As Jason Garrett said in his press conference earlier this week, so many things have changed since the Cowboys and the Redskins met at FedEx Field in September that he doesn’t even look back.
The one thing that the Cowboys will remember are the mistakes at the end of the half that gave the Redskins a cheap touchdown and a holding call by tackle Alex Barron that wiped out a game-winning drive by Tony Romo.
Offensively the Redskins look the same scheme-wise when it comes to running the football. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan still attacks defenses with stretch blocking techniques, although Clinton Portis has been replaced by second-year running back Ryan Torain.
Last week against the Bucs, the Redskins ran the ball for 188 yards and on tape looked quite impressive doing it. In Mike Shanahan's old Broncos scheme, his teams cut the backside defenders with low blocks, diving into their knees. This Redskins line likes to take you up high. They do a much better job of staying on their feet and running with you.
Torain is not the fastest or most explosive back, but he has a nice feel for seeing the hole, making the cut and finishing the run. Watching him run the football reminds me of how Stephen Davis used to run the ball for the Redskins. Maybe it’s because Torain wears the number 46 and Davis wore 48, but their styles are very similar. Davis didn’t have great speed, but he punished you with the ball in his hands. Torain runs with the same physical style.
The Cowboys' defenders will need to play square in this game and take Torain in that fashion. Arm tackles really don’t work against this guy.
Shanahan wants to run the football because it sets up his play-action or boot game with Santana Moss and Chris Cooley as the primary targets. The Redskins have had trouble scoring points, but Donovan McNabb has thrown a touchdown pass in 12 straight games.
If you look at McNabb’s overall play, there is some warrant to Shanahans’ decision to bench him. He has missed some throws, particularly in the last two games. But McNabb hasn’t gotten a lot of help, either.
In studying the last two games that McNabb has played against the Bucs and Giants, he struggled in two areas. One is his accuracy, and the other is the number of sacks that he has taken.
There were opportunities where he had chances to make plays to open receivers. But whether it was Cooley, Moss or Anthony Armstrong, he would miss low. It reminded me of some of the types of throws he was making in the end of last season against the Cowboys.
There was always a time where it seemed that McNabb was able to handle the rush with his feet. With this Redskins offensive line, he has struggled with his mobility and faced more pressure.
We’ll see Sunday whether Rex Grossman is an upgrade. I haven’t had a chance to study him this season.
Left tackle Trent Williams is a nice fit for what the Redskins are trying to do with this offense. His footwork is impressive, and his ability to take on the better rusher on that left side is getting better each game. It’s rare that you can take a rookie and plug him in at left tackle and see results right away. Williams can block the good pass rushers in this NFC East because of his athletic ability.
The Redskins are in the same situation as the Cowboys in that they need to rework the rest of their offensive line now.
On the outside, the Cowboys' secondary is going to need to once again deal with Moss and Cooley. Moss has had some of his best games against the Cowboys. In the last two weeks, Shanahan has used him more in various roles. He now lines up in several different spots in the formation trying to create mismatches and keep the defense from keying in on him.
The Cowboys will do the same thing with Miles Austin and even did it some against the Eagles last week. The Redskins like to get Moss the ball in space. The Cowboys need to be aware of some of the screen packages that they use him in on third down.
Cooley is another player that the Redskins use on third down. Cooley ranks third in the league in those types of receptions with 18 catches. Cooley doesn’t have great speed or quickness, but he is effective catching the ball in traffic. Cooley also has a nice feel for how to get open in the red zone.
Cooley is like Moss in that he will go all over the field to catch a ball. But he does struggle as a run blocker. He doesn’t play with the power or snap but is more of a get-in-the-way type of blocker.
*The Redskins are last in the NFL in total defense and struggle in all areas.
When you study the Redskins the area that really stands out is that, other than linebacker Brian Orakpo, they get no pass rush. It’s a 3-4 defense that creates no pressure up front and has to use unusual looks or schemes to try to get pressure.
If there is a strength on this team, it has to be the corners, who do a nice job of defending the pass because they are left in coverage quite a bit. It’s a gambling group with Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall and Philip Buchanon. They might not be the best tacklers and there are times where the ballcarriers are having a free run in the secondary, but they know how to play the ball once it’s in the air.
All three of these corners play with quickness and react to the pass well. There will be times where the receivers appear open, then they close the cushion quickly. Hall leads the NFL in takeaways with eight.
The two linebackers to watch on this defense are Orakpo and London Fletcher.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett likes to move Orakpo around in the scheme, but the majority of the time he will be matched up against tackle Doug Free. But don’t be a bit surprised to see him over Colombo if they feel that could be a better matchup.
Orkapo has the ability to create holding calls by the way that he plays. He is a pressure player up the field. He can get the corner in a hurry. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of Dwight Freeney, but he has the skills to not give the tackle much of a hitting surface. He is a relentless pass rusher and the only real threat that the Redskins have up front.
In my years as a scout, I had always had a great of respect for Fletcher. He is not the biggest or the quickest, but what he does is find the ball and make tackles. He is outstanding at slipping blocks, and he is always around the ball.
The challenge for the inside three of the Cowboys is making sure that there is always a hat on Fletcher because if they don’t he will be a factor because of his ability to make plays.
*On a final note, the Redskins will go with a different punter and holder this week after what happened last week in the Tampa game and the dropped snap by Hunter Smith. Sam Paulescu will take over the punting duties this week and will most likely be the holder for field goals. Paulescu was the punter for the Cowboys when Mat McBriar was injured in the Arizona game several seasons ago.