Keim's Keys to the Game

The NFL is better when the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is competitive and means something. Will it start to be that way tonight?

Trouble spot: up the middle where center Casey Rabach must deal with the nose guard combo of La'Roi Glover and Jason Ferguson. Glover is quick; Ferguson is strong. They could wear him down and disrupt the running game. Also, the 3-4 is designed to stop the run and the Redskins need to run well to win the game. Can they?

Big plays: Dallas had 15 plays of 10 yards or more against San Diego. That's a lot and it's a number Washington must control. The Cowboys have three capable receivers -- four if Peerless Price plays -- in Patrick Crayton, Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson. Crayton burned Washington last year and has looked good since camp started.

Don't forget: Tight end Jason Witten. One of the best matchups will be Witten against Sean Taylor, an excellent battle of athleticism. Few safeties can handle Witten in man coverage; Taylor can. Granted, he won't always cover him but when he does it'll be fun to watch.

Be careful: with the Dallas secondary. It's much improved over last year. New corners Aaron Glenn and Anthony Henry, paired with Terence Newman, give them depth. Mark Brunell must be careful with his throws.

Wouldn't it be nice: if the Redskins restored luster to this rivalry with a sweep this season. Of course, as Redskins fans that's what you want. Desperately. It's also what football fans should want, too. The NFL is just better when this game is not one-sided and means something -- which it hasn't for years. Outside of these cities, nobody gives a hoot and that's a shame. Mostly, it's just two mediocre teams whose cities dislike one another. We can't even say the players dislike each other because, to be honest, we don't feel that kind of animosity except in players such as Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.

Take advantage of: Dallas' weak coverage units on special teams. The Redskins have a chance to win the battle of field position with good returns. Also, the Dallas coverage units will be so intent on getting to the ballcarrier, that the Redskins should take advantage with some trickery.

Uh-oh: Will the Redskins be affected by having two rookie kickers in punter Andy Groom and placekicker Nick Novak. That's never a good combination in a close game.

Manager: Mark Brunell needs to play a smart game as he's more than capable. Brunell will make plays because of his veteran status. He's done it all summer. But he's going to have to make a few plays downfield for the Redskins to have a chance, as he did against Dallas last year on Monday night.

Why the Redskins will win: Because Dallas just isn't that good. The Cowboys are coming off an excellent opening win at San Diego. But the NFL is too hard to figure out right now and it's doubtful Dallas is capable of playing two games like that in a row. The Cowboys' defense remains suspect and Drew Bledsoe can still be pressured into mistakes. His career suggests as much. Besides, it's too widely assumed Dallas will win, because of the induction ceremonies of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith into the Ring of Honor. And because the Cowboys have won 14 of 15 in this series. And because Bill Parcells has won eight straight over Joe Gibbs. Then I pick up a copy of the Dallas Morning News where one headline read: Starting 2-0 Doesn't Mean There's Been a Turnaround. Um, excuse me, but no one is yet 2-0. This is called Bad Karma.

Why the Redskins will lose: Because nobody knows yet what this offense can do. Has it really changed? Mark Brunell remains more of a capable manager than a quarterback who has lots of firepower. We're confident the defense will play well, but the offense remains too much of a mystery to be too optimistic. Texas Stadium will be revved up like never before, too. And that's not good. (But that didn't do Green Bay much good Sunday where there honored the late Reggie White).

Prediction: This is tough. In the Examiner, I picked Dallas to win, 17-13. Now I'm feeling a little different. There's just too much wishy-washy play going on in the league. And there's too much assuming Dallas, a mediocre team, will win. Everything is set up for the Cowboys to win. That means they won't. Washington wins, 16-14.


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