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ESPN Insider:Scouts Inc: Cowboys at Redskins


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Cowboys at Redskins


Why To Watch

Bill Parcells would like the Cowboys to run the ball, control the clock and rely on their defense and special teams to win games much like they did a season ago. Unfortunately, with Julius Jones out and Eddie George's limited explosiveness, the Cowboys are simply adjusting their formula for success and relying on the right arm of QB Vinny Testaverde more than they would like.

The Redskins also would like to run the football better with backup QB Patrick Ramsey leading the way, but if RB Clinton Portis doesn't do a better job of protecting the football it simply won't be the option they hoped it would be. With so many personnel issues for both teams, the real matchup in this game is between two of the best coaches in NFL history, Parcells and Joe Gibbs, who are both trying to get their teams on track in a long and storied rivalry.

When the Cowboys have the ball

Rushing: The Cowboys want to run the ball, control the clock and keep their active but undersized defense well rested. The Cowboys ran the ball 28 times last week and held the ball for 36 minutes, but they still lack explosiveness in the running game with George leading the way.

ReShard Lee

The problem for the Cowboys is that they could find themselves in a lot of third-and-long situations because of their inability to get positive yards on first and second down. Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to blitz and will make it very tough for the Cowboy backs (George and ReShard Lee) to get good running lanes versus overloaded boxes with athletic linebackers and safeties closing quickly on the ball. Because of George's lack of burst, the Redskins should have no trouble sealing off the edges and forcing everything up the middle, where MLB Mike Barrow will usually have extra help from his safeties.

The Cowboys do a decent job of pulling, trapping and isolating linebackers. They have the potential to get out to the second level against this group and could open up a lot of holes for George to bounce runs to the outside once he gets through the line of scrimmage. However, the big question is if he can get there.

Passing: The Redskins will continue to be very aggressive on defense, with a "high risk, high reward" scheme. They will blitz and attack from all directions, putting their corners on an island and tempting Testaverde to check off into a pass play at the line of scrimmage.

The Redskins' pass rush likely cannot get to Testaverde with just its front four, which creates the need to blitz to apply pressure. Testaverde is not a threat to run the ball, but the Redskins need to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, as he does not have great accuracy when he throws on the move.

Jason Witten

The Cowboys would like to use athletic TE Jason Witten to attack the Redskins' safeties down the seams with a heavy dose of the play-action package, but the anemic Cowboys' run game may not bring enough respect to make the safeties bite on the play-fake. If that's the case, the Cowboys will simply have to take their chances with one-on-one matchups between Witten and SS Matt Bowen, which still is a favorable matchup for them.

The Cowboys can use their vertical threats, Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant, to "run off" the Redskins' corners and open up the underneath crossing routes for Keyshawn Johnson. The Redskins' safeties will be tested and they will have to decide whether to roll coverage and help out on the perimeter or instead "jump" the underneath routes and punish Johnson over the middle.

When the Redskins have the ball

Rushing: The Redskins live and die with the counter-run play and the Giants did a good job last week of reading the key blocks and getting to the hole without overpursuing. The Cowboys' defensive front is an undersized one-gap penetrating group that does a great job of beating opposing offensive linemen off the snap of the ball.

At times the Cowboys will get caught overpursuing and, if they get caught closing to quickly on the counter hole, the Redskins will burn them by sealing up the backside and letting Portis break it against the grain. The Redskins may also use some three-receiver sets to force the Cowboys into their nickel package, where they lack depth, and then they will come back and run the ball against a softer defense. If the Redskins attack the Cowboys' interior, they can negate their ability to chase and pursue by rushing right at them and wearing them down.

This is a big game for Cowboys safety Roy Williams because he must control Portis and the cut back run lanes on the second level. Williams matches up well athletically, but he must close fast and tackle well in the open field.

Passing: The Redskins are talented at wide receiver and are loaded with big production potential, but they are not hitting on all cylinders yet. The Cowboys are a quick and active defensive front seven that comes off the ball quickly. QB Patrick Ramsey may need to change the cadence at the line of scrimmage to slow this line down and neutralize their quickness.

Laveranues Coles

The Cowboys will commit their safeties to stop the run and play some "zero" coverage, with their corners locked up in man-to-man coverage without safety help over the top. This puts CBs Pete Hunter and Terence Newman on an island, and if Ramsey can identify these matchups, the duo of Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner can exploit them. The Redskins would like to get Portis involved in the outlet passing game, where he can use his open field elusiveness to create big plays.

The Redskins must account for Cowboys DT La'Roi Glover, who has excellent quickness and inside penetrating skills. The Cowboys will move him around the defensive line to find a favorable one-on-one matchup. The Redskin receivers may get a lot of free releases off the line of scrimmage because it will be difficult for the Cowboys to play press coverage without consistent safety help behind it.

Scouts' Edge

Both teams have shown the ability to win ugly and lose ugly in just two weeks. The Cowboys are forced to throw the ball more than they would like due to an inconsistent running game, but so far the arm Testaverde is holding up well in what surprisingly has become a much more wide-open passing attack than originally anticipated. However, while the increased emphasis on the passing game could pay off in the short term, it does not bode well for an undersized defense that tends to wear down when they are on the field too much.

The Redskins have excellent potential for balance on offense with three-receiver sets and a good counter run game with Portis. The Cowboys fly to the ball on defense, but Portis will have the opportunity to break some big plays off the counter and the Redskins' defense should handle the Cowboys' game plan well enough to have the advantage. If Portis can protect the football and provide a couple of big plays in the running game, the Redskins will win.

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