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NFL Preview - Washington (3-6) at Dallas (6-3)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins experienced a reversal of recent fortunes in their previous games. Only one of those NFC East members will be hoping for a repeat of that last result, however, when the teams renew their long and bitter rivalry this Sunday at the new Cowboys Stadium.
Dallas had vaulted to the top of the well-stocked NFC East by virtue of a four-game winning streak capped by an impressive 20-16 road victory over divisional-foe Philadelphia on November 8. The surge was due in large part to an explosive offense that averaged better than 30 points and 400 total yards over the course of that time period.
The Cowboys displayed little in the way of firepower, though, in a 17-7 loss to Green Bay last Sunday at Lambeau Field. The determined Packers limited Dallas to a season-low 278 yards and kept their opponent off the scoreboard until a harmless touchdown with under a minute to play.
Quarterback Tony Romo, who had played near-flawless football during Dallas' four-game tear, was intercepted once and lost two fumbles while being sacked five times in suffering his first loss in 14 career November starts.
Despite that disappointing outcome, Dallas was able to maintain its one-game advantage over Philadelphia and the New York Giants in the division standings when the Eagles lost their Week 10 matchup with San Diego.
The Redskins will be heading into Texas off a breakthrough performance in their last outing, a 27-17 home triumph over AFC West co-leader Denver that ended a stretch of four straight defeats for the Burgundy and Gold.
Washington, which had not scored more than 17 points in any of its first eight games of 2009, was able to bust out because of a recommitment to running the football. The Redskins generated a season-best 174 rushing yards, with stand- in back Ladell Betts putting up 114 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in place of injured regular Clinton Portis.
Betts figures to get a heavy workload again this week, with Portis having been ruled out after still encountering symptoms from a frightening concussion he sustained in Washington's 31-17 Week 9 loss at Atlanta.
The Redskins could possibly be without one of their primary defensive players as well for Sunday's showdown, as standout tackle Albert Haynesworth was forced to exit last weekend's win with a sprained left ankle and will likely be a game-time decision.
If Haynesworth does play, he'll be pitted against Cowboys center Andre Gurode for the first time since an ugly incident involving the two linemen three years ago. Haynesworth, then a member of the Tennessee Titans, inexplicably stomped on a helmet-less Gurode with his cleat in a contest back in October of 2006, an action that drew a five-game suspension for the mammoth two-time Pro Bowler.
Washington, which presently sits at the bottom of the NFC East with a 3-6 record, has not won in four previous road tests this season. Dallas, on the other hand, has posted three straight victories at first-year Cowboys Stadium since opening regular-season play at the palatial venue with a 33-31 loss to the Giants in Week 2.
The Cowboys lead the all-time regular season series with Washington, 57-37-2, including an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. The Redskins were 26-24 winners in their trip to Texas Stadium in Week 4, but dropped a 14-10 decision when the clubs met at FedEx Field in Week 11. The teams engaged in conventional home-and-home splits in both 2006 and 2007. Washington is 2-0 against Dallas in the postseason, winning in the 1972 and 1982 NFC Championship games.
Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips is 3-2 all-time against Washington, with one of those wins coming for his Bills team in 1999 at FedEx Field. The Redskins' Jim Zorn is 1-1 against both Phillips and the Cowboys as a head man.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
After being used sparingly over the season's first half, Betts (205 rushing yards, 2 TD, 17 receptions) injected some needed life into a stodgy Washington ground game with last week's strong showing, which helped ease the burden on much-maligned quarterback Jason Campbell (1870 passing yards, 10 TD, 8 INT) and a struggling aerial attack that's been without trusty tight end Chris Cooley (29 receptions, 2 TD) for the last two games due to a fractured ankle. With Cooley still recovering and a makeshift offensive line having been shaky in pass protection, expect Washington to feed the ball to its new top back early and often come Sunday. With Betts and special-teams ace Rock Cartwright (68 rushing yards, 6 receptions, 1 TD) running effectively, Campbell came through with his first turnover-free game since mid-October and completed a sharp 17-of-26 throws against the Broncos, four of which landed in the hands of Cooley replacement Fred Davis (21 receptions, 1 TD) for a total of 50 yards. Denver managed to hold Santana Moss (35 receptions, 2 TD), the Redskins' best receiver, to a harmless eight yards on two grabs by rolling coverage his way, a tactic teams will continue to employ unless second-year disappointment Devin Thomas (9 receptions, 1 TD) can emerge as a viable threat on the opposite side. Washington ranks just 24th overall in total yards (308.0 ypg) and 20th in passing offense (200.9 ypg) for the season.
