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The Cowboys come rolling into Washington having won three of four to play their way back into contention for the NFC East division title. The Redskins will attempt to salvage what’s left of a disappointing year with a win against their archrival. Here are five keys to the game.
1. I tried to find a way to put a positive spin on this matchup for the Redskins offense, but Dallas is stout against the run (ranked 11th in the NFL) and pass (13th). Starting cornerback Mike Jenkins will miss his third straight game, but the Cowboys have given up just 367 yards passing the past two weeks without him.
They haven’t done it for weeks, but the Redskins' best chance is to try and establish the run to offset the pass rush and keep Romo off the field. Luckily, Tashard Choice provides the Shanahans with a fresh option to potentially kickstart the rushing attack.
2. The good folks at Pro Football Focus have calculated Tony Romo to be the best downfield passer (downfield defined as any attempt that travels 20+ yards in the air) in the NFL this season. Romo has completed 63.6 percent of his deep throws and eight of his 16 touchdowns have come on big-play strikes.
That doesn’t bode well for a Redskins secondary that’s given up the fifth most plays of 20 yards or more. With Miles Austin out, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten will be Romo’s top targets. Both are big, physical players who could take advantage of Washington’s corners.
3. However, the Cowboys aren’t all that one-dimensional given the breakout of rookie sensation DeMarco Murray in the backfield. Murray has just three starts, but with three 100-yard rushing performances in the past four games -- including a 253-yard game against the Rams -- he’s been a difference-maker on a top-five offense.
With the possible exception of Carolina and Philadelphia, the Redskins haven’t faced an offense this dynamic all season. They’ll need their veteran stars such as LaRon Landry, London Fletcher, Brian Orakpo and DeAngelo Hall to step up if they want to give their anemic offense a chance to keep pace with Dallas.
4. With 13 sacks, DeMarcus Ware is having a season even beyond his standards. Yet the Cowboys don’t have another player with more than four sacks. That’s good news for a porous offensive line especially if they can successfully double-team Ware for the duration of the game.
5. But to contain Ware, the Redskins will have to use top receiving tight end Fred Davis in a blocking role. In their first matchup against Dallas, the gameplan called for the same strategy. Understandable with Ware on the field, yet Kyle Shanahan must take some risks to better Davis' one catch output from the teams’ first matchup. No Redskin has caught more passes than Davis and he remains the focal point of the passing game so they'll have to mix it up in an effort to stop Ware and keep Davis involved.