EXCLUSIVE: New-look 'Skins still bad

IRVING, Tex. - There are no teams more familiar with each other than the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.

The longtime NFC East foes know each other's owner, coaches and players. Many players on each team could virtually recite the opponent's playbook, and call plays for the enemy based on game situations.

But all of a sudden, the current version of the Redskins looks a little different than expected. Washington has stumbled out to a 3-6 start this season, has employed an anemic offense that eclipsed 17 points in a game for the first time this season in Sunday's 27-17 win over Denver (and contributed significantly to the Redskins' embarrassing losses to Kansas City and Detroit), and weakened head coach Jim Zorn – who was hired in large part because of his play-calling ability – by taking away that role and giving it to longtime NFL assistant coach Sherm Lewis … who was announcing calling bingo games at a Michigan retirement center when the Redskins called.

• Washington owner Daniel Snyder and general manager Vinny Cerrato made every effort in the offseason to replace starting quarterback Jason Campbell, first by wading into the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, and then trying to trade up in the draft to pluck quarterback Mark Sanchez out of USC. Despite their efforts to dump him, Campbell has responded by quietly having his best season. Playing in the same offensive scheme as he did the year before for the first time since high school, Campbell has completed 168-of-254 passes for 1,870 yards. He has been the Redskins' starter since taking over at the end of the 2006 season, and his completion percentage has gone up in each season (to 66.1 percent this season). His 10 touchdown passes don't exactly scream "Pro Bowl," but in Washington's conservative offense, they are just three short of his career high of 13 that he threw last year in seven more games.

"He played very well against us several times, including the first game last year, and the first game two years ago, as well," Dallas linebacker Bobby Carpenter said. "A lot of the Redskins get up to play us, just like we get up to play them – it's a big rivalry game. So they're going to play their best against us, and we're going to try to do the same.

"He's playing pretty well. I don't know what his numbers are, specifically, but after looking at him on film, he looks pretty good to me. He's a quarterback who can beat you if you're not prepared. He's got a very strong arm, and if you give him time to throw, he is very accurate, especially on deep balls. He runs pretty well, and he's making better reads. It's just kind of the maturation process of a quarterback. This is what, his third year as a starter? (He actually started seven games in his second NFL season in 2006.) So he's really only had two full seasons as a starter under his belt. He's come in there now – his line is really beat up, but he's still been able to produce and do some things well. It's kind of funny. They can say how poorly things are going, but then if you take that step back and get those preconceived notions out of your head, he's been playing a lot better than people give him credit for."

• For decades, the Redskins traditionally have had one of the league's best – and most durable – offensive lines. This year's version couldn't be more of a polar opposite. Longtime right tackle Jon Jansen was cut over the offseason (and quickly signed with Detroit). Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels and veteran right guard Randy Thomas are out for the year. The team wisely brought back left tackle, whom they drafted and then lost to Buffalo via free agency, and Casey Rabach has experience at center. But the cast of fill-ins at right guard and both tackle spots have had Campbell running for his life for much of the season and have opened few lanes for the Washington running backs until the last couple of weeks.

"They've been recycling guys (on the offensive line), but Washington looks pretty good," Carpenter said. "They're pretty talented at running the ball – they've had some success the past couple weeks running the football. We haven't really gotten too deep into their pass protection, but as far as running the ball, they look pretty good."

• There have been years in which the Redskins simply lined up and ran the ball down opponents' throats. The defense knew it, the opposing coaches knew it, everyone in the stands knew it – and nothing stopped it. To make matters worse, starter Clinton Portis left the Redskins' game against the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago with a concussion, sat out last week's win over the Denver Broncos and reportedly will miss the Dallas game. Longtime backup Ladell Betts did a nice job in his place, rushing 26 times for 114 yards and a score against the Broncos.

"Portis is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but they're both very talented guys," Carpenter said of Portis and Betts. "Betts came in and did a great job. You can say they're missing (left tackle) Chris Samuels and they're missing (right guard) Randy Thomas and they're missing Portis, and they still had a 100-yard rusher against a pretty good Denver defense last week. You never know how much credence you can pay to the injury situation."

• Glaring in his absence Sunday will be tight end Chris Cooley, one of the elite players at his position who has missed several weeks with a broken bone in his ankle.

"Yeah – he's obviously one of the best tight ends in the NFL, and him being out is obviously a huge asset for us, because he's a great player who does everything well – everything," Carpenter said. "But they've got Fred Davis, out of USC, and he's a pretty good player, too. He's a very good route-runner and caught some balls since he's been in there for Cooley. They ask him to do some of the same things Cooley did, but Cooley is such a unique talent – when you have a guy like that on your team, of course you're going to work a lot of your offense around him. I just think they're trying to develop some confidence now in Davis, and he's been playing pretty well."

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