DALLAS COWBOYS (5-4) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (3-6)
Sunday, 1:00 P.N. ET, FOX
The Dallas Cowboys win 79 percent of AccuScore's game simulations of this contest. So what I am saying is that there is a chance for the Redskins to win. Granted, it's not a great one. Lets be fair. Redskins Hog Heaven and every other Redskins writer we follow pegged the 'Skins for eight or fewer games this season. Hope aside, astute fans never expected playoffs, even with a fast 3-1 start. We would have been satisfied with progress. We will still be satisfied with any semblance to progress from here out, starting with a good showing against the Cowboys today. Progress means that young players who may be important to the future of the team see more action that veteran imports who may not be here next year. That means we should see a lot more of Roy Helu than Tashard Choice.
The Cowboys are fueled by a two-game win streak and hot property in RB DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys are in the conversation again for the playoffs. They have to chase down the New York Giants and take the division because the wildcards will emerge from the NFC North. They were not going to look past the Redskins, but the game became more urgent for them with the news that Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin are OUT in the Eagles-Giants game. Thus, there will be no outside help for the Cowboys to take the title. They have to win it by themselves. That means winning five of their last seven games.
What To Watch
Washington's fortunes changed for the worse with injuries to RG Kory Lichtensteiger and RT Trent Williams. Of the two, Lichtensteiger's was the lineman most familiar with Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. Thus, his loss was more damaging. Williams should return to the lineup today in time to face Dallas DE DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys moved Ware around in September's 'Skins-'Boys faceoff. Ware was more successful against RT Jammal Brown than against Williams. That's a concern.
How the Redskins swiggle the linemen to cope with injuries will dictate success on offense. (Note: RHH is biased to the notion that the line is 51 percent of the success or failure of every offensive play.) If William Hurt is slowed by his knee injury, the 'Skins will slide Will Montgomery from center to right guard and insert Erik Cook to center. Washington improvised that same line-up in the Eagles game. The reason for optimism now is that the Redskins have had time to work this combination.
I will be watching where Hurt (jersey 79) and Montgomery (jersey 63) line up and how they cope with defensive pressure up the middle.
Defense has to win this game if Washington is to pull it off. The Redskins have the pass pressure to do it. Run defense is another matter. Washington ranks 18th in run defense, 12th overall. Quite often, those runs have gone through the middle of Washington's defense. That pointed fingers at ISLs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh and nose tackle Barry Cofield. McIntosh was the first to take the hit, benched in favor of Perry Riley.
The 'Skins have no real alternative to Cofield at nose and are not about to bench defensive signal caller Fletcher. But, Fletcher is a concern. We have watched the Redskins for a long time and saw the team stick with C Casey Rabach at least two years longer than they should have. Fletcher, age 36, already shows signs of slowing down (Yeah, I know. Redskins heresy). If the front office is not planning Fletcher's replacement sometime in the next two seasons, they are derelict in their duties. Fletch is the best free agent signing of the Snyder era, but he is not the Energizer Bunny. He will not go on forever.
The Cowboys pass 57 percent of the time and will try to do damage through the air. Washington harassed QB Tony Romo in September effectively, except on that one play when Romo converted a third-and-21 play for a first down.
We learned two things in that September game. First, don't leave DeAngelo Hall on an island. Give him safety help at all times. Second, the defense has to hold the Cowboys to seven points or less. In the last game, Washington held Dallas to 18 points and lost. S LaRon Landry is inactive. Dallas is favored by 8.
Who Will Win
There is no reason on paper or pixel to expect a Redskins' win. Hope is more focused on the "any given Sunday" phenomenon. I will take it and call REDSKINS. But, you know it's a homer pick.