The Dallas Cowboys, fresh off their track meet with the Denver Broncos, get their first crack at redemption against the Washington Redskins this Sunday night. RGIII rolls into town looking to replicate a performance for the ages from last year's Thanksgiving Day debacle.
These two teams are responsible for one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports, and this week's contest should hold true to form. The Redskins enter the game with a 1-3 record and fresh off a bye week, and the Cowboys will be looking to get back to the .500 mark at 3-3.
The implications of this game suddenly become huge for both teams not only in the division, but in the entire NFC landscape. The Cowboys, losers of three games marked mostly by self-inflicted wounds, will look to continue their offensive explosion by utilizing all of their weapons.
A loss like the Cowboys just experienced could have very polar effects. On one hand, the offense could have been awakened by self-discovery, and a sign of good things to come, but conversely, a gut-punching loss could easily cause an offensive hangover. God knows this team can't rely on their defense right now.
So how will the Cowboys avenge last weekend's loss, rebound and be ready for RGIII?
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it's obvious which side of the ball will have to be the catalyst in a victory. The correct answer has two parts, and that is the Cowboys have no choice but to move on from last week and be ready, and Jason Garrett needs to keep this team focused in its preparation.
Because, like it or not, bad knee or not, the Redskins and RGIII will be ready to play, they are well within striking distance in the NFC East, and Mike Shannahan most definitely has a blueprint on how to exploit the Cowboys defense. In fact, the whole world figured that one out.
If Dallas is the team they want to be, then it's time to use last week's loss as fuel for an NFC East foe. Let's look at how this game will go down.
Through five games this season, Murray has compiled 399 yards and two touchdowns on 84 carries. Against Denver, he carried 12 times for 43 yards and a touchdown, but the Cowboys simply got away from the running game, especially in the fourth quarter.
When Murray did run on Sunday, as well as in the Chargers game, he ran with more purpose, conviction and a little bit of nastiness. On that ill-fated interception against Denver, Murray was wide open on a checkdown with room to run.
I believe in Week 6 Murray will be a beast based on multiple factors. For starters, it's going to be hard for Tony Romo to replicate the type of success he had against Denver, and expectations have to be held in check. That type of offensive outburst and explosion takes time to sustain.
The second reason Murray will be a focal point is because the Cowboys need to keep their commitment to the running game intact for any chance at getting anywhere this season. The play of Brian Waters has helped this line and they are improving each week, and the Cowboys need to continue to build on that.
The Cowboys will have to grind this week. Time of possession will be crucial, and they have to have a little more balance, as they did against St. Louis. That's where Murray will shine.
The sight of Terrance Williams haul in an 82-yard touchdown pass may have given Cowboys fans a glimpse into the immediate future and a justification for the third-round pick. Finally we see the talent Williams possesses and the playmaking he showed while at Baylor.
Well, on Sunday, he will have even more opportunities to justify his draft status and help this offense again in a big way. With Dez Bryant sure to get a healthy diet of double-teams, Williams will likely be opened up.
Williams will prove to us that his performance against Denver wasn't an accident, and he will also prove that Miles Austin should be looking over his shoulder. While we shouldn't anoint Williams as the next Randy Moss, he will continue to prove his effectiveness against Washington.
It's very difficult to turn around a Swiss cheese defense in one week, but the Cowboys literally have no choice unless they want to kiss their season goodbye. Peyton Manning had a lot to do with the Cowboys' porous defense on Sunday, but are there deeper issues?
You bet. The lack of depth and overall talent along the defensive line was fully exposed, the secondary is getting shredded and there is just an overall identity crisis on this entire defense. New questions concerning Bruce Carter have emerged, and that is someone the Cowboys were counting on to play better.
Morris Claiborne has his issues, but he showed great resolve and fight by picking off Manning and playing hard. But this defense has to come together, not fall apart and focus on a solution. Should they play more man? Zone? Blitz more? Incorporate other personnel?
Monte Kiffin needs to figure this out, he needs to at least come up with a solid game plan against Washington and he needs to restore some faith that this defense isn't on the verge of implosion. Kiffin will improve this unit this week, and with leaders like Sean Lee, the Cowboys will show that improvement.
I know it's hard to look at any positives right now concerning Kiffin and this defense, but nobody on the street is going to come in and save the day. Kiffin will go back, along with Rod Marinelli, and stress fundamentals.
It's the only way for this defense to recover.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will want to make Tony Romo's life difficult after his film study from the Denver game. At least that's what a logical person would think, let alone an NFL defensive coordinator.
The Redskins are an aggressive unit. They like to blitz, and the history between these two teams has shown that it is every bit a chess match. Washington starts out up front with Barry Cofield, Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher.
DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are solid corners who will play physical and look to be opportunistic. So how do the Cowboys counter an aggressive defense looking to make yet another statement in Dallas? Throw to Cole Beasley on hot routes.
Dez Bryant will get his looks, so will Jason Witten, so will Williams and perhaps Miles Austin, but the Cowboys will need to attack backup corners David Amerson and E.J. Biggers. The slot battle versus a backup corner will pay big dividends for the Cowboys.
Beasley played outstanding against Denver, and you could just see his confidence level rising with each reception. Pay attention to this player.
Morris Claiborne has been much aligned throughout this early 2013 season. What many thought would be a breakout year and a chance to establish himself as a shutdown corner just hasn't turned out that way yet. Claiborne is once again dealing with health issues, and his play has just not been up to par.
He was owned by Keenan Allen in San Diego, but overall, he has clearly had technique and confidence issues. He did show some redeeming qualities against Denver by recovering a fumble and picking off a pass—at least it's something to build on.
The Redskins will undoubtedly look to pick on him Sunday night, with a combination of Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson being thrown his way. Claiborne needs to continue to build his confidence level up, and this is a perfect chance to do it.
By believing in himself, his coaches and his technique, he will get the opportunities to make plays based on the amount of balls expected to come his way. Claiborne will be ready for that challenge. Granted, he will probably give up some plays, but he needs to continue to take his lumps in order to improve.
Playing cornerback in the NFL is no easy task, but no two players have the exact same progression or transition into the league, either. Claiborne's struggles will only make him stronger, and against the Redskins, he will make a statement.