Cowboys at Redskins
Key matchup: Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant vs. Washington’s secondary.
Outlook: There might not be a hotter player in the NFL than Bryant, who has 808 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns in his past seven games, including 224 and two in an overtime loss to the Saints last Sunday.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Bryant is a rare combination of speed, size and strength. And all of those attributes were on display in the teams’ first meeting on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium, where he gained 145 yards and scored two touchdowns on eight receptions.
In the third quarter, the Redskins were leading 28-6 when Tony Romo escaped the pocket and fired a deep pass to Bryant. Cornerback Josh Wilson attempted to make a play on the ball but missed, strong safety DeJon Gomes got blocked by Dwayne Harris and free safety Madieu Williams was too far away to help. Bryant snagged Romo’s pass in stride and raced 85 yards to the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, Bryant struck again. Wilson had Bryant blanketed, but it didn’t matter. Romo tossed a perfectly-placed 11-yard pass to Bryant, who made an even better diving catch at the side of the end zone to pull the Cowboys within 35-28. Wilson did not appear to have any help on the play.
So, the question is what do the Redskins do differently on Sunday? If they focus too much on Bryant, that will create opportunities for tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Miles Austin. But if they don’t blunt Bryant's speed and take away his space, the 2010 first round pick might produce a repeat performance.
Pressuring Romo the way the defensive line harassed Philadelphia's Nick Foles last Sunday would certainly help out the secondary. In the teams' first meeting, Ryan Kerrigan and Co. recorded two sacks and nine quarterback hits on Romo. Romo, however, still wound up passing for a season-high 441 passing yards.
Coach Mike Shanahan’s answer to the quandary his defense faces is a simple one: make more plays than Bryant, who is coping with a broken a finger.
And, in a lot of ways, Shanahan probably is right.
“Anytime you’re playing against a Pro Bowl [caliber] wide receiver, you have to play your best game,” he said. “It’s a challenge to our football team, especially our corners to play their best game. They both have that capability. Our guys have been playing at a Pro Bowl level, and they have to against a guy like this.”