Tony Romo has banged up ribs and if he plays DeAngelo Hall will be aiming for them. Felix Jones has an injured shoulder and if he plays DeAngelo Hall will be aiming for that as well. I can’t decide if what Hall said this past week is bad or simply stating the obvious. If an injured player plays and that injury is known then players on the other team are going to be looking to exploit it as a weakness. It is just the way football works, but this is a big rivalry and everything is magnified.
In 2010 both the Redskins and the Cowboys finished with 6-10 records. The Cowboys got rid of coach Wade Phillips late in the season and replaced him with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett while the Redskins choose to get rid of 26 players. Among the players the Redskins rid themselves of were aging and under-performing veterans who were replaced with younger players better suited to Mike Shanahan’s system. The Cowboys came into 2011 thought of as a contender for the NFC wildcard while the Redskins were thought to be nothing but a contender for Andrew Luck.
The Redskins currently sit at 2-0 and the Cowboys at 1-1. The Redskins have been relatively healthy while the Cowboys are missing significant players in the passing game (Dez Bryant, Mile Austin) and secondary (Terence Newman)*. The Cowboys offensive line is a work in progress and so far in 2011 they have allowed five sacks and the Cowboys have rushed for just 109 yards in two games.
*There are rumors that Bryant and Newman are going to play and that Romo and Jones might not. The very wording of football injuries makes it hard to know exactly who is playing. Players are listed as probable, questionable, and doubtful which are all varying degrees of maybe.
The defense for the Redskins has looked good in their first two games ranking seventh in points allowed and eleventh in total yards allowed. It might not seem like much, but for a defense that ranked second to last in 2010 it is a significant improvement. Rookie Ryan Kerrigan has been a nightmare for offenses so far in his young career, and Orakpo has continued where he left off in 2010. The Redskins twin terrors at linebacker have combined for two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and three pass deflections in the first two games of the season. With LaRon Landry scheduled to play the Redskins will be adding another defensive star to what has been a solid unit thus far in 2011.
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware will lead a Cowboys defensive unit that has suffered a number of injuries. If Ware can set up camp in Rex Grossman’s kitchen Monday night and not give the Redskins passing plays time to develop the injuries on the Cowboys secondary won’t be an issue. Ware already has four sacks on the season and will be looking to add more against a Redskins offensive line that has looked suspect at times. If the Redskins want to keep Ware, Brooking, and the rest of the Cowboys pass rush out of the backfield then Hightower and Helu will have to establish the running game and catch a few screen passes out of the backfield.
If the Redskins can establish the running game against the aggressive pass rush of the Cowboys they will then be able to run the passing game through play action passes with the goal being to get man on man coverage on Moss and Armstrong for a big play down field. If the Cowboys corners can do their job and keep the big play under wraps then Fred Davis or Chris Cooley will have to look for space underneath in the flat. Rex Grossman is going to have to remain calm under pressure, go through his progression, and not try and force plays where none exist. The Cowboys have a solid defensive unit and the Redskins will best be served if Grossman takes the plays he is given and plays within himself.
Grossman has been inconsistent at time in 2011, but he was able to overcome early adversity against the Cardinals and led the Redskins on two fourth quarter scoring drives to earn the victory. Playing the Cowboys in Dallas will be the toughest test the Redskins have faced so far. Their defense is tough, and will make it hard for the Redskins to establish a sustained drive. The offensive line, running backs, and tight ends are going to have to work hard to pick up the blitz and find creative ways to keep Spencer and Ware out of the backfield if the Redskins hope to have similar success in moving the ball as they did in their previous two games.
Rex Grossman is an inconsistent quarterback whose gambles sometimes pay off. Tony Romo is the flashy superstar quarterback who sometimes disappears in the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Ware is an aggressive pass rusher who leads a defense that can be stifling at times. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are young players who hope to make the Redskins defense a unit to be feared. The Cowboys and Redskins have issues on the offensive line and in the secondary. With all the similarities between the two teams this should be a hard fought game that could come down to the wire and decided by the defenses. The Cowboys have a slight advantage by nature of being the home team, but both these teams will fight to the final second. Whatever the outcome of this game it should be a good one deserving of the Monday night spotlight.