrier. It's not that he was completely ineffective -- Portis rushed for 1,315 yards in 2004, the sixth-highest total in Redskins history and the third straight season in which he eclipsed the 1,300-yard mark. His 1,315 yards placed him third in the NFC and eighth in the NFL.
Over the offseason, Portis and Gibbs tried to reach a common ground -- Portis added more than 10 pounds of muscle to better handle the running between the tackles, and Gibbs strived to add more pitches and sweeps, to allow Portis to get the ball to the perimeter more often. The Redskins added small-but-fast wide receivers Santana Moss and David Patten in order to add to the explosiveness of the offense, but until their quarterback issues are resolved, containing Portis is important enough that it conceivably could be the only item on this list.
Spotlight: Bill Parcells
The Dallas coach finds himself in a bit of a quandary.
The team signed WR Peerless Price a couple of weeks ago, and he didn't play in the season-opening win over San Diego. But Jerry Jones invested a couple million dollars in Price, and he's not exactly going to do that without getting a return on his investment.
However, Parcells can't just throw Price into the lineup, because he plays the same position as Keyshawn Johnson. In addition to his hands, Johnson is a sensational downfield blocker, which of course is vital to the running game. However, Price is in the Terry Glenn class when it comes to speed, and pretty soon -- maybe this week -- Parcells simply has to get Price on the field.
After watching starter Patrick Ramsey nearly get decapitated in the opener against Chicago, Gibbs called on Mark Brunell to take over. Once fleet of foot and blessed with a strong arm, Brunell is now neither. After turning 35 Saturday, Brunell will enter the game with immense experience. But whereas he made his name in Jacksonville as a scrambler with a gun capable of reaching Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell downfield when throwing on the run, Brunell now relies on guile to produce. It has appeared ever since he signed that he was Gibbs' choice, and now the job is his. He remains better than average at throwing to where his receiver will be, which is how he'll have to throw when going downfield.
In the meantime, he is most effective getting the ball to Portis and hitting receivers on short, quick passes. Although it's just the Cowboys' second game in the new 3-4 defense, they can completely disrupt whatever passing game the Redskins can muster by pressuring him relentlessly. He will recognize any look the Dallas defense throws his way, but that doesn't mean he'll be able to escape all Dallas pressure. Dallas should blitz early and often, bringing pressure from the defensive end spots, from the linebackers and even the occasional safety blitz. Like any quarterback, hitting him will force premature or errant throws, and the more mature Brunell will be easier to hit.
Protect this house!
… or at least protect the pocket. One of head coach Bill Parcells' mantras revolves around the fact that he trusts running backs only when they show they can help protect the passer from oncoming pass rushes. That means that in addition to running the ball, Julius Jones will extreme pass-blocking responsibility. As much as the Cowboys should blitz, the Redskins will blitz more. OLBs LaVar Arrington and Warrick Holdman will come on LB blitzes, as will FS Sean Taylor, on occasion … and that doesn't even include the stunts and twists that the defensive linemen will go through to get past the Dallas offensive line. In addition to Jones (or Anthony Thomas) needing to help protect QB Drew Bledsoe, expect Dan Campbell to play a lot Monday against the Redskins. The 'Skins won't score a lot of points, but their defense can be extraordinary, so the Cowboys will have to take every step possible to protect Bledsoe.