NFL Preview - Washington (1-3) at Dallas (2-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Something has to be going right if Roger Staubach is on your side.
The former Dallas Cowboys great and Hall of Famer cannot believe the criticism Tony Romo is getting and feels he is the reason the team can still have a "very good season" at 2-3.
Romo and the Cowboys are coming off an emotional loss at home and face another stiff challenge Sunday against the NFC East-rival Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys came so close to upending Peyton Manning and the red-hot Denver Broncos in last weekend's 51-48 loss, but a late interception by Romo allowed the visitors to march into scoring position and kick a game-winning field goal.
The interception by Romo, just the second of the season, was his only flaw of the game and eventually dropped the Cowboys to 2-3. But Romo threw for a franchise-record 506 yards on 25-of-36 passing with five touchdowns. Not even Staubach could pull off those numbers and is in Romo's corner.
"He played one of the most sensational games I've ever seen," Staubach recently told The Dallas Morning News. "It makes no sense. Those people who blame him, I don't know, they ought to take a look at their lives.
"I've been a quarterback and I know this guy is playing great football. Seeing critics blame these tough losses, especially this game, on him sends a message to me that some people will never cut him a break. I can't believe it."
Dallas fans can remember when Romo blew a botched snap on a field-goal attempt in the playoffs a few years ago and Sunday's loss conjured up sour memories. Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes the criticism of Romo, who has just one playoff win under his belt and signed a megadeal this offseason, will continue to linger until he comes through in the clutch.
"They will ... until he wins the Super Bowl," Jones said after the Broncos loss. "And then when they do that, the guy standing over on the other sideline or up in the box, (Denver executive VP) John Elway, had those things said about him his entire career ... or things like that said about that his entire career. He was a great player, and we all know that. He ultimately got his Super Bowls, and they don't really say that about him anymore."
Winning a Super Bowl may seem far-fetched right now for Romo and the Cowboys, but they're still in the lead in the less-than-stellar NFC East, so anything is possible. The Cowboys had a Super Bowl-winning offense on display in Week 5, racking up a game-best 522 yards of offense with only 52 coming on the ground. The game turned into a track meet and both defenses were gassed, especially in the defensive backfield.
Dallas, which has lost two in a row and three of four games since knocking off the rival New York Giants in the season opener, allowed 517 yards to the Broncos and Manning finished 33-of-42 for 414 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted for the first time this season by Cowboys young cornerback Morris Claiborne, who was criticized by head coach Jason Garrett in the week leading up to the game. Claiborne also had two of Dallas' tipped passes.
The Cowboys should be concerned how poorly they played against the pass and run, as Denver registered 103 yards rushing, including 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries by Knowshon Moreno. That could be trouble with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris coming to Big D after their bye week. Griffin may not be the same as he was during his rookie campaign and can still make plays with his legs.
Either way the Cowboys are still confident in their defense.
"I have an unbelievable amount of faith in our teammates, in this defense and in the coaches," Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said. "We're going to find a way to get it better. As players, it's on us to make more plays. "We haven't been able to get off the field. We haven't executed well. That's squarely on us as players to find a way to get better."
With the luxury of winning a division title comes a rough schedule the following season. Perhaps that's why the Redskins have limped out to a 1-3 record this season. The upcoming schedule appears gloomy for the Redskins, who have Dallas, Chicago, Denver and San Diego on the docket over the next month.
The Redskins finally cracked the win column in Week 4, posting a 24-14 road win against the Oakland Raiders. It didn't look good early on with the 'Skins staring down a 14-0 deficit after the first quarter, but they responded with 24 unanswered points. Griffin completed 18 of his 31 pass attempts for 227 yards and a touchdown and Morris ran for 71 yards on 16 carries to help the Redskins snap a three-game slide.
Morris, who set the franchise's single season record for most rushing yards in 2012, isn't worried about his touches and just wants to help his team win. The Redskins have been playing from behind, so typically teams opt to pass the football more to save time.
"Each week I feel like I'm getting better and better. It's not really carries; it's just going out there and getting snaps in live game time situation," Morris said. "I'm getting quite a few snaps. It may not be carries but I'm still in there on passing downs (and) I'm still in there blocking."
Morris was able to rest some sore ribs suffered in Oakland and X-rays were negative. Morris said his ribs "are fine," but a little tender. He has 313 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two career games against the Cowboys and ran for 200 yards and three scores in the previous encounter. Morris owns 1,040 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns since Week 12 of last season. It will be interesting to see how the Redskins plan for a Cowboys defense that was shredded in all facets of the game versus Denver.
It's evident the offense is what will carry the Redskins to more wins. That was proven during their NFC East title run of 2012. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon led the Redskins with six receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders, and has 29 catches through the first four games - the most by a Redskin over the team's first four games in the Super Bowl era.
