As we get ready for this week's matchup between bitter rivals Cowboys and Redskins, I exchanged e-mails with Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys. Dave was nice enough to offer some insights on Dallas for this week's Behind Enemy Lines feature.
Sportz Assassin: As a Redskins fan ... I will humbly admit that Dallas is the best team in the NFL. Is there any flaw on that team right now?
Dave Halprin: We're as excited about the potential of this edition of the Cowboys as we've been in a long time. In terms of personnel, I would still have to say our secondary can be exposed on occasion; the Eagles did it a couple of weeks ago, but the window on that might be closing. Terence Newman has returned to the lineup in full health and played a great game against the Packers. Adam "Pacman" Jones is starting to round into form after his long layoff from competitive football and rookie Mike Jenkins is getting some valuable experience that should help his game. So this unit should be getting better as the season progresses.
The Cowboys also have problems with self-inflicted wounds like penalties that we are racking up in alarming numbers. It hasn't hurt us yet in the final score but somewhere down the road it could. We also haven't been getting enough turnovers from our defense, something I would like to see get better.
Sportz: Even though Tony Romo has been an All-Pro, it really seems like he has a total grasp of the offense now. He can get things done without catering to Terrell Owens, reading defenses a lot better and not being an all-out gunslinger. For all the Cowboy Haters out there, do you really think this is the Romo we will see come December and January?
Dave: As Cowboys fans, we have faith that Romo will finally reproduce his excellent regular-season play in the run-up to, and into, the post-season. In actual games started, Romo is still a relatively young QB even though with all the attention he gets it might seem like he's been playing for much longer. We know he has the tools and temperament to get it done late in the year but it's impossible to know if he will until he does it. But yes, we really do believe this is the year he shakes off the post-season blues and produces a winner.
Sportz: Marion Barber is a beast. However, would you like to see Felix Jones get a few more carries to relieve more of the load off MBIII so he will be fresher for the playoff run?
Dave: This one is a tough call. We love watching Marion Barber run the football. There's just something about the way he runs and punishes defenses that makes him exciting to watch and it fires up the rest of the team when he makes a signature run where he levels a defender at the point-of-attack. Still, the talent that Felix Jones brings to the table is now becoming evident and the Cowboys are starting to work him more into the offense. Yeah, I'd like to see him get a few more touches in games and I think that OC Jason Garrett is starting to make that happen. He played more against the Packers than he did in the previous couple of games and I think that trend will continue.
Under Joe Gibbs, we knew what to expect from the Redskins offense. How have things changed under Jim Zorn?
Sportz: I've been running this through my mind for a couple weeks now. You have to look at the offensive side of things for any changes. In the beginning, it seemed that this West Coast Offense would be a disaster. However, it seems as if Zorn has incorporated more of Gibbs offensive philosophy into the gameplan. I think that has helped Jason Campbell adjust to learning the new system by adding his favorite things from the old one.
The biggest change would have to be Campbell. Zorn has really been working with this kid on his mechanics, footwork and is allowing him to own more responsibility of what's going on around him. And it seems to be working.
Dave: Jason Campbell looks to be progressing nicely as an NFL QB. Tell us a little about his play, strengths and weaknesses
Sportz: His weakness had been holding onto the ball too long and fumbling when he gets hit. He's done a good job of stopping that so far this season. He also had a knack of panicking and making poor decisions when he has to make quick moves. I'm not as sold on him being able to break down defenses on his own yet, but that will come.
His strengths are his size and arm. He's a big cat who can see the entire field so well. He's got a cannon for an arm and has the ability to make every throw on the field. He does really well when he's feeling comfortable, so I'm sure Dallas will try bringing pressure from all angles.
Dave: How had Jason Taylor been playing? Is it going to hurt the Redskins defense with him out of the game?
