Keim's Ten Spot: 0-2 Staring at Loser Tonight

Redskins insider John Keim examines the ten key questions surrounding tonight's matchup between the Redskins and Cowboys in Dallas.

1. Will he or won't he? Joe Gibbs said last week Clinton Portis would play, despite Portis saying the opposite. Now Gibbs says he won't play, despite Portis saying the opposite. And, though Gibbs says it's Portis' call, it clearly isn't. So we'll go with Gibbs on this one. Our guess is that Gibbs saw what Portis had to endure this week after playing in the opener and doesn't want it to become a season-long situation. Which begs another question: then why play him in the opener? This was an easy one to see coming.

2. Will Portis' absence cause problems? Of course. He's their best running back. But more often than not the running game is determined by the guys up front. Ladell Betts is capable of getting decent yards and helping on third downs. T.J. Duckett is an experienced back, one capable of grinding out drives. If the line doesn't block well, it won't matter who's in the backfield.

3. Which team can least afford a loss? Well, neither one really. But the Redskins have a slightly tougher schedule in the next few weeks. They have an easier game at Houston next week, but with Jacksonville (at home) and the Giants (road) following, a loss here and they could be staring at an ugly start. Meanwhile, Dallas has a bye, then games at Tennessee and Philadelphia followed by a home game against Houston. A loss today and they, too, could be 2-3 after five games. However, following that stretch, the 'Boys host the Giants followed by a three-game road trip. A slow start is a costly one.

4. Can a team start 0-2 and recover? Sure. Drew Bledsoe's two Super Bowl appearances both came in seasons in which his team started 0-2. It can be done. What would help both teams is if the Giants beat Philly, leaving the loser only one game back.

5. Is the rivalry finally back? It was back the moment Santana Moss scored his second touchdown in Dallas last season. Until then, it only existed in the minds of Redskins fans. Certainly, Dallas fans loved beating Washington but they took it for granted, too. And there hadn't been any significance to this game for quite a while. Now? There is some. And you don't think Cowboy fans want revenge for what happened last season? The Redskins made it fun again with last year's sweep. It's too bad the second meeting is in November.

6. What must the Redskins do offensively? Score touchdowns. How's that for a simple answer? To do so, they need to protect Mark Brunell from a stout front seven. Washington did a decent job protecting him last week, though he did have to run from trouble a few times. The Redskins must attack the deep middle, where they stung Dallas last season. Another trick against an aggressive defense like Dallas' is to use misdirection plays, which is partly how Chris Cooley had such a big game in their second meeting last season.

7. What must the Redskins do defensively? Pressure Bledsoe. They didn't get to Brad Johnson much last week, but Johnson is smarter and avoids the rush better than Bledsoe, who can be forced into mistakes. Just look at the three picks he had last week. But if given time, he'll pick apart a weakened secondary. Considering the weapons, the Redskins need a strong push from their front four -- that means you Andre Carter.

8. What do you fear defensively? The Redskins' secondary. Carlos Rogers should be good someday, but he's still learning. Adam Archuleta doesn't cover well at all and Sean Taylor isn't always on time providing help. The Redskins can take a player away by scheme, so that means Terrell Owens could be quieted. However, they'd have to use two defenders every play to do so and that means Terry Glenn will be manned up -- and dangerous. This defense surrenders too many big plays and Dallas has the ability to make them.

9. What are the key matchups? Of course, Terrell Owens vs. Carlos Rogers, though the Redskins usually use their corners by side and not by receiver. So in reality it's the Redskins' corners vs. the Cowboys' receivers. Also, Dallas corner Terence Newman vs. Santana Moss. Maybe you heard what Moss did there last year? Center Casey Rabach vs. Dallas nose tackle Jason Ferguson. They can't let him control the middle; not if they want to succeed running the ball. And the Redskins backs vs. safety Roy Williams, when he blitzes.

10. Will the Redskins win? We'd love to say yes, that they have so much character they'll go down there and whip the 'Boys. But they also have too many injuries. As we said, they can win without Portis. But win without Portis and Shawn Springs? Too difficult. Springs' absence is a crusher in this game and it's the reason Washington starts 0-2. Dallas 23, Redskins 20.


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