Campbell's been sacked 14 times over the Redskins' past three games and could be feeling steady pressure from a Dallas defense that's pretty adept at harassing the quarterback. All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (35 tackles, 7 sacks) has racked up seven sacks through the Cowboys' last five tilts and led the NFL in that category a year ago, while disruptive nose tackle Jay Ratliff (25 tackles, 4 sacks) took down Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb twice in the team's win over the Eagles two weeks back. Those two will need to remain on top of their game on Sunday, as Dallas hasn't been great in coverage and has intercepted only six passes this season. The secondary also won't have free safety Ken Hamlin (39 tackles) available this week after he sustained a high ankle sprain against the Packers, with third-year pro Alan Ball (13 tackles) slated to draw the start. The Cowboys have been generally solid in defending the run, with Ratliff and inside linebackers Keith Brooking (65 tackles, 2 sacks) and Bradie James (65 tackles, 1 sack) heading up a group that's permitted an average of 103.1 rushing yards per game (10th overall).
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
Dallas had turned into a pass-heavy offense during its four-game winning streak, with Romo (2466 passing yards, 14 TD, 6 INT) amassing three 300-yard efforts and tossing nine touchdown strikes in that span. However, Green Bay's skilled veteran corners were able to deliver tight coverage in last week's game, which in turn enabled the front seven to get ample pressure and throw the offense out of rhythm. It didn't help the Cowboys' cause that stalwart right tackle Marc Colombo broke his left fibula in the first quarter, an injury that may end the 31-year-old's season. The Packers made a concerted effort to contain big-play wideout Miles Austin (31 receptions, 632 yards, 7 TD) and held the emerging gamebreaker to a mere 20 yards on four catches, although counterpart Roy Williams (24 receptions, 3 TD) responded with 105 yards and a touchdown on five grabs in his most productive game as a Cowboy. Sure-handed tight end Jason Witten also hauled in five Romo passes to bring his team-leading reception total to 49, but the five-time Pro Bowl participant is averaging under nine yards per catch for the year. Dallas mustered only 61 rushing yards in last week's loss, less than half the team's total of 130 per game (8th overall), and Phillips has gone on record stating he wants to see the quality backfield tandem of Marion Barber (473 rushing yards, 4 TD, 8 receptions) and speedster Felix Jones (304 rushing yards, 1 TD, 4 receptions) more involved in the game plan.
A Washington defense that's yielded a league-low 162.7 passing yards per game this season should present a challenge for Romo and the Dallas receivers, but the two long touchdown catches Denver's Brandon Marshall hung on the Redskins last week are evidence that the secondary can be vulnerable at times. Underrated end Andre Carter (42 tackles, 8 sacks) and rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (32 tackles, 7 sacks) did come up with 1 1/2 sacks each in the win, and the duo has combined for 15 of the team's 24 quarterback takedowns, with Orakpo topping all first-year performers in that department. The presence of Haynesworth (27 tackles, 3 sacks), a 350-pound beast who routinely commands double-teams, has made both players more effective, and the pass rush could very well suffer if the high-priced offseason pickup can't go on Sunday. Haynesworth has made less of an impact in run defense, where Washington ranks an unwanted 24th overall (125.7 ypg) and let Atlanta's Michael Turner rip off 166 yards and two long touchdowns in the club's last game on the road.
Dallas' enviable collection of talent at the offensive skill positions often leads to a week-to-week crapshoot from a fantasy perspective. Romo has been a consistent source of points over the last few weeks and is worthy of No. 1 quarterback status, while Williams' recent resurgence and Austin's big-play ability makes both receivers solid starting choices. While Witten hasn't been a top-tier tight end this season, Romo's safety valve usually gets enough catches to be a factor in point-per-reception leagues. Barber gets a nice boost in value if the Cowboys attempt to establish the run as expected, although Jones still carries a good deal of risk judging by the number of touches he's gotten as of late. Betts proved last week he merits starting consideration and doesn't have a serious threat to his playing time, while Moss has come through with some big days against Dallas in the past and is a good bounce-back candidate. Davis has some upside as well in a Washington offense with a limited supply of receiving options, but Campbell should only be used in emergency situations. While the Cowboys don't force a lot of turnovers, their defense benefits from the Redskins' lack of scoring punch.
Based solely on last Sunday's results, one would think the Redskins are the team standing atop the NFC East and the Cowboys are languishing in the division basement. Order will be restored this week, however. While Washington has played sound defense for most of this season, the unit has shown a susceptibility to giving up the big play recently, which doesn't bode well with Dallas possessing a pair of dangerous home-run hitters in Austin and Jones. The Cowboys haven't had much of a problem putting up points in their new building this year, and the offense stands a good chance of atoning for last week's lethargic performance with a more balanced approach on Sunday. If that scenario unfolds, the Redskins simply don't have the horses to keep up.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 27, Redskins 13
11/19 18:09:39 ET