Redskins-Cowboys: Last Dance at Texas Stadium?

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst ISeptember 26, 2008

On Dallas": Redskins Fans Gear Up for the Cowboys">Wednesday and Thursday we started an extended look into the upcoming NFC East showdown between the 3-0 Dallas Cowboys and the 2-1 Washington Redskins taking place for what is likely the "last dance" at Texas Stadium between the two.

This division could easily finish the season with the fourth place team boasting a remarkable 10-6 record. The Cowboys are the "class" of the NFC and the Redskins are a team on the rise.

For the Redskins to be in the hunt for a playoff spot in 2008, they likely need to win at least one road division game. Having already lost at Giant Stadium, to the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, this is a tough task for sure. Following this week's game, the Redskins will travel to Philadelphia for another critical divisional road game.

If the Redskins can come away from this two game road trip with at least one win, they stand a good chance of accomplishing Head Coach Jim Zorn's first postseason appearance. If they lose both, it will be difficult for the 'Skins to make it to the playoffs, despite still holding a strong opportinity for a winning season.

For the Cowboys, this game marks yet another step in their quest for NFC dominance. With a win they will solidify their hold on "the best team in the NFL" status and continue their march into the NFL postseason.

Today, we'll finish up this breakdown with a closer look at each team's defense and special teams and wrap up what it all means. As was already noted, the Redskins have won four of the last six meetings, but the Cowboys hold a 56-32-2 series edge.

The Cowboys have easily dominated the games overall, but in particular, they have been prevailed in games played at Texas Stadium. Winning 15 of the last 18 meetings played at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys have made it difficult for the Redskins to find success in Texas.

The Redskins have kept it close of late, however. The Cowboys' two wins in the last six meetings, with what is essentially the current roster, (both teams have had significant coaching changes in the last two seasons), were both at Texas Stadium. A 27-10 win in '06, and a 28-23 win in the '07 season.

Both teams come into the game featuring mixed messages defensively. The Cowboys are currently ranked ninth, and the Redskins are 13th in yards allowed. The Redskins hold the edge in allowed points per game, ranked ninth, while the Cowboys are 16th. 

Each defense has faced quality offenses in at least two of their first three games. For the Cowboys, their oppnents included the Packers and Eagles, and for the 'Skins, their opponents were the Giants, Saints and Cardinals.

The Cowboys defense found it difficult to slow down the Eagles in the first half of their Week Two meeting, but played well in Green Bay in Week Three, holding the Packers to only 16 points.

The Redskins' defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points to any team this season, but are easily facing their biggest test this Sunday. Redskins' Defensive Coordinator, Greg Blache has used essentially three very different game plans in the Redskins' first three games.

Facing the Giants in Week One, Blache opted to play a very basic defense which prompted mixed results. Giants' running back Brandon Jacobs ran wild, compiling 116 yards on only 21 carries and wide receiver Plaxico Burress caught 10 passes for 133 yards. Most of Burress' damage came in the first half however, as he received only three catches for 35 yards in the second half.

Cowboys' defensive end DeMarcus Ware presents a significant challenge for the Redskins offensive line. Off to a good start to the season, Ware has three sacks and 13 tackles through three games. He is a force both as a pass rusher and in run defense, and his play on Sunday will be critical.

Ware has had success against Redskins' pro-bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, “His first year in the league, I pretty much won that match-up, but since then he has been tough on me,” Samuels said. “Last year, he beat me twice. I definitely have my work cut out for me.”

Cowboys' nose tackle Jat Ratliff may be a larger concern for the Redskins however, as they have been spotty in the interior of the offensive line. Ratliff has recorded a sack in each of the last two games, along with 10 tackles. He has provided the push in the middle that every 3-4 defense needs and has been stout against the run.

The Cowboys have rebuilt their defensive secondary for the 2008 season and have had mixed results thus far. With the acquisition of Adam Jones in the off-season and drafting cornerback Mike Jenkins, the Cowboys have one of the deepest secondaries in the league.

This depth has allowed them to use versatile Defensiveback Anthony Henry as a corner, a safety, and a rover, making plays all over the field. He recorded the the first two sacks of his career last week against the Packers. Redskins' Quarterback Jason Campbell will likely be paying close attention to Henry's pre-snap alignment thorugh out the game.

The Cowboys' defense has already recorded 10 sacks on the season, and pressure on the opposing quarterback is a critical part of their 3-4 defensive scheme. Linebackers Greg Ellis and Zach Thomas have contributed to the Cowboys pressure package, with three sacks between them.

The Redskins defense returns nine of 11 starters from last year, missing the late Safety Sean Taylor and Defensive End Phillip Daniels.

Second year player LaRon Landry took over Taylor's free safety position following last season's Week 11 loss to the Cowboys. In that game, Cowboys' wide out Terrell Owens exploded in the second half with three long touchdown catches of 31, 46 and 52 yards. Owens scored all the Cowboys points that day, and the Redskins obviously intend to slow down Owens on Sunday.

Landry has been used mostly as a deep safety, but Blache also has been using a defensive package he calls "cobra", commonly known around the league as "big nickel", this alignment feature three safeties, rather than three line backers in the traditional 4-3 alignment.

With the many weapons the Cowboys bring offensively, the Redskins are likely to be in this defensive formation often, Using Week Two's defensive player of the week, rookie Chris Horton, as the third safety.

The traditional "nickel" package will also be used often, as the Cowboys have shown a propensity to spread the field, with multiple receivers split wide. Last week against the Cardinals, Redskins' veteran cornerback Shawn Springs was used to shadow the big and physical Cardinals' receiver, Anquan Boldin, for most of the afternoon. The Redskins used this scheme effectively. Cardinals' quarterback Kurt Warner and their powerful aerial attack were largely held in check, with only one big play to receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the third quarter.

The Redskins may well use a similar approach against the potent Cowboys' offense. The Cowboys can easily counter however with a seemingly endless array of offensive weapons.

Rookie running back Felix Jones has been the home run hitter at tailback this season, a role that the Cowboys haven't had in many years. His success as kick returner adds to the Cowboys' ability to attack from every angle, making special teams plays key for both teams.

This game is certainly the marquee match-up in this weekend's slate of games. The NFC East is likely to provide three playoff teams again this season, and is the odds on favorite to also provide the NFC's representative in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XLIII in February '09.

Many consider the Dallas Cowboys "unstoppable", some even suggesting they stand a good chance of being undefeated at the end of the regular season. The Cowboys are having none of that—Head Coach Wade Phillips seems to be doing an outstanding job keeping his players grounded, his players showed restraint in enjoying a big win at Green Bay last week, their first ever victory at Lambeau Field.

I thoroughly expect this game to be an exciting end to the era of Washington Redskins visits to Texas Stadium. There is the possiblity that the Redskins could make another trip there in the post season. The Redskins hope to close this era in style, handing the powerful Cowboys a painful loss.

Can the Redskins get it done? Will the Cowboys send the 'Skins packing with their tails between their legs?

One way or the other, let's hope this game lives up to the hype and offers us the same type of excitement we have come to expect when NFC East teams face each other.


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