Cowboys Provide Big Test for Undefeated Redskins

Washington preparing for the most important game of young season

Any game against the hated Cowboys draws plenty of attention, but the Redskins' 2-0 start has the league clamoring to see more of Mike Shanahan’s rejuvenated team.

They’ll get their wish on Monday night as Washington takes to football’s brightest stage in a marquee rivalry game.

Monday Night Football hasn’t been kind to the Redskins in recent years. Washington is 3-11 since 2000 on MNF, but it hopes to buck that trend with its third straight win to open the season.

Here are five keys to the game:

1. Rex Grossman rallied after a shaky start last week against Arizona, but the Redskins can’t afford to put themselves in an early hole in Dallas. The Cowboys are much tougher opponents even if they take the field without several of their top players, and Washington won’t fare well playing catch-up against their pass rush.

2. Speaking of pass rush, the Cowboys lead the league in sacks with 10. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has four of those, giving him more sacks than any other player in the NFL. In 12 career games against the Redskins, Ware has 62 tackles and nine sacks, making him the chief concern for the offensive line this week.

Trent Williams struggled against up-and-coming pass rusher Jason Paul-Pierre in Week 1, but bounced back with a solid performance last week. He faced Ware twice last year and will have to win that battle to keep Grossman off his back and the run game on track.

3. There’s no question the Redskins defense has improved tremendously, yet at this point it’s difficult to say just how much better they really are. They have been on the field for a league-low 104 plays from scrimmage, and have allowed opposing offenses to convert just four third-down attempts in two games.

That’s the positive. The negative is they are surrendering 6.1 yards per play, ninth-most in the NFL.

Given their lack of snaps, it’s tough to judge, but a matchup with the fifth-ranked offense in the league will be the first real test of the season for the defense.

4. One reason Washington’s defense hasn’t been on the field much is due to the offense’s domination of time of possession. On Sunday against Arizona, a heavy dose of Tim Hightower and Roy Helu allowed Grossman to pick apart the secondary and keep the defense fresh.

Against a high-powered -- albeit injury-ridden -- Cowboys offense, the Redskins should rely on their new one-two punch at running back to keep Dallas off the field.

Hightower is the hard-hitting, every-down back the Redskins have been without since Clinton Portis’ heyday. Meanwhile the rookie Helu exploded onto the scene in a big way last Sunday, gaining over 100 all-purpose yards and displaying some shifty breakaway speed.

The Cowboys are second in run defense, but only 29th in rushing attempts against them. Washington has maintained a strong commitment to the ground this season, and if they can limit Redskin-killer Jay Ratliff in the middle, expect the Cowboys run defense to lose a little bit of the luster from their first two games.

5. LaRon Landry has to come back sooner or later, right? Sidelined since Week 10 of last season, the strong safety has traveled a rough road to recovery, but it finally looks as if he could be ready to suit up and head to work on Monday night.

It’s a contract year for Landry, and he has plenty to prove after sitting out for a lengthy period of time. He’s been upbeat all week, and with the Redskins expected to get after the injured Tony Romo, it feels like Landry might have a little something special in store for his return.

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