You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
Yesterday, we busted a few myths surrounding this game. Now that the path is cleared, the prediction.
The two teams have had very similar seasons. Of the 12 games they each have played so far, not counting the one against each other, nine have been against common opponents. The comparative results are muddled. The Redskins got bombed by the Giants, the Cowboys split with them, Washington beat Philly, Dallas swept the Eagles (second Redskins meetings with those two, of course, are pending). They both lost to the woeful Raiders and beat the woeful Cardinals and Niners. Denver won in Dallas and at home against Washington while Kansas City lost on the road to the Cowboys and beat the Redskins at Arrowhead. Washington edged the NFC's top team, the Seahawks, at FedEx while Dallas lost a heartbreaker to them in Seattle.
On top of that, both teams have been living on the edge all year long. All but three of the Redskins' games have been in doubt in the last two minutes of the game and the same can be said of all but three of the Cowboys' contests this year.
Is there any reason to believe that Sunday's game will be any different than 75% of the games that each team has played this year?
No. This one will be a tense, hard-hitting affair that will go down to the wire.
When the two teams last met, it was expected that Gregg Williams would call blitzes on Drew Bledsoe at least three out of every four plays. Williams crossed them up, calling very few blitzes and keeping his backs and linebackers in coverage. It was bend but don't break approach and it was effective as Dallas put up just the 13 points. Any defensive coordinator will take that any day. Look for Williams to blitz more, but not a lot more. He'll see if Phillip Daniels can beat tackle Torrin Tucker, a rookie who has been filling in for the injured Flozell Adams. If Daniels can generate some pass pressure, as he has been able to the past few games, look for flooded zones and two-deep coverage. If he can't, Williams will bring some more heat, but will do so judiciously.
One way or another, the Dallas passing game will be limited. The Cowboys will find the going tough on the ground as well. Since the beginning of November only the Tomlinson-led Chargers have been able to muster more than 62 yards rushing in a game. Julius Jones is having a king-sized sophomore slump, failing to get 100 yards in a single game all year. He won't on Sunday either. Rookie Marion Barber can sting you here and there and is a nice complimentary back, but he has nobody to compliment.
Gibbs will play this one close to the vest. Those who gnash their teeth at the "Clinton left, Clinton right, pass, punt, fight, fight, fight!" style of offense had better wear a mouth guard to prevent wear and tear on their dental assets. The lovely Redskins cheerleaders had better be on alert; plenty of Mark Brunell passes will be fired in their direction as the quarterback stays away from killer interceptions. You can get away with three picks against the Cardinals; you can't against the Cowboys.
The key will be Portis and his offensive line. We haven't heard any tell of Portis, in Riggo-like fashion, go to Gibbs and tell him "Give me the ball," but the result has been the same. His top three games of the season in terms of carries have been in the past three weeks. The ground game was cranked up not only to beat the Rams and Cardinals, but also in anticipation of this coming game.
If Portis is getting more like five yards a pop and the Redskins are in third and short—or, better yet, rarely in third down at all—the Redskins will control the game and, if they avoid the killer mistake that has plagued them so often both this season and in the past seven years against Dallas, they will pull out the win.
The numbers say that Portis, who is averaging 4.3 a carry, should be able to hold up his end of the deal and run for about a buck and a quarter. It says here that after years of every bounce going Dallas' way, the Redskins are due a few more or, at least, an equality of breaks.
That adds up to a Redskins win, one that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats until the final gun.
Redskins 16, Cowboys 14.