Don't You Forget About Me
Tim Hightower rebounded from a mediocre first week with the Washington Redskins to explode against the Arizona Cardinals, his former team, last week. He ran for 96 yards on 20 carries, most of which happened in the first half of the Redskins' 22-21 victory. His backup, rookie Roy Helu, piled up an additional 74 yards on just 10 attempts.
Yet both did not get many touches in the second half as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan seemed to call for a pass every down. Though Washington eked out a win, Shanahan's disregard for the effective running game hearkened back to 2010.
If was the first year he and his dad held jobs in the organization. There were quite a few games the team lost, like the their matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, where he got obsessed with calling pass plays and it cost his team in the end.
The Dallas Cowboys have been stout at stopping the run for several years, so most teams have been attacking their dinged up secondary. Yet their offense relies on the pass so much, it could mean their defense spends much more time on the gridiron.
If this happens, an effective run game will be needed even more—especially in the fourth quarter, when most overworked defenses begin to tire. Hightower and Helu will need carries all game, not just a portion of it. The old adage that a good ground game gives the offense more options will certainly come into play if Shanahan decides to opt for a better offensive balance..
Who Will Win?
Not only are two of the Cowboys' best cornerbacks dealing with injury issues already, a third will not play at all because of an ankle problem. This could benefit Washington when quarterback Rex Grossman looks to pass.
Orlando Scandrick is out and his replacement, veteran Terence Newman, is playing in his first game this year because of a nagging groin injury. Grossman will probably test that groin a lot, as well as nickelback Alan Ball.
The Redskins currently have the ninth best passing attack in the NFL, and four different wide receivers have receptions. Santana Moss may be the best receiver Washington has, but Mike Jenkins may shadow him. Jenkins, who has a sore shoulder, is the best cornerback Dallas has right now.
This means Anthony Armstrong and Jabar Gaffney will need to beat Newman and Ball. Tight end Fred Davis has been amazing since coming into training camp in better shape. He is averaging a healthy 17.4 yards on 11 receptions, so Washington was afforded to let Chris Cooley fully recuperate from a knee injury. Cooley is now back, so he gives the Redskins another weapon.
Washington has had some early successes in the pass same this season, so this is a game to keep the momentum going. If Newman is still hobbled, it will draw safety help and give Davis or Cooley more chances to gouge Dallas for big chucks of yards after the catch.
No Miles To Run
Miles Austin is the best Cowboys receiver. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns this year. He has been vital to an offense with an inept ground game. However, he re-aggravated a hamstring injury in Week 2 and has been ruled out for tonight's game.
Dallas averaged barely over two yards per attempt this season, and starting halfback Felix Jones is dealing with a shoulder issue. The other starting wide receiver, Dez Bryant, has a thigh injury that has limited him to one game so far.
This has made Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rely heavily on Austin and Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten. Witten's 13 catches is one less than Davis. If Bryant is still too hurt to be his usual dynamic self, this helps the Redskins because they have a few injuries in their defensive secondary.
Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are not at full health but are expected to play. Strong safety LaRon Landry has yet to play this season, because of a hurt hamstring, and his is listed as questionable. His replacement, Reed Doughty, is good against the run but mediocre versus the pass. Romo, now having to lean on Witten, will go after Doughty in a number of attempts that will exceed double digits.
Even if Doughty is assigned to reserve tight ends Martellus Bennett and John Phillips, Romo will look to pick on him much like Eli Manning did two weeks ago. If Dallas has wide receivers like Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holly as their weapons, perhaps free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe can focus on Witten and give Romo a harder time.
Since Romo is already dealing with broken ribs, the secondary shutting down the Cowboys passing attack will leave the quarterback more available to being hit by Washington's pass rushers.
Dallas has two placekickers on its 2011 roster. One, rookie Dan Bailey, handles all of the short kicks. The other, David Buehler, is injured in the groin of his kicking leg and will try to play. Washington's diminutive return specialist Brandon Banks may get a shot a returning kickoffs if Buehler's injury shortens his kickoffs.
Considering Dallas may have the best punter in the NFC in Mat McBriar, it was unlikely Banks would get many opportunities whenever the Washington defense forced McBriar on the field. It will also be an uneasy situation for Dallas if Baily has to attempt anything longer than 50 yards, though Bailey did hit a critical 48-yard attempt last week.
Redskins kicker Graham Gano has yet to make a kick over 34 yards. He has missed twice already on attempts between 30 and 39 yards. If Washington struggles to get in the red zone against Dallas, it will have to rely on a player who has eight of his 13 career misses come from distances of 30 yards or more.
Remembering A Rivalry
Rivalries in the NFL today are harder to maintain because of free agency. Teams are no longer able to maintain the bulk of their roster like in the past, when they would develop their players and a stronger bond of unity would be an outcome.
Redskins Hall of Fame head coach George Allen taught his team to dislike the Cowboys, and the team's passionate fans followed suit. This came from the fact both Washington and Dallas dominated their conference when Allen joined the franchise in 1971.
The Redskins made the playoffs in five of Allen's first six seasons, which included a Super Bowl appearance. Dallas had made the postseason every season but two times between 1966 and 1985. They were the class of the NFC usually, once earning the nickname "America's Team."
Allen knew his team had to beat Dallas to achieve success, no small task with Hall of Famer Tom Landry as the head coach of the Cowboys. The 60 wins the Cowboys have in their meetings, out of 100 contests, is the most over any other NFL franchise. Washington, however, has beat them in both playoff games they met in.
Landry beat Allen eight times in the 15 games he faced Allen, but the Redskins great beat him in their only playoff game. That victory, a 26-3 drubbing, propelled Washington into its first ever Super Bowl and first NFL title game in 28 years.
Dallas took command in this series since the second game of the 1997 season. Washington has won just seven times in the last 27 meetings. The 2005 season has been the only time the Redskins won both games over that time. Yet fans of both teams will admit the unpredictable often happens when these franchises battle.
Good examples are the 1989 season, where the Cowboys' lone victory that year came at the expense of the Redskins, and the 1991 season. Washington had stormed out of the gates at an 11-0 record when Dallas came to town that year. After losing by three points, Washington's run at perfection ended. The Redskins rested their main players in the final game, giving them their only other defeat.
Had they beat Dallas, they stood a better chance of matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins for a truly perfect season. Maybe the history of these franchises escapes most of those involved with both teams today, but the Redskins have legacy to remind.
General manager Bruce Allen is the son of the Hall of Fame Redskins coach, so he certainly knows how important it is to beat Dallas. The Cowboys head coach is Jason Garrett, who was a backup quarterback with Dallas for eight years. He also understands this rivalry.
The Redskins are currently undefeated and alone on top of the NFC East. A loss here drops them into a tie with Dallas and the New York Giants. Washington already beat New York, so a victory over Dallas would give them two big wins within their own division, which is important at times when the playoffs approach. These two wins could give them enough in the percentage points department if there is a tie-breaker.
There may not be as much venom between these squads compared to the past, but there will be no love lost. With Hall adding fuel to the fire by being recorded by cameras saying he will try to tackle the injured Romo and Jones hard, players will come in fired up as the ghosts of legends egg them on to greatness.