Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Washington Redskins (7-6)
December 18, 2005 at 415pm
FOX Sports (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver)
It’s that time of year again. It’s time to hang the stockings, decorate the tree and wrap the presents. It also crunch time in the NFL as the playoffs draw ever closer. Highlighting the weekend’s games is the renewal of one of the leagues most storied rivalries. And unlike the past several years, this late season match up between the Redskins and Cowboys has huge playoff implications for both teams.
Dallas comes into the game with a one game lead on their rivals but the Redskins defeated them in week two, 14-13, in Texas Stadium in one of the most memorable endings of a Monday Night game. Since that game, which saw the Redskins move to 2-0, they have played less than .500 ball (5-6) but are 4-2 at home where they will play on Sunday. Both Dallas and Washington seemingly control their own postseason destinies. Both teams are watching the Wild Card race but still have a shot at the NFC East title. While the playoff picture has six other teams vying for their own spot in the postseason and with that all the possible scenarios for how either the Redskins or Cowboys might make it in, it is as simple as if they win they should be in. For the Redskins, if they win out, the rest of the teams should beat each other and the Redskins should garner their first postseason berth since 1999.
The first of three “must win” games for the Redskins comes against a team that has beaten them 14 times in their 16 match ups. The Redskins come into the game winners of their last two games and have their defense playing as well as they have all season. The Cowboys, meanwhile, used a late comeback last week to edge the Chiefs, 31-28. The win ended a two game losing streak for Dallas.
The Dallas offense has been inconsistent at times this season but when they are clicking, they can move the ball on just about any defense. They are currently ranked 13th in the NFL with an average of 332.4 yards per game. The passing game got a bit more potent when wide receiver Patrick Crayton returned two weeks ago after he missed most of the season with a broken arm. Earlier in the season, Crayton was one of Drew Bledsoe’s favorite targets. His return gives the Cowboys four viable options in the passing game (218.5 YPG, 14th) with receivers Crayton, Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson and tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys also have two talented running backs in Marion Barber III and Julius Jones. The running game has been done by committee this season with head coach Bill Parcells using both backs with neither being the “feature back”. That could be because Jones has struggled at times to stay healthy or because Barber has pushed for playing time. Many in the league see Barber (a rookie) as the better back of the two. The Redskins defense, which has allowed only 22 points in the last two games and in those games have picked off six passes have been playing better. Admittedly, those games were against the Rams and Cardinals but they were on the road against potent offenses. For the Redskins to be successful against the Cowboys they will need to find a way to pressure Bledsoe while still being able to maintain coverage in the secondary. In their first meeting, the Redskins were unable to pressure Bledsoe effective and he was able to pass the ball effectively. The Cowboys passing game has gotten much better since then and the Redskins simply can not allow Bledsoe the time to sit back and pick apart their secondary. Opponents are currently passing the ball against the Redskins at an average of 194.3 yards per game, which ranks them 13th in the NFL. Against the rush, the Redskins are allowing 106.4 yards per game (13th) and have been successful as of late in limiting opponents on the ground. Currently, the Redskins are listing five defensive impact players ( as probable and against the Cowboys, it will be an all hands on deck game. One of the names on the injury list is LaVar Arrington, who did not factor in the last game against the Cowboys. If Arrington is able to go, he gives the defense a legitimate pass rusher which should be able to help the secondary to concentrate on their coverage responsibilities.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Redskins come into the game operating much like their predecessors in the earlier Gibbs’ era as they are using a powerful running game (131.2 YPG, 5th) to control the clock. The passing game (199.3 YPG, 19th) with Mark Brunell has slipped over the last seven weeks. During that period, Brunell, who has had the lowest interception rate in the league has thrown six (three last week against the Cardinals) interceptions against only four touchdowns. Comparing that to his twelve touchdowns/two interceptions in his first six games and it could be argued that the shift to the running game was done out of necessity. The running game has been as effective as any in the league in the last few weeks and is seemingly getting better. The Redskins have used their stable of running backs to take pressure off of Clinton Portis. Ladell Betts is back from a knee injury and along with Rock Cartwright, will be used as a change of pace in the Redskins running attack. The Redskins passing game is still looking to find a viable option other than Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. Not having additional threats in the passing game has contributed to their struggles and you can expect the Cowboys to learn from their first game against the Redskins when Santana Moss scored on two long pass plays that resulted from blown coverages. The Cowboys defense is a young unit but they are fast and have shown the ability to shut down offenses at times. They allow an average of 300.7 yards per game (10th) and play both the run and pass equally (106.4 rush, 194.3 passing). Both rank them at 13th in the NFL. Greg Ellis (8 sacks) has enjoyed a stellar season thus far and has benefited from the addition of rookie DeMarcus Ware (4 sacks) on the defensive front. They have been able to pressure quarterbacks consistently this season and the Redskins offensive line will have their hands full keeping Brunell on his feet.
In addition to this being a must win game for both teams, it is also game that pits two teams that hate each other as do their fans. This is a game that fans wait an entire season to see. Their should be plenty of excitement in FedEx Field as the Redskins will try to do what is seemingly impossible, sweep the Cowboys. They haven’t done that since 1995. The Redskins will also be looking to win their second straight division game for the first time since 2001. These teams are as equally matched as any of the games the Redskins have played this season. In games such as this, it could be decided by turnovers and the team that controls the line of scrimmage. The 12th man should be a HUGE factor at FedEx Field.
– Coach Gibbs will even his record (13-14) against the Cowboys with a win.
– Coach Gibbs needs 1 win to tie Marv Levy for 12th in NFL history with 154.
– The Cowboys lead the series 54-33-2; including 4 of the last 5.
– The Cowboys have lost 16 of their last 19 December road games; two of those wins came in Washington.
– The Redskins win in week 2 was their first in Dallas in 10 years.
– Clinton Portis needs 116 rushing yards to have 4 consecutive 1,300 yard seasons. Only Earl Campbell (1978-81) and Barry Sanders (1989-92) have done same.
– Santana Moss’ 6 catches of 40+ yards leads the NFL.
– Keyshawn Johnson needs 2 catches for his 9th 60 catch season in 10 seasons.
Key player match-ups this week:
Santana Moss vs Roy Williams
By Scott Coward
After the first meeting of the season, and getting burned not once, but twice on deep touchdown passes, Roy Williams claimed that Santana Moss was now a marked man. We’ll see. You know that old saying, “get me once, your fault, get me twice, my fault”? Hey Roy, this one’s all on you. Put your play where your mouth is.
Julius Jones vs Lemar Marshall
By Bernie Marshall
Julius Jones needs to become a difference maker again or he’ll find himself replaced by rookie Marion Barber. The offensive line hasn’t been opening holes and should shoulder more of the blame than Julius. Coach Bill Parcells has said “his running backs need to learn to block for themselves”. So with few blocks for Lamar Marshall to shed at the point of attack, he should be able to step into the gap and shut down Jones and the running game. Jones only has 27 catches out of the backfield so while it should not be a big concern, it is something to be watched for.
Advantage: Lemar Marshall
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Les Barnhart