Redskins game day: Ten thoughts

1. One thought I came away with Friday: Mike Shanahan must feel good about this matchup or the game plan they’ve put together. He was very loose on Friday in our dealings with him. After his news conference a few of us talked to him about heated rivalries. Al Davis’ name came up. So Shanahan told a story about a 1994 game in which San Francisco quarterback Steve Young nailed Davis with a throw in pregame (Davis was standing on the Niners’ side of the field, ticking off the players). This story is public knowledge so I’m not revealing anything new here. But it was Shanahan’s relaxed demeanor that was telling -- and his drop-the-mic exit after finishing the story. It’s not always that way.

2. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is off to a good start and playing better than he did in 2012 when coming off knee surgery to repair multiple ligaments. He looks more like the player he was before the knee injury. By the way, one of his better plays this season occurred against Detroit when tackle Nick Fairley knocked him out of the way, only to have Lichtensteiger peel back and block him before he reached quarterback Robert Griffin III. The coaches loved the play. Alas, the league did not and fined him $7,850 for the block.

3. Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, who has a team-best four sacks, moves around a lot in the Cowboys’ 4-3 front. He’ll also stand up quite a bit, especially when on the right side. Redskins players say it’s clear he’s still adjusting to playing from a three-point stance. However, they also say Ware has been strong against the run from this position. It enables him to get into the pads of the tackles quicker and drive them back deeper. He will play on the left side, too. Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is a good matchup against Ware because of his athleticism and long arms. But one reason some tackles struggle against Ware (there can be many reasons) is because of his long arms. It’s tough for them to get control of him. Tyler Polumbus is not considered a long-armed tackle. Just something to watch.

4. The Redskins are fortunate to such depth at tight end. If Logan Paulsen doesn’t play they can still use two quality tight ends in Fred Davis and Jordan Reed so there’s no real reason to change what they want to do. Paulsen is the best blocker of the group and that enables the Redskins to use their play-action better. But Davis has improved over the years as a blocker, both with his footwork and hand placement. He does it well enough that they can easily sell the run with him in the game in this role. Reed is much more of a pass-catcher at this point.

5. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has thrown well from an empty backfield set this season: 21-for-25, 393 yards and a touchdown. He’s only been sacked twice. Last week against Denver, Romo completed 11-of-14 for 272 yards from this look. This look allows Romo to get rid of the ball fast. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal, which helps as well.

6. Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo will face left tackle Tyron Smith for the first time. He got a scouting report from Ryan Kerrigan, who faced him two years ago when Smith played on the right side. “He’s a pretty good athlete,” Orakpo said of Smith. “He has great feet, a little lighter than most tackles but an athletic guy with a strong grip. That’s what I’ve noticed. Once he gets a grip on you he holds on. “

7. I know fans love the rivalry and the players say the right things about it being Dallas week. And some players definitely feel something different for a variety of reasons (they’re from Texas, perhaps). But in talking to some players off the record, there’s more of a sense that it’s big because it’s a division game. It’s just not different from playing the Giants or the Eagles.

8. Just a little heads up: Dallas tight end Jason Witten has been targeted 10 times in each of the past two games. He’s responded with 12 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown -- 121 of those yards occurred last week versus Denver. The Cowboys did a good job getting him one-on-one with linebackers, which could be a big headache for the Redskins. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he liked Witten coming out of college and wanted to draft him when he was with New Orleans. “He’s deceivingly fast,” Haslett said. “He’s a great route-runner. He does a good job pushing off. He’s an excellent blocker. He’s one of my favorite guys to watch play. ... He’s consistently been the same guy from Year 1 to now. I don’t see any drop-off.”

9. I’m not sure any Redskins player has made more of a turnaround with the media than receiver Pierre Garcon. Last year, because he was hurt, he was reluctant to be interviewed. There were times he had to be (strongly) persuaded to answer questions. But I’ve yet to see Garcon turn down an interview request this season. It’s a pretty good locker room in that regard.

10. Garcon also plays with an attitude that few have. I see others who have skill, but few can match Garcon’s desire. “The way he plays on the field, he’s an angry guy,” Griffin said. “He plays with a hunger inside of him. And just his ability to run after the catch is what sets him apart, to run through tackles. He never gives up. Every time he catches the ball he’s trying to score a touchdown. That’s what you want from your receivers. You want him to fight for extra yards. You want him to make big plays.”