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?
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?
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.
Ten Spot Preview: Cowboys at Redskins
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