Game preview: Redskins at Cowboys

Game preview: Redskins at Cowboys
October 11, 2013, 8:30 am
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Redskins aren't underestimating Tony Romo

What: Redskins (1-3) at Cowboys (2-3)

Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Tx.

When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: NBC

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on CSN Washington: 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. 

Have a glance at the Cowboys’ stats and it doesn't take long to figure out what the Redskins’ biggest challenge figures to be Sunday night in Dallas.

It’s stopping Tony Romo and the wide range of weapons he’s got at his disposal. In last week’s shootout loss to the Broncos, Romo racked up 506 passing yards and five touchdowns, while Terrance Williams, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all racked up 120 or more yards receiving.

Romo’s scintillating performance had just one blemish--a late interception that Peyton Manning and the Broncos parlayed into the game-winning drive. The Cowboys have now lost eight straight games in which Romo has been picked off in the fourth quarter, including the Redskins’ NFC East-clinching victory last December.

Indeed, it’s always possible Romo will stop himself Sunday. But since the Redskins can’t rely on that happening, here are three areas where they’ll need to excel in order to earn a pivotal road win at AT&T Stadium:

  • Make Romo uncomfortable in the pocket and play to the whistle to counterbalance Romo’s ability to extend plays with his legs. Although the Redskins’ defense may rank at or near the bottom of the league in a number of statistical categories, the pass rush has been relatively reliable. Led by Ryan Kerrigan (5 sacks) and Brian Orakpo (3 sacks), the Skins are tied for seventh with 15 sacks and also have 43 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Romo’s ill-timed interception against the Broncos, in fact, was the result of his left tackle, Tyron Smith, getting pushed into him. “It makes quarterbacks uneasy,” end Stephen Bowen said. “That’s what happened on the interception. He wasn’t able to put that foot down, follow through and put the ball where he wanted. It’s a big part of us winning the game, definitely.”
  • The Redskins’ special teams were an unmitigated disaster in Oakland. A missed assignment led to a punt getting blocked and returned for a touchdown. The Raiders used a fake punt to extend a drive. And the return game wasn’t much better. Through four games, in fact, the Redskins rank 27th in both punt returns (5.6 yards per) and kickoff returns (20.3). Whether it’s returners not finding seams, blockers not opening them or a scheme-related issue, something’s got to change. Punter Sav Rocca, meantime, ranks 30th in net average (37.0). “You just have to be patient,” first-year coordinator Keith Burns said recently, noting that many players are learning new positions. “That’s what I’ve been preaching to the guys. Don’t feel like you have to go out there and win the game. Our job is not mess the game up.” So far, the subpar special teams haven’t cost the Redskins a victory. But given the team’s small margin of error each week, the unit certainly must pull itself together.
  • Is this the week Robert Griffin III and the Redskins’ offense get in sync? Perhaps. Griffin recently acknowledged that his knee continues improve, allowing him to do more and reinforcing the belief that he’s beginning to feel confident in the surgically repaired joint. On Thursday, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the unit has made incremental improvement and he believes it’s due for a major step forward. “Our whole offense hasn’t been totally clicking all together as 11 players,” he said. “But we’re starting to get there each week and hopefully we get it more this week.” If there ever were an opportunity, Sunday would be it. The Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware-led defense, which converted from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, ranks 28th in yards allowed (409.2 per game) and 23rd in points surrendered (27.2). 

A Redskins’ victory would give them three straight wins over the Cowboys for the first time since the Ronald Reagan administration. But getting a win could be much more important than a historical footnote--Washington’s postseason hopes could be depending on it.

Some other areas the team at CSNWashington.com will be monitoring:

1—Injuries. The Redskins expect to get back difference-makers Alfred Morris (ribs), Kai Forbath (groin) and Jordan Reed (quad) for Sunday’s showdown. There’s still some question about Logan Paulsen (knee) and Brandon Jenkins (ankle). Meantime, Chris Nield (calf) would seem to be a long shot given that he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday.

2—Penalties. After a penalty-prone start to the season, the Redskins were flagged only three times (for a total of 29 yards) in the season-saving victory over the Raiders. Washington has improved to the 18th most penalized team at 6.5 per game, a figure that's down slightly from last season’s average of 7.0.

3—Ball-hawking. Romo has tossed only two interceptions this season, but he has a knack for throwing the ball to the wrong team at the worst possible moment. Just ask Rob Jackson. Last season, the Redskins picked off Romo five times in the teams' two meetings, including a fourth quarter pick in the winner-takes-all finale by Jackson, who fooled Romo by appearing to drop into coverage before stepping in front of his pass to DeMarco Murray. 

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