PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins watches from the sidelines against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Every game from here on out will be of the must-win variety. This is what happens when you stumble to a 3-6 start and your coach kinda sorta gives up on the season just before the bye week. But the Redskins are back (for the time being, anyway), after a convincing win over a going-nowhere Eagles outfit. Now Washington hits the road to take on the Cowboys in a Thanksgiving Day game that has huge implications for both teams.
If the 'Skins can win, they'll move to 5-6 and depending on what happens with the division-leading Giants on Sunday, could be just one game out of first. (Of course, they could be in even better shape than that if they hadn't lost at home to the Panthers in Week 9. Yes, we have to let these things go, but those are the type of games that come back to haunt you. But you already know this.)
So what do the Redskins have to do Thursday?
As has been the case all season, it starts with quarterback Robert Griffin III. He's coming off NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Eagles.
“I hadn’t seen this team play as physical as they did this past Sunday,” Griffin said of the Philly win (via CSNWashington). “It wasn’t perfect by any means, but there was a certain tenacity, a certain attitude that was brought to the game, and you could feel it.”
And that's going to need to carry over. And while they're going in different directions, the Cowboys and Eagles have similarly ranked defenses. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas ranks 16th (10th against the run, 21st against the pass) and Philadelphia ranks 17th (7th against the run, 23rd against the pass). Which means that the Redskins could have success throwing the ball downfield.
The Dallas Morning News' Rich Gosselin warns that the 'Skins' speedy wideouts could pose problems for the Cowboys' secondary.
And that will be the challenge for the Cowboys and their sixth-ranked pass defense Thursday when the Redskins come calling -- prevent the game from turning into a track meet. This is a big-play offense that stretches defenses to their limits. …
If a defense finds a way to cover whatever combination of three or four speedsters Shanahan sends onto the field, it still has a major concern — Griffin has scrambled for a 76-yard touchdown this season.
On the other side of the ball the Cowboys will try to do exactly the same thing: challenge Washington's cornerbacks. DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson and Cedric Griffin have struggled most of the season and losing safety Brandon Meriweather, who looked fantastic against the Eagles before he was lost for the season -- only exacerbates matters on the back end.
Quarterback Tony Romo can be prone to mistakes, but that will require Washington to generate a pass rush, something they've struggled with.
“Man, with Romo and guys like that, guys who like to run around a lot back there, you got to just keep after ’em all game,” Orakpo said recently (via the Washington Post). “You do that, you give yourself a chance. You don’t . . . oh, man. It’s gonna be trouble.”
Of course, if Hall could cover receivers or blitz the quarterback like he goes after reporters, the Redskins would have the league's best unit.
Coach Mike Shanahan has another explanation for the struggles this year.
“People ask me, ‘Why aren’t you a top-10 defense?’ ” he said. “You know why? You lose starters.”
Fair enough, but every team has lost key players by this point in the season. The difference between winners and losers comes down to depth and coaching. We'll find out shortly where the 'Skins are on that spectrum.