I do not have to tell you how imtportant Sunday’s game is against the Cowboys. Nor do I have to remind you how much is at stake. But in the spirit of being the typical overly-excited, albiet completely neurotic, Washington Redskins fan, I will anyway. It’s crucial.
The Redskins are in a position that the majority of the team has never seen before, a “win-and-your-in” scenario. It’s not like the Patriots, where qualifying to be in the post-season is as second nature as admiring the girlish beauty of Brady’s face, this is uncharted territory for most of them. And despite the fact that Robert Griffin III is a rookie, I don’t think the team could ask for a better leader to bring them into this matchup.
Last week the Shanahan’s employed a somewhat more conservative offense, not utilizing Griffin to his full potential. But this week is different. He’s healthier, playing against a better defense and everything is at stake. So here’s a brief look at what the Redskins need to do to optimize their chances of having success against a Dallas team that is full of suprises.
Last week Griffin ran for only 4 yards, by far a season low. Morris had a decent game, though not his finest. The abilility to establish a strong ground game early on will be crucial in setting up play action pass. Morris was a huge part of why the Redskins had sucess against the Cowboys on their Thanksgiving Day game, running for 113 yards.
The more options the Redskins have, the better, especially when facing a Rob Ryan defense. Looking back at the stats from their matchup earlier this season, you will see a lot of players on offense making a lot of good plays. The Redskins are not a team with one or two clear “stars” as far as receiving yards go. There are a number of players who are huge contributors to the passing game and they can change on a weekly basis. Each and every one of those receivers will need to shine this week. There is no room for dropped passes or running the wrong route. Each receiver has his own set of strengths and it will be up to Kyle to utilize them.
Whether it’s running or passing, blocking will be key this week. Guys on offense have shown an ability to be selfless at times this season- choosing to block to allow someone else to make a big play versus having to be in the spotlight at all times. This game will likely tempt each of their human instincts to be the star of the game- the one to make the big play. They will have to fight that and instead turn their focus onto the bigger picture. For the first time in years I think the roster is comprised of men with strong enough characters to handle that.
The offensive line has been outstanding so far this season, in ways we haven’t seen in awhile. The past few weeks the consistency has been tested, with Tyler Polumbus again listed as Questionable this week. Trent Williams is reportedly healthier than he’s been in previous weeks and will be a major factor in this game. The Cowboys have shown an ability to employ an aggressive pass-rush, and will likely go after a somewhat more vulnerable RGIII. It is unclear whether or not the rookie quarterback is operating at 100% speed after coming back from his injury, so he may require help if he cannot outrun defenders. Williams will need to stop DeMarcus Ware, who has 11.5 sacks this season.
The Redskins defense will have their work cut out for them today with Dez Bryant. He is coming off of a huge week in which he got 224 yards and two touchdowns. It will largly be up to Hall to stop him, so he will need to remain level-headed and play smart throughout the game. The defense has struggled somewhat with stopping big plays, and the inability to do so this week could cost them the game, as the Cowboys have several big playmakers on offense.
Tony Romo’s greatest strength might be his inconsistency. It makes it incredibly hard to prepare for a quarterback when you really don’t know what to expect. Nonetheless, he has thrown only 3 interceptions in the past 8 games, and seems to have found a rhythm with his receivers. Jim Hasslet, who has called zone coverage to protect against guys like Bryant, will have to get creative this week as that could potentially just open up room for Jason Witten to make big plays. Bringing pressure against Romo will be incredibly important. Guys like Rob Jackson and London Fletcher will need to bring their best game against an offense that seems to have an answer for everything at times.
Last week, like many others, the Redskins defense appeared timid at times. While it is important to play a clean game, that doesn’t mean they can’t be aggressive. Let’s hope they find that balance this week.
On both sides of the ball the Redskins need to play a clean game. They have struggled with penalties throughout the season, and will need to stay level headed no matter how high the stakes. Both sides need to play 60 minute football, and not let frustration get the best of them. This is the most important game many of them have every played in, and it could come down to whether or not they can channel that intensity into making big plays versus succumbing to the pressure.