Both teams are returning to duty from a week off, and both teams are coming back from disappointing losses the week before the bye.
Many storylines exist for this critical NFC East matchup, the usual stuff like this being one of the longest standing and most famous rivalries in sports, and of course, players returning (or not returning) from injury for both teams.
In this week's roundtable, I posed several questions to some Bleacher Report's finest writers covering the Redskins. Travis Evans, Jen Johnson, Eric Moon, Ian Murphy, Eric Moon, and Mark Steven offered their thoughts and insight into a number of issues facing the Redskins this week and as the season moves forward.
I hope you enjoy this week's Redskins Roundtable, and if you would like to be a part of next week's edition, please contact me and I will add you to the list of participants.
I invite you to leave feedback on the thoughts presented here, please feel free to challenge/support anything you see here.
Returning from the by week, the Redskins are facing a "desperate" Dallas Cowboys team. Both teams are rested, healthy(relatively speaking), and had the opportunity to "self scout" over the bye week.
The topic: What changes, if any, do you expect from the Redskins?
Travis Evans wants Zorn to open it up a bit: I expect to see more pass protection and hope we aren't so damn conservative. The Cowboys are going to air the ball out downfield, and their defense and special teams will get a boost from the returning players.
Jen Johnson wants to see Campbell on the move a bit more: I expect Jim Zorn to experiment with having Jason roll out of the pocket. No one gives Campbell credit for his running ability. Earlier in the season, Jason used his legs quite effectively to keep the chains moving.
Eric Moon sees a weakness and wants to attack it:
Well, I hope Coach Zorn attacks the secondary because that is the team’s weakest link. With Adam (Pacman) Jones still suspended, Terence Newman coming off a sports-hernia injury, the Cowboys will be forced to use the young players in the secondary. The Redskins must protect Jason because I’m sure they will blitz more. Maybe throw a few screen plays in there to freeze the line backers a bit.
Ian Murphy completely agrees with Eric:
On offense, I expect the Redskins to come out and throw at least 45 times this week. Dallas' Pacman-free secondary is going to be severely tested by Zorn's Portis-less offense.
This is what Zorn wants to do on offense every game but doesn't because he has an MVP-caliber running back to lean on. On defense, they are going to go man to man on TO (no need to double cover a 34-year-old WR who drops about half of the balls thrown his way anyway) and plug the box with seven or eight guys in order to shut down Barber like they did in the first game.
The Topic: What changes, if any, do you expect from the Cowboys?
Jen Johnson thinks the Cowboys need to diversify: Dallas hopes to improve their passing attack by spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, instead of simply targeting usual suspects Terrell Owens or Jason Witten. Tony Romo's pinkie is still not quite 100 percent so Dallas could start out somewhat conservatively in the passing game.
Eric Moon wants to see the Cowboys get Barber going: Having Tony Romo back will be the biggest change for their offense. I also believe they have to involve Marion Barber more in their attack; to me he is the biggest weapon on the offense. If they establish the run game it will open up plays down field. I also believe Jason Witten will be a key, the Redskins need to keep him under control in order to win this game.
Ian Murphy doesn't see much change coming at all: The Cowboys are going to be the Cowboys from earlier this year. They will most likely abandon the run after the first quarter and put too much of the game into Romo's hands throughout the next three quarters.
Romo may not be fully healed and if that's the case he will be good for two or three picks, in addition to getting reamed by T.O. on the sideline. The only way the Cowboys win this game is if the Redskins win it for them.
The Topic: The Redskins' offense seemed entirely unprepared for the Steelers' pressure defense. Opposing defense's will obviously see this on film. Two part question: Are the Cowboys capable of replicating what the Steelers did? And, if so, how can/will Zorn/Campbell and the rest of the offense counter it?
Travis Evans sees it very simply: We had a chance to win the Steelers game, we had a chance at dominating. It's the red zone; we suck in it.
Eric Moon puts the bulk of the responsibility on the Redskins' Offensive Line: They are definitely capable of mimicking what the Steelers did against the 'Skins. Dallas’ front seven has a lot of speed with DeMarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Bradie James, and company.
Zorn needs to be creative with screen plays, quick hitters, and calling the right run play to counter the blitzes the Cowboys will throw at them. The major key will be the offensive line being able to pick up the blitz. It will be a true test for them because if they fail again and are unable to keep Jason upright and relatively clean it will be a long night for the Skins.
Ian Murphy doesn't see the same threat, or the same results: I am not convinced it was preparation that was the problem. I think the bye week coming up and the multiple injury issues on the team created a situation where the Steelers were just the better team out there.
The 'Skins looked tired and beat up but the effort was still there. You should see a very different team in the second half this week. The Cowboys are not the Steelers; nowhere is this more accurate than at the linebacker position.
The Steelers have a linebacking corps than moves seamlessly into position after the snap of the ball, and the Cowboys, while talented and experienced, don't have that perfection and discipline in their game or even on their team.
Zorn and Co. spent the bye week auditing their own offense from head to toe and I expect will come out with some solutions to the red-zone problems they have been having. I also think the signing of DeAngelo Hall will bring the pick-six element back into the defense.
Mark Steven doesn't think the Cowboys can duplicate what the Steelers did: The Cowboys can’t duplicate the schematic superiority Pittsburgh enjoyed—Brian Stewart (or Wade Phillips, or whoever Dallas decides is coordinating their D this week) is no Dick LeBeau—but I fully expect them to adopt Pittsburgh’s “attack Campbell” approach and try to unsettle Jason.
Maybe Zorn has seen something different on film, but from where I sit, it’s a no-brainer how the Redskins should approach Sunday night offensively. Forget “balance” early—I’d come out firing.
