A few key matchups for Sunday's Redskins-Cowboys game:
*Redskins WR Santana Moss vs. Cowboys CBs Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins: Moss, a Cowboys killer throughout his NFL career, is the Redskins' best weapon on offense. He is the one player that can be a difference-maker against a secondary that has struggled to limit big plays in the passing game.
Moss will line up in various positions in the formation, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will use him on screens on third downs to try to get the ball in his hands in space. New starting quarterback Rex Grossman will look to two players to make plays -- Moss and tight end Chris Cooley. As mentioned, Moss will line up all over the formation and will also take his routes all over the field. Grossman will attempt to get him the ball on the move because of his speed and quickness.
Moss also likes to work in the middle of the field. He is not shy about catching balls inside and has shown good toughness doing so. Grossman doesn’t have the arm strength of Donovan McNabb, so look for Moss to be more of a short to intermediate type of player even though the Cowboys have struggled to play the ball down the field.
*Redskins LT Trent Williams vs. Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware: The Redskins drafted Williams out of Oklahoma for his ability to handle rushers on the edge and his athletic ability in Mike Shanahan’s zone or stretch blocking scheme. Williams made his first NFL start against the talented Ware on opening night in September and fared relatively well.
Even as a rookie, Williams is the Redskins’ best pass protector. When he wasn’t in the lineup two weeks ago against the Giants, his backup Stephon Heyer had no chance, and Donovan McNabb suffered the punishment in the form of hits and sacks.
Williams is not the strongest tackle that Ware has faced this season, but he is the most athletic. Williams’ feet and hands work well together. He is able to work outside to keep a rusher wide, but if taken down inside, he can adjust and keep his man from taking a direct path to the quarterback. In the running game, he keeps his feet and can reach to the outside or work for the cut-off inside.
Ware will try to use a variety of moves to play Williams. He might have his best success if he tries to play with power and go through Williams. If he can get Williams back on his heels, look for him to counter off that. Williams has the feet to play with Ware, but the power and strength will be a problem.
*Redskins RB Ryan Torain vs. the Cowboys’ run defense: With the shape of the Redskins’ offensive line in pass protection and Grossman starting at quarterback for McNabb, the game plan for Kyle Shanahan will be to try to protect the football, run clock and use the play-action passing game to help his quarterback.
Last week against the Bucs, Torain reminded me of a young Stephen Davis carrying the ball. Torain is a powerfully built back that doesn’t have outstanding speed or quickness but plays with good vision and a physical running style.
The Redskins will try to stretch the Cowboys then cut the ball back inside where there is a hole or a crease. Fullback Michael Sellers does a nice job as a point-of-attack blocker and will clear some space for the Redskins' ball carriers.
The Redskins will try to stay ahead of the chains and keep the down-and-distances manageable for Grossman, who wants to make the easy throws to Cooley and Moss. If the Cowboys can control the Redskins running game and make Grossman force tough throws, they can continue to make the Redskins struggle on third downs, where the Washington offense is ranked 31st in the NFL.