Redskins vs. Cowboys preview

For the 16th time on “Monday Night Football,” the Dallas Cowboys will meet the Washington Redskins.

Only the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (17) have met on "Monday Night Football" more. The Cowboys come in with a six-game winning streak, their longest since 2007, and the Redskins halted a four-game losing streak last week.

Just looking at the records -- Cowboys 6-1 and Redskins 2-5 -- this should be an easy win for Dallas. But that is not the case in this series. Only two of the past 12 meetings have been decided by more than a touchdown.

NFL Nation reporters John Keim and Todd Archer bring you this week’s game preview:

Todd Archer: It looks like Colt McCoy will start against the Cowboys, so at least one Texas kid will make the start for Washington -- if not the one everybody expected at the start of the season in Robert Griffin III. But I want to talk RG III. When he comes back, it’s his job, but if he continues to look only so-so in his return, when do the Redskins start to wonder if he is the long-term guy?

John Keim: I think there’s already some wonder. There’s no doubt about his talent but he has to get a better grasp of the offense and what the coaches need from him. There was some frustration over the pace of his development this summer, especially compared to Kirk Cousins’ growth. People don’t like hearing that, but it’s the truth. However, they also have a commitment to developing Griffin, who still has a massive amount of talent -- and, as we saw two years ago, a guy who can be a major playmaker when used properly. I think he can still make plays while learning and so do they. The final half of the season will be all about his development. You can’t turn him into some robotic quarterback but he has to show some strong development if he wants them to give him a fifth-year extension in the spring. Otherwise, he’ll be playing for a new contract next season.

DeMarco Murray showed in the past that he could be a good runner, but what he’s doing now is extraordinary. I know they have an excellent offensive line, but has something changed with him as a runner? Or is he a by-product of the talent around him?

Archer: I can’t guarantee this, but I think something changed for him last Thanksgiving against the Raiders. Lance Dunbar carried 12 times for 82 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the game. Murray had 17 carries for 63 yards in that game and really had left a lot of yards on the field not only in that game but in a lot of games. He wasn’t seeing things well at all. But I think seeing Dunbar perform so well he knew he needed to pick his play up. Since then he has had nine 100-yard efforts in his 11 games. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I think that could be something. Plus, he and running backs coach Gary Brown spent a lot of time looking at defensive fronts and how to find the softness in those fronts with the designs of the run. Runners have to feel natural. They can’t become robots. Murray has found a good blend of being natural while also understanding what the fronts will do to not only stop him but potentially help him.

Jason Hatcher had 11 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle last year with the Cowboys. He signed a good deal with Washington to return to 3-4 defensive end. How is he playing and do you think he will have some extra motivation entering this game?

Keim: Yes, I do. It’s always natural, as you know, for a player to play at a different emotional level against his former team. And he made it clear that he doesn’t regret signing here despite Dallas’ success. But he is playing pretty well here. He’s clearly their best defensive lineman and one of their best players overall defensively. Jay Gruden has wanted some players to take control and rattle things a little bit and there have been times Hatcher has tried to be that guy. He has three sacks, but he’s done a nice job taking on double teams and occupying blockers. He plays with some fire and they need that. My worry for him is that he’ll wear down -- he’s had a couple of nagging things -- and if that happens they’re in big trouble up front.

At what point did you say, "This team might be for real." Did you see hints of this sort of season being a possibility back in training camp?

Archer: I didn’t have that feeling at all. I still have some questions, honestly. I went into training camp thinking they would be 8-8. After camp I thought about dropping them down to 6-10 but decided to stick with 8-8. I figured the offense would be fine. There’s too much talent on that side of the ball not to be above average. I believed Scott Linehan would bring it all together after it was something of a disjointed mess in 2013 with Jason Garrett still kind of involved, Bill Callahan calling plays for a passing game he didn’t really know and Tony Romo having a large say. But what kept me from thinking anything better than 8-8 was the defense. There were many times in practice the offense just embarrassed them. There was one practice where Murray and Dunbar wouldn’t get touched until 10 yards down the field. There were few interceptions. It was beyond bad. And I didn’t think it made sense to rely a ton on Rolando McClain given his history. I’ve remained somewhat skeptical but after taking care of New Orleans, they've really opened my eyes. I think this team is just rolling with a ton of confidence right now.

People will look at the records of these teams and think it will be an easy Dallas win. I think I know better. What is it about the Cowboys, even when things are not going so well for Washington, that makes the Redskins raise their level of play?

Keim: Yeah, this one sometimes defies rational thinking. I’m guessing this rivalry from a fan’s perspective is more one-sided to the Washington, D.C., area. Players say they hear a lot about the need to beat Dallas after they sign here or when they meet fans in the offseason. I mean, it’s a constant topic they hear about when out in public. So the importance of beating them is ingrained. However, I also think it’s about how teams match up. And as inconsistent as the Redskins’ defense has been of late, it's always matched up well against that offense. The Redskins might lose, but they always play better than anticipated (it seems). Dallas’ line had enough holes that the Redskins' front could expose, whether one-on-one or with stunts (which worked well in 2012). That line is, um, slightly better now it appears. Still, the combination of that matchup and the ability to make a few plays on offense -- remember Santana Moss? -- allowed them to compete more than anticipated in some games.

Are you sold on the Cowboys’ defense? If so, why? What concerns do you have about the team overall as we near the second half of the season?

Archer: I’m not renting on the defense, but I’m not sure I’m buying, either. They don’t rush the passer well. They can have spotty moments. I just don’t know if they can handle the burden when the offense has a down game and the offense will have a down game or two. It happens to every team. But they have far surpassed the expectations I had in camp (see previous answer). Rod Marinelli is doing a great job of using the players’ strengths. It’s not that he is really flexible with what he does. He’s just really basic with what he does and that allows the players to play fast. McClain has been a revelation but so has Justin Durant. He has more tackles in five games than he had in 10 games last year. Orlando Scandrick has played at a high level. Tyrone Crawford has fit in nicely as the 3-technique, which has made Henry Melton a situational player. They haven’t missed Morris Claiborne at all. But the biggest concern is the pass rush. They have seven sacks in seven games. DeMarcus Ware has seven in Denver. They can’t get to the quarterback and they’re not a big blitz team, although Marinelli has done it more than he has in the past. They’re counting on rookie DeMarcus Lawrence to make a huge impact when he comes back from short-term injured reserve Nov. 2. It’s a lot to put on a second-rounder but they really don’t have any choice at this time.