Mark included more on this topic here: Redskins-Cowboys: WWJD
The Topic: The Redskins are saying Clinton Portis is "50/50" to play against the Cowboys, if he doesn't play or isn't healthy enough to offer 100 percent, what might change about the Redskins' offense, and can they still succeed?
Travis Evans thinks it could be a blessing in disguise: He is the engine to this offense, but this may help us remember the four-game winning streak, it was because we passed the ball.
Eric Moon puts it on the "community running backs", and maybe some trickery: We will see if the signing of Alexander was the right move with Betts still not right he will be a major key to the success of the 'Skins as well as Rock. They will need to combine together to rush for 100 yards on the day. Maybe we can run El out of the wildcat offense.
Ian Murphy seems to agree with Travis: As I mentioned before, if Portis doesn't play, I expect the 'Skins will look to throw 40-50 times. Probably not a bad strategy against the Cowboys.
The Topic: Marion Barber has been "non-existent" in most of his games against the Redskins, is there something different the Redskins do against him, and can they do it again this week and will the possible return of Felix Jones for the Cowboys have any impact on this?
Travis Evans doesn't see much of a threat: I think Marion Barber is overrated, so in fact we will hold him again. And no Felix Jones, so nothing, zip zodda impact.
Jen Johnson sees the possibility of improvement: Dallas must not abandon the run. With the return of left guard Kyle Kosier, running back Marion Barber could see some holes that were plugged in the first meeting at Texas Stadium.
The boys had only eight rushing attempts and Barber finished with an abysmal 44 yards gained. And If Felix Jones can't go then the bulk of the carries would be there for Barber's taking.
Eric Moon puts it all on Cowboys' Offensive Coordinator, Jason Garrett: I think for whatever reason the Cowboys just forget what a valuable asset they have in him, and are more concerned with getting Owens the ball more. Jones will probably need a couple of weeks to be a factor.
Ian Murphy agrees wholeheartedly with Eric: The Cowboys have shown that if you hit them in the mouth early they tend to fold. In the last game, they only had 10 called running plays resulting in 37 yards. Barber had eight carries for 26 yards.
This is a running-back that needs to have 20 carries a game. It's less what the Redskins do and more that the Cowboys need to be more disciplined in their play selection. Felix Jones is a game changer and if he gets touches he will make his presence known.
The Topic: Will DeAngelo Hall a significant impact (good or bad) for the Redskins this week?
Travis Evans sees major improvement: He will help, can't tell how much, but he will help. We boast the best secondary in the NFL now.
Jen Johnson sees long term ramifications: Hall is looking to restart his once-promising career. If he makes an impact in a high-profile game such as this one, maybe this will spell the end of Springs tenure in Washington.
Eric Moon seems to agrees with Travis: I think the addition of Hall counters the Cowboys' acquisition of Roy Williams. With the injuries in the secondary, it will be a plus for 'Skins.
Ian Murphy thinks the impact may not be immediate: I don't see much of an impact for Hall this weekend but I think it's a shrewd pickup for the 'Skins if only to keep him off another NFC roster, which is probably where he would be heading.
I give him at least three weeks before lack of playing time becomes an issue and there in no evidence that the Redskins can stay healthy back there so he should be just fine.
Finally, Jerry Gray is a fantastic coach, the Redskins are Hall's childhood team, and he is essentially in a contract year so he needs to act like a grown up more now than ever to prove to NFL teams he is worth another long term deal.
The Topic: The last two times we saw the Redskins in a "Prime Time" TV slot, they have played terribly, will that be duplicated, and why/why not?
Travis Evans puts it very simply: I wish it weren't a prime-time game!
Eric Moon sees the potential for this to continue: I believe the defense has been playing solid; let’s hope that continues. The key to the whole game will be whether or not the offensive line can control the game. If not, make it three times on prime-time TV that they played bad.
Ian Murphy seems to emphatically agree with Travis: I agree, they suck on the big stage, and I have no idea why.
The Topic: What are your overall "keys" to this game?
Travis Evans thinks Zorn needs to just do what he does: People are forgetting we played Dallas and Philly in big games. Portis capability and Campbell's reads. Zorn must be aggressive. The defense will handle their own.
Jen Johnson sees basic football coming: Dictating tempo, establishing the run, and protecting the quarterback is something both teams ought not to forget. No one gives Campbell credit for his running ability. Earlier in the season, Jason used his legs quite effectively to keep the chains moving.
Short, quick slants to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton will help ease Romo back into his comfort zone. Keeping the drive alive happens when you move the chains, so airing it out makes little sense if you are trying to wear down the opposing defense.
Romo hasn't had the time to develop chemistry with newly signed wideout Roy E. Williams. I think that makes Williams dangerous for the Redskins' secondary. He makes those unbelievable, over the shoulder, falling-down catches look easy.
Dallas's D-line is too fast for indecision. They thrive on immobility.
Prediction for final score: 'Skins - 24, Cowboys - 17.
Eric Moon sees several points to emphasize: On the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line has to dominate the line of scrimmage. Zorn and Campbell have to manage the game better. When in the red zone, they must get six points instead of three.
The defense must control Barber and put pressure on Romo and keep him in 3rd-and-long situations. Better return yardage on special teams is a must. If the 'Skins control the time of possession they will win the game.
Ian Murphy sees physicality as the main: The offense needs to play a physical game, protect the football and not be afraid to air it out 40-50 times this week if Portis can't go. My biggest fear this week is seeing the game come down to relying on Shaun Alexander, who is clearly ineffective as an NFL running back.
The defense needs to shut down Barber, get turnovers, and pressure the quarterback.