Sportz: He was outstanding against the Cardinals last week. No sacks, but he had some huge tipped passes (two in a row at one point). We will miss him tremendously because of the ripple effect his void causes. Now Dallas doesn't have to worry about keeping someone around to work on Taylor (like Jason Witten) and concentrate more on stopping Andre Carter.
This is the final time that the Redskins will set foot in Texas Stadium. What's your favorite Cowboys-Redskins moment in that building?
Dave: For me, there is always one that sticks out from the rest. Thanksgiving Day in 1974 when Clint Longley, the Mad Bomber, stepped in for an injured Roger Staubach and led Dallas back to victory from a 23-3 deficit. I remember as a kid watching that game in a house divided, my family being Redskins fans, and I was taking a beating from my brothers just like the Cowboys were from the Redskins. When Staubach went down, everybody thought that game was over - except Clint Longley. When he hit the 50-yard TD to Drew Pearson to win the game, pandemonium ensued. The turkey sure did taste better on that day.
Sportz: What's the worst Redskins-Cowboys memory?
Dave: I've got two. One was when I was a young kid. As mentioned in the previous answer, my brothers were Redskins fans. I don't remember the exact year, but it was in the 70s and the Redskins beat the Cowboys late in the season. The next morning out local newspaper ran a headline that said "Washington whips Dallas; takes over East lead." My brothers taunted me mercilessly with that and brought a young me to tears. To this day, that headline is a running joke in my family and my brothers never cease to bring it up when we lose to the Redskins.
The other memory, more recently, is the Santana Moss game. After dominating the Redskins for 55 minutes, the Cowboys gave up two long bombs to Moss in the final minutes to lose 14-13. Talk about a total meltdown. I can't remember feeling worse after a regular-season game than that one.
What are your best and worst memories from the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry?
Sportz: I'm with you on my best (your worst). That Moss game was just so magical and unexpected. That really vaulted the Skins to their eventual playoff berth. I mean, we were dead. We looked dead. Then two huge passes to Moss (and that huge Mark Brunell scramble) and we have a lead. What advantage do the Cowboys have over the Redskins on Sunday?
Dave: I'll try not to sound too cocky here, because victory is no sure thing come Sunday. But I truly believe the Cowboys have better personnel on the roster than the Redskins. They also have the advantage of playing under Wade Phillips system (and OC Jason Garrett's) for a year now and seem to have absorbed their philosophies fully. Plus, the Cowboys offensive line is a bout as good as you can get and the game is generally won in the trenches. The Redskins are just beginning the Jim Zorn era and it will probably take a while before they are fully comfortable with that as a team.
Sportz: What advantage do the Redskins have on the Cowboys?
Dave: Santana Moss. I hate that guy! Also, it's a rivalry game so anything can happen. Other than that, I don't know, you guys would be able to answer that question better than me.
For the Redskins to pull off the upset, what has to happen on Sunday?
Sportz: Clinton Portis will have to be a major factor. If Portis is able to get 80-110 yards then they are moving the ball effectively and keeping that Cowboys offense off the field. You earlier touched on that Dallas secondary. That could be something that Zorn tries to expose with ... wait for it ... Santana Moss. The main thing, obviously, will have to be our defense. We've done fairly well against the Giants, Saints and Cardinals who are all darn good offensive teams. We have to keep that up against what could be the most dynamic offense on Sunday.
Slowing down Terrell Owens (who torched us last year), would be ideal as well.
Dave: I think the Cowboys win and I think they'll do it comfortably. The score will probably be something like 27-13. Now I've just gone and jinxed Dallas into certain failure!
Sportz: I agree with you. I think this will be a close contest for about 50 minutes or so but that Dallas will eventually pull away. Something like 30-17. We seem to be able to hang around a while in Dallas but not able to pull through. That place will be electric and may effect young Campbell.
See everyone, Cowboys and Redskins fans can have a discussion without name-calling, underhanded jabs or keyboards thrown.
Thanks again to Dave Halprin from Blogging the Boys for his breakdown of the game from Dallas' point of view.