Ten Spot Preview: Cowboys at Redskins

John Keim takes a look at 10 burning questions going into the game and offers his predictions.

1. Is this the biggest Redskins-Cowboys game since the 1983 NFC Championship?

It has to be, right? Given that Washington needs to win to make the playoffs, it's hard to imagine the stakes being higher. It's too bad the Cowboys don't need to win this game because it would be nice if this were more than a glorified exhibition game for them. What it'll be interesting to see is the atmosphere at the stadium. In 1983, of course, there were the infamous ‘'We Want Dallas!'' chants. We're guessing that'll be prevalent again, but the difference at FedEx is there likely will be 10,000 or so Dallas fans there. That would not happen at RFK.

2. What is the Redskins' mindset?

They're as focused as I've ever seen them in my 13 years or so of covering the team. It's just a look and determination on their faces that is rarely seen. I'll be stunned if they don't play a good game, regardless of who Dallas puts on the field. But what it means is that Washington will not relax if Tony Romo and Co., aren't playing.

3. Is it a big deal who Dallas plays?

Of course it is, but keep this in mind: Washington was forced into playing some key backups a while ago. So if Dallas uses its backups then that makes it somewhat equal, doesn't it? But the fact that the Redskins have been playing backups means something else: they understand that a team can still win despite losing key starters. They won't relax.

4. Can Dallas still win?

Weird things happen in this series. Remember when Dallas went 1-15 and who it beat? O f course you do. And the Redskins swept Dallas the year it won the Super Bowl. So anything can happen. Two years ago when the Redskins clinched at Philly, they were outplayed for much of the game – despite facing Mike McMahon at QB. Brad Johnson is better than that. What concerns me with Johnson is that he hasn't attempted a pass this season. But we also know how much he'd love to prevent Washington from clinching a spot. A few days before his last game as a Redskin, Johnson was told about a $250,000 bonus Larry Centers could get with a certain number of catches. So in the game, Johnson was throwing passes to Centers like crazy, some were forced. But Centers got the number he needed and the bonus and Johnson was very, very happy. When he beat the Redskins with Minnesota, he wore his Redskins No. 14 jersey out of the stadium.

5. Who else worries you on Dallas' offense?

Listen, the Cowboys will still have a lot of talent on the field. Patrick Crayton is the sort who can burn them, as he's shown in the past. They'll also have Jason Witten and Jones/Barber and even Terry Glenn now. Plus the line should be solid, though we'll see how they do minus starting center Andre Gurode.

6. Why have the Redskins safeties improved since that game?

For starters, they really haven't faced a team that could test it down the middle the way Dallas could. But the other reason is that they've developed a rhythm. Watch how they interact before the snap. They'll shift around and move before dropping into their areas. If they're not working in unison, then they'll be late to spots or get beaten. But, for example, Reed Doughty now understands better how he must line up at the snap. In the Dallas game, he would be 8 yards or so when he was deep. That's way too shallow and he got burned. Now, when he's going to be deep, he's getting back a few yards further. He and LaRon Landry are doing things in practice to disguise their coverage that have coaches shaking their heads in disbelief that they've come that far that fast. The Redskins also have helped them by not just playing Cover 2. Doughty is best used near the line of scrimmage and that's where he's spent a lot of time lately.

7. What about Dallas' defense?

The Cowboys will be playing minus corner Terence Newman, a big loss. But they have two outside linebackers who can apply a ton of pressure from both sides. Washington must make sure Greg Ellis and DeMarcus Ware don't control the game. What they must avoid is mistakes in the pocket, forced by this duo. If the Redskins turn it over a couple times early and fall behind by a couple scores … then, well, we know you don't want to imagine that. But it's possible if they're not careful. The Redskins could not run on Dallas in the first meeting. Stephon Heyer has been better in pass protection than in the run game, where he's usually just not that good, especially on the backside. That means more tight ends blocking to help him, in both the run game and pass game.

8. How long can Todd Collins act like Joe Montana?

For another week, right? At some point Collins will remember who he is: a career backup. On the other hand, what if he's like a Rich Gannon, who sits and sits for a while and then blossoms in his late 30s? All we know is that Collins is making excellent decisions and gets rid of the ball fast. If he continues to do that, then the Redskins will continue to move the ball. But the key is being able to run the ball and stay balanced. They stayed committed to the run last week, one reason they eventually cracked 100 yards and stayed balanced.

9. Can Sean Taylor's memory still serve as motivation?

Absolutely. Seems like to a man the players talk about wanting to win for Taylor. End Phillip Daniels said the other day that he'll sometimes look over his shoulder to the defensive backfield and expect to see Taylor. He's never far from their thoughts and they desperately want to honor him by reaching the postseason. I would expect some players to shed tears if they win this game, knowing how hard it was to make the playoffs this year and what it means to them because of Sean.

10. Who will win?

I've been burned all year by this team, picking them to win at times on the road only to see them lose and then picking them to lose (the last two weeks) only to see them win. They're a hard team to sometimes decipher. But not now. This is an absolute lock. Hanging around with the team this week there's no sense whatsoever that Sunday is the last game. None. And I believe them. Redskins 30, Cowboys 20.

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