And it all comes back to Griffin, a native of Copperas Cove, TX. RG3 is less than a year removed from undergoing knee surgery and seems to have shaken off the rust from a Week 1 loss at home to Philadelphia. Griffin is 2-0 in his career against the Cowboys and shredded them for 304 yards and four TDs for a 131.8 quarterback rating in the last meeting between the teams. Despite a 1-3 record, the Redskins still have one of the top offenses in the league and rank first in the NFC and tied for third in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency (63.6). And because of Morris, the 'Skins are third in the league in rushing yards per attempt (4.8).
The Redskins are 0-1 in the NFC East and winless (0-3) against the conference this season, while Dallas is 1-0 in the division and 2-0 in the NFC. Washington handed the Cowboys a 28-18 loss in a winner-take-all showdown in Week 17 last season to secure its first NFC East title since 1999. A win on Sunday for the Redskins would give them their first three-game winning streak against Dallas since winning four straight across the 1986-88 seasons.
Eleven of the last 12 meetings between these division foes have been decided by seven points or less. The Redskins trail the overall series with Dallas, 42-62-2, and are 40-62-2 in the regular season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Sunday's back-and-forth battle between the Broncos and Cowboys was arguably the best of the season. With Manning and Romo dueling with their right arms, the numbers on offense were otherworldly and the Cowboys hope it continues with a winning result.
Romo has been sensational at home in the past six games, passing for 2,039 yards and 19 TDs with only two interceptions for a 124.2 rating. He is the reason why the Cowboys lead the NFC with 152 points scored and will face a porous Washington pass defense, which has allowed 298.2 yards per game. Romo is 6-6 as a starter against Washington and has 21 TDs to 13 INTs in that time.
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant caught six passes for 141 yards and two scores last week and was one of three wideouts to have more than 100 yards. Jason Witten (121 yards, TD) and Terrance Williams (151 yards, TD) were the others. All three combined for four TD receptions. Bryant is going up against a Washington secondary that played very well in Oakland, but he has six TD catches in his past four games and is going for a fifth in a row. Bryant has 403 yards and three scores in five games against the 'Skins, including a two- TD performance last November. Williams came out of nowhere last week and will probably not produce those kind of numbers any time soon.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray ran for 43 yards and a score in the loss to the Broncos and will go up against a weak Washington defense that has allowed 142.2 rushing yards per game. Murray has rushed for 149 yards on 42 carries in two games as a starter in this series.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett liked what he saw from his defense a few weeks ago against the Raiders. After falling behind 14-0 on a blocked punt for a score and a touchdown pass by Matt Flynn, the defense dug in and put forth arguably the best effort so far in 2013.
The Redskins posted seven sacks - the most since that many in Week 4 of 2011 - and three different players posted two. Nose tackle Barry Cofield, linebacker and sack leader Ryan Kerrigan (5.0) and linebacker Brian Orakpo each took down the quarterback twice for the Redskins, who have posted three sacks in three of the last four games. The 298 yards and 14 points allowed were season lows.
Washington held the Raiders to 194 passing yards and rookie cornerback David Amerson intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a score. Amerson, DeAngelo Hall and safety Brandon Meriweather will have to make plays in the secondary to slow down deep threat Bryant. Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was asked if he thinks the defense can continue to make impact plays.
"Yeah, I do. But I think you go back to each game, and I don't mean to really belabor a point, but when you take a look at the first game against Philly, they really kind of keep you off-balance when that running game is going. You know the yardage they had," Shanahan said. "And then you take a look as the games go on, and say, 'OK, what did Green Bay do that kind of got us on our heels a little bit?' They ran the football. So that's what I think has been the difference in the last couple of games on defense. Even though Detroit wasn't perfect, we made some strides, and this game, more strides. But even when we put a team in a one-dimensional game, they still can execute, so you've got to get after the quarterback, so hopefully we can keep on doing that."
Pressuring Romo will only make it easier for the secondary, which is why Washington's front line and linebackers Kerrigan and Orakpo have to stay fresh and attack the gaps. Romo was sacked four times last week and has been sacked seven times over the past two games (13 overall).
The Redskins will get Jarvis Jenkins and Rob Jackson back for this week and the two played critical roles when Orakpo and Adam Carriker were lost early on in 2012. Jenkins and Jackson were levied four-game suspensions for violating the league's substance policy.
"It's good to have them back. They were out there today in practice ... getting back in football shape," Shanahan said last week. "I know they've been working out hard, but it's good to get started after the bye week with both of them."
It's hard not to fall in love with how well Dallas played offensively last week, but the defense was atrocious.
They will win Sunday and keep pace in the NFC East with a cleaner effort on the defensive front and a more down-to-earth Romo. Washington had plenty of time to prepare for this matchup and will keep it close before eventually falling to its first 1-4 start since 2004.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 24, Redskins 17
10/10 15:39:01 ET