1. Will Clinton Portis play?
We can't imagine that he will. He couldn't even bend his knee until Wednesday and didn't practice all week. He has a grade II sprain of the MCL, an injury that typically sidelines players for three to four weeks. It hasn't been two weeks since he hurt it. If he does play he will be limited. Our hunch is that he won't.
2. Can Ladell Betts be effective in his place?
Yes, as long as he's near 100 percent. Earlier in the week he was not. But Betts held up well during practice. Will there be any rust in Betts from missing the past three games? Probably. But Betts is the sort of guy who gets better with the more carries he receives. And if he replaces Portis he will get enough to shake off the rust. He's not as good as Portis in protection, though he's not bad – and he has better hands.
Another reason why he can be effective is the line. The Redskins opened good holes up front, taking advantage of Dallas' undisciplined front. They want to make plays, so they'll vacate holes with regularity.
3. What about the other backs?
Shaun Alexander will get more carries as well. It'll be interesting to see what he has left. Alexander is still adjusting to new blocking schemes, forcing him to read blockers differ ently than he did in Seattle. He's also not as physical in protection, which could be troublesome against this defense. We love Rock Cartwright, but he'll get overmatched if he has to pass protect (as he did vs. Pittsburgh). Size does matter in this game. But Cartwright can grind out a few yards.
4. Who else might miss?
LB Marcus Washington, though he was listed as probable. However, the Redskins likely will be in a lot of nickel packages as Dallas uses three wideouts. That would take Washington off the field. But Jason Taylor will play and Shawn Springs is expected to play. DT Anthony Montgomery will not.
5. Can Taylor help?
This is the best he says he's felt all season, so that should make a difference. However, in talking to some evaluators, they say he's done and that last year's stats weren't impressive after looking at how the sacks happened. We'll see if he was slowed by injuries at the start (which he was) or if he's merely done. Tonight, he needs to help provide a rush. And where he'll help is that with Montgomery out, having Taylor on the outside will enable Demetric Evans to slide more inside. A Taylor-Evans combo is better than a Chris Wilson-Evans one.
6. What difference will Tony Romo make?
A huge one, obviously. Dallas has not scored less than 24 points in the six games he's started and did not score more than 14 in the three games he's missed. That's not a coincidence. His line looks a lot worse without him than with him because of his mobility. He also hasn't played with Roy Williams yet. Having a QB who can throw deep will provide a dimension Dallas' offense lacks minus Romo. Now if the Redskins shut down Terrell Owens or Jason Witten, Romo has a legit option elsewhere.
7. What's the key defensively?
Clearly they must stop Marion Barber first and foremost. If Dallas gets its ground game chugging, then Washington will be in trouble. One reason the Redskins have had success vs. Dallas of late is because they've mostly done well against their run and made the Cowboys one-dimensional. They did that in the first game as well. It helps, too, to have physical corners who can man up vs. Owens and stop him. But I do worry about the secondary beyond Carlos Rogers, especially if Shawn Springs isn't completely healthy or must leave the game. Williams will not go over the middle or catch a lot of balls in traffic, but he is dangerous deep. Can Fred Smoot slow him? Don't know. DeAngelo Hall? Don't know.
8. How about offensively?
The Redskins must stop DeMarcus Ware. To be honest, you almost expect him to have a sack. That's OK. Many pass-rushers get their sack, but can have quiet games. What they can't allow is for Ware to be noisy all game. It helps that Washington has a per ennial Pro Bowl LT in Chris Samuels. Yes, he's had some issues vs. Ware, but if he contains him for, oh, 67 of 70 snaps that's good. I remember one season when Charles Haley had something like two tackles and no sacks in a game vs. the Redskins, yet totally controlled things up front. He forced plays elsewhere and applied constant pressure. That can't happen tonight.
9. What should they do on offense?
They can't do exactly what they did in the first game, but they can certainly borrow a lot of it. The Redskins excelled offensively because Jason Campbell didn't turn the ball over. They lost in Dallas last year because Campbell threw a late interception. But the Redskins kept Dallas guessing in the first meeting by using a lot of quick passes early in the game, loosening up the defense. They moved the pocket; they had Campbell roll out – away from the pressure. They used a little more motion than in other games. They'll have to vary Campbell's drops so rushers like Ware can't get a rhythm by anticipating his drop and timing his move accordingly. The Redskins also MUST do a better job in the red zone – they scored touchdowns on two of six chances inside the 20 the first time. They are not playing well enough offensively to blow that many chances again.
10. Who will win?
We know Dallas must win this game; a loss and the playoffs will be very, very tough to achieve. We know20Romo's return will help. But Romo's return does not solve everything. I will say I don't quite feel comfortable where I'm headed with this pick. The Redskins have really struggled of late, saved only by playing bad teams in three of their last four games. Clinton Portis' absence will hurt, but it will be lessened by Betts – if he's really healthy. But I like the Redskins' offensive line, provided the Redskins don't fall behind early, and I like how this secondary matches up overall vs. Dallas. And I think Dallas' O-line is overrated. I will say, I felt better about my pick early in the week. I also know if the Redskins don't win they'll be in serious trouble over the last month. So I'm closing my eyes, squirming a little bit and blurting this one out: Redskins 24, Cowboys 23.
John Keim covers the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and is a contributing editor for Warpathinsiders.com. He has covered the team since 1994. Some of his other stories can be found at dcexaminer.com
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