Scout's Eye: Skins-Cowboys key matchups

Here are the key matchups for the Dallas Cowboys' Monday Night Football contest against the Washington Redskins:

Cowboys OT Doug Free vs. Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo: After playing one of his poorest games since he was named a starter two years ago, Free has the opportunity to put the 49ers game behind him and lock up with one of the NFL's young rising stars in Orakpo.

Last week, Free was as off balance as I had ever seen him at tackle. His punch and footwork was off to the point where I was surprised that Justin Smith wasn't more of a factor. The Redskins have two nice rushers in Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan but Orakpo is the more explosive of the two, and that is what Free will have to deal with.

Orakpo works to get the edge on you first but is athletic enough to adjust in mid-rush. Free needs to be careful not TO allow Orakpo to set him up to the outside getting all his weight on that left foot, then working back inside to take a run at the quarterback.

Again, Free struggled last week when he had to adjust quickly. In studying the Redskins-Cardinals matchup, Arizona got hurt most when it used a back or tight end to handle Orakpo. This doesn't work scheme-wise, and don't expect Jason Garrett and the staff to make that as part of the game plan.

I don't see Free playing poorly two weeks in a row, but Orakpo is the type of player who can make you look bad if you don't handle him the right way.

Cowboys nickel CB Alan Ball vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss: Of all the matchups for the Cowboys defense Monday night, this is the one that might be the most important.

When Rob Ryan plays nickel, the adjustment that he will make is putting Ball in as the slot corner to cover Moss. Last week against the 49ers, Ball played inside while Frank Walker took his spot at left corner on the outside. Ball wasn't bad in the second half but in the first he had struggles when having to deal with Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Morgan.

The biggest problem I see with Ball is that he will play way too cautious. There are times when he allows too much space between himself and the receiver. He has the quickness to drive on the ball but he doesn't always do it.

Moss is a handful because of his skill set. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him all over the formation, trying to create mismatches to convert third downs. Moss is a fearless player and will go inside or outside. He will find away to catch the football.

When you watch the Redskins play, you can see the confidence that Rex Grossman has in trying to get the ball in Moss' direction. This is a battle that the Cowboys can't lose or handle poorly if they are to get off the field on third down.

Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Redskins S Reed Doughty and OJ Atogwe: The situation at receiver as Garrett would put it is truly day to day.

Miles Austin is out with a hamstring injury and Dez Bryant is trying to work through a thigh injury that hasn't allowed him to practice for the last two weeks. Friday was the first day that the trainers allowed Bryant to even attempt to put weight on the injury. He still has two days to try and get ready for Washington.

Even if Bryant is able to go, Witten is going to once again play a key role in how this offense will function, much like he did last week against the 49ers. The real problem here is that the Redskins will not allow Witten to beat them, so he should see some special coverage schemes from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Of the two Redskins safeties, Doughty will struggle the most in coverage. He doesn't run well enough to hang with Witten down the field or in routes, so Atogwe could draw that assignment. Against the 49ers, Witten was able to make plays by releases from in line or the normal tight end spot against a Cover 2 look. Look for the Redskins not to respect the other Cowboys receivers other than Bryant and try to make it difficult on Witten to get open.