Cowboys vs. Redskins: Biggest Storylines Surrounding NFC East Clash

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 09: Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys passes against the Chicago Bears during a game at Soldier Field on December 9, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Week 16 clash between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins might not be the most marquee matchup, but it doesn't lack in drama. 

As usual, the Cowboys are hovering right around .500 on the season with a shot at making the playoffs. Now they need this win and a little bit of help to claim a playoff spot. 

Meanwhile, the Redskins are the epitome of drama. They're just 3-11 on the season and can't seem to find harmony among their star quarterback, head coach and owner. That's not exactly where fans thought the franchise would be in Robert Griffin III's second season. 

But just because the Redskins are in the midst of a nightmare season and the Cowboys are coming off a bad loss to the Green Bay Packers doesn't mean this isn't an interesting game. Here are a few storylines that will make this game worth watching. 


Tony Romo in December

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field after losing 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers during a game at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The month of December means the Holiday season is in full swing. College football is in bowl season, you can drink copious amounts of egg nog without too much shame, and it's all but guaranteed that there will be debates about the validity of Tony Romo as a franchise quarterback. 

Whether you're a full-on Romo hater or a supporter of the polarizing Cowboys quarterback, the narrative isn't going anywhere. Once the cold months of December and January come, Romo's record as a starter takes a nose dive. 

As ESPN Stats & Info points out, that's a fact that can't really be disputed:

The story popped up once again last week as he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter. The untimely turnovers led to a 36-35 loss to the Green Bay Packers and an 0-2 record thus far in December. 

Taking on a 3-11 team like the Redskins should be a game that the Cowboys win almost every week. Another loss here will send the Romo debate into overdrive. 


Is Kirk Cousins for Real?

Mike Shanahan elected to shut down Robert Griffin III for the season and go with Kirk Cousins at quarterback prior to the team's game against the Atlanta Falcons last week. After a tumultuous season for both Shanahan and Griffin, the move could best be described as political

All possible power struggles aside, there is an advantage to the Redskins going with the backup for the final three weeks of the season. Shanahan believes that playing the quarterback could result in the Redskins netting a first-round draft pick via trade in the offseason, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:

"If he lights it up, hey, maybe we can bring a first-round draft choice back to this organization, and say hey, who are we gonna take in the first round," Shanahan said. “And I think by him playing and Robert not playing, it gives us a chance to have a few options for our organization that we wouldn’t normally have, and the safety of our quarterback going into the offseason is preserved....And we’re still getting a chance to see a guy that we’ve got a lot of confidence in go out there and play. And his value can only go up. It cannot go down. It can only go up.

Cousins lit up the box score in the Redskins' loss to the Falcons last week. He threw for 381 yards on 29-of-45 passing for three touchdowns and two interceptions. 

The prospect of a team giving up a first-round pick for Cousins seems far-fetched, but if he carves up the Cowboys secondary en route to an upset win, it becomes a more distinct possibility. 


Can the Dallas Defense Show Signs of Life?

Lost in all the noise of a disappointing performance down the stretch for Tony Romo was the role the Cowboys defense played in their Week 15 second-half collapse. 

After Romo and the offense built a strong 26-3 halftime lead, the defense proceeded to give up 34 points in the second half to the Packers. Thirty-four points. To an Aaron Rodgers-less, Matt Flynn-led offense no less. That's about as pitiful a defensive performance as it gets. 

The defensive struggles aren't exactly a new revelation, either. The Cowboys are dead last in the league against the pass and stand at No. 28 against the run. 

Taking on a Redskins offense that is undergoing a change at the quarterback position and is just 23rd in scoring offense, the time is now for the defense to prove it can be close to competent. If Cousins and the Redskins light up this defense, there's no chance that the Cowboys can stop the offenses they would see in the case of a playoff berth.