Washington Redskins: 10 Keys to Victory Against the Cowboys
I’m 25 years old, so technically I was alive for two the Redskins' Super Bowl victories. However, I have no recollection of them—nor should I.
Let’s take the ’87-’88 and ’91-92 championship out of the equation. With that being said, I’ve witnessed/comprehended one division title in the 1999-2000 season as well as two wild-card appearances during the second Gibbs era.
So, I’ve watched five playoff games and other do-or-die games like the 2007 victory against Dallas to earn a wild-card berth.
I distinctly remember all of those games, as I was extremely anxious.
As the Redskins and Cowboys battle on Sunday night, I find myself uncontrollably nervous. This is the biggest game that I’ve been a part of as a fan and a writer, of course.
This is a Hollywood script. You have two bitter rivals with stars like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and RGIII.
It’s just different. The Redskins have their knight in Robert Griffin III. They have surmounted an improbable comeback over the past six games to where they have become one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
If the Redskins were playing any other team, I would feel differently, but because they are playing the hated Cowboys, this is a special game, as previous matchups between these two teams are forever ingrained in football’s history.
I’ve said this before, but there’s nothing better than beating Dallas, and there’s nothing worse than losing to it.
Below are the 10 keys to the game.
Recognize the Moment
This isn’t a meaningless game in December anymore. The Redskins now have realistic expectations based off the season that they’ve had.
They no longer are the laughing stock of the NFC East (thanks Eagles), and they turned the D.C. area into a frenzy.
They have scratched and clawed their way to the top of the division, and they can’t lose that momentum on their home turf. They’ve gone too far, and now it’s their turn.
Rattle Tony Romo
Ever since losing on Thanksgiving, Tony Romo has been on fire. While he has always been a talented quarterback, Romo is notorious for his late-game meltdowns.
If Ryan Kerrigan plays the way he did last Sunday, he can put his defense in position to capitalize on Romo’s potential mistakes.
By generating consistent pressure on Romo, he’s going to start forcing throws to his receiver. That’s how the Redskins built their substantial lead on Thanksgiving, and they will have to do it again.
Mix Up Defensive Packages
The reason Mike Shanahan made the transition to the 3-4 defense is because he valued the element of surprise with that formation and how it provided more opportunities to create turnovers.
Even with DeMarco Murray back in the lineup, the Cowboys have proven that they don’t need a running game to score points.
This is where Jim Haslett is going to need to throw the kitchen sink at this explosive Dallas offense. He’ll need to dial up various forms of blitzes while keeping Dez Bryant from beating the secondary up top.
If the defense can force Romo’s offense to three-and-outs, it will significantly disrupt the Cowboys' ability for quick scores and momentum-swinging plays.
Three-and-outs will put the Redskins' offense on the field and in control at the time of possession—something Alfred Morris and the offensive line have excelled at throughout the season.
Rely on Veterans
Experience is vital to games like this. Veterans have been there before, and they know not to get too emotional and to play the game the right way.
Veterans like London Fletcher, Santana Moss and Barry Cofield all have been in situations like this throughout their career.
The youngsters on the roster will understandably be nervous (not as much as me of course), and they will need to emulate their elder teammates and play smart football.
Trent Williams vs. DeMarcus Ware
Congratulations to Trent Williams. He deserved to make the Pro Bowl. Even though both Trent Williams and DeMarcus Ware are hobbled by injuries, this is going to be a dogfight between the two Pro Bowlers.
Keeping Ware at bay is imperative to the success of Robert Griffin III moving the ball down the field.
Arguably, the Redskins are the best play-action team in the NFL, and that starts with giving Griffin enough time for the play to develop.
If Ware is able to develop consistent pressure on Griffin, then we could be in trouble.
London Fletcher vs. Jason Witten
Predictably, Fletcher will have the primary responsibility of covering Jason Witten throughout Sunday night’s game.
As much as I love London Fletcher, this is where he has struggled this season. While he has remained a tackling machine, he has been poor in pass coverage, especially against superior tight ends.
It feels like Witten has been in Dallas forever, and he continues to have great season year after year. Witten is Romo’s security blanket, and they have emasculated defenses with their seam routes.
Clean Up Game Plan
Kyle Shanahan was awfully cute last week. What I mean is that his play-calling can be a bit too "pretty."
I understand why: He didn’t want to put Griffin in a position to get hurt again, but if the Redskins play the way they did last Sunday, then they will not win.
As misdirecting as the Redskins' offense can be, it appears that defenses have figured out their screen passes, whether it’s Pierre Garcon’s bubble screens or if it’s an Evan Royster screen on third-and-long, the passes aren’t working.
Take Shots Downfield
The big play is what got the Redskins going against Dallas the first time. Aldrick Robinson, Pierre Garcon and Niles Paul all made game-changing plays.
Alfred Morris trucking defenders and making big plays have made the Redskins' offense what it is today. Stretching the defense will provide Alfred Morris an opportunity to attack the defense with the safeties playing back.
Avoid Careless Errors
Penalties and dropped passes have haunted the Redskins, as Logan Paulsen, Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Santana Moss all have dropped multiple passes this season.
While some of them have been controversial, the Skins will need to reduce the amount of penalties, as they are one of the worst teams at this.
Successful teams out there find a way to discipline themselves on a regular basis, and the Redskins will need to adapt to this principle.