Warpath Preview: Redskins vs. Dallas

Our Redskins beat reporter breaks down the keys to Sunday's big game.

Tough matchup: Center Casey Rabach gets hefty nose guard Jason Ferguson on run downs and speedy La'Roi Glover on passing downs. Rabach must have a good day; if the interior breaks down, the Redskins will be in trouble.

Edge rush: The Redskins must generate pressure off the edges; that's where Dallas is weakest. And if they can apply pressure here, then it will force tight end Jason Witten to stay in and block. He didn't have to against Kansas City last week and caught seven passes. The Redskins have done a decent job against tight ends this season, but they'll be better off if he's a blocker. The problem is, can they generate a rush on the edge? They haven't done so yet without blitzing.

Corner trouble: It appears rookie Carlos Rogers won't play, which means Mr. Cushion, Walt Harris, needs to have a big game. It also means Ade Jimoh could be used as the nickelback, facing a receiver such as Patrick Crayton. That's a bad matchup; Jimoh has improved, but he still gets beat deep or commits penalties. Because of this, safety Sean Taylor must play disciplined. If he's biting on too many fakes, the Cowboys will hurt Washington deep at least once. In a tight game, which this should be, that could make the difference. It did last season.

Paging No. 84: The Redskins need Taylor Jacobs to help. So far he's been a major disappointment since coming in for David Patten. It helps that James Thrash will play, giving a steady No. 2 -- and someone the quarterback can rely on. Team sources say Jacobs does an excellent job in practice, but in games he runs the wrong routes and loses confidence. That's a major, major problem. And it leaves Washington with one receiver on the field most of the time.

Misdirection: The Cowboys have a young, aggressive defense. So take advantage of Mark Brunell's savvy and use lots of bootlegs and play-action passes, going to the tight ends. Linebacker Scott Fujita made the big play last week for Dallas, but he's not that good. He'll bite on these fakes.

Home field: This is the X factor. Dallas has a slightly better team; at this point the Cowboys are more balanced mainly because Washington lacks a good No. 2 receiver. But what kind of difference will it make playing at FedEx? It should be huge, obviously. Will it be enough? This is the biggest regular-season game in the stadium's brief history. And crowds have been more vocal and energetic this season. Maybe the PA announcer will figure out that he doesn't have to manufacture noise this week. Still think that's a huge insult to Redskins fans, who clearly know when to get loud.

Also missing: Linebacker LaVar Arrington, still bothered by his thigh injury. He would like to have played because he did not play in the first meeting. But the coaches have decided not to use him, apparently because of the injury.

Beware: Marion Barber. The Dallas back is more than just a third-down back, but he's highly effective as a receiver out of the backfield. He had three third-down catches at the end of the Chiefs' win and he blocks well.

The Redskins need to: Control the ball. They did so against two bad defenses the past two weeks; now they're facing a good one. Controlling the ball does not mean just running. The Redskins aren't good enough to just run the ball all the time. They will need to complete some passes. They also need to take some shots deep, knowing that both safeties love to come up hard against the run.

Prediction: Is the two-game streak the start of something or a mirage, coming against two bad teams? If the Redskins had played better in those games, we would have a better answer. They didn't play well, especially against Arizona (at least offensively). Dallas seems to have better balance overall. On paper, they should win. Again, the X factor is playing at home. After picking Washington to win in Dallas, I'm going the opposite way. I really wish they had looked better the past couple games. Dallas 17, Redskins 16.


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