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The Redskins vs. The Cowboys: 5 keys to victory

Just when you thought the Redskins would quietly fade out from the national spotlight, especially given that they’re well out of playoff contention and Albert Haynesworth is now rotting at home on his couch, they manage to pull you right back in again and give you another incentive to see how things play out on Sunday.

I’m talking, of course, about Rex Grossman replacing Donovan McNabb as the starting quarterback of the Redskins.

In a word: wow. It was no secret that McNabb was having his worst season, statisically, since his rookie year. But replacing him with Grossman? Shocking.

Needless to say, this shakes things up a bit, as far as their matchup with Dallas on Sunday. Who would have expected that the 100th meeting between the Redskins and Cowboys would feature two retread backups at quarterback for each team?

McNabb vs. Grossman discussion aside, if the Redskins want to share their pain with Dallas fans by pulling off their first sweep of the Cowboys since 2005, here are five keys to pulling it off:

1. Protect the Football: You want to talk about contrasts? Since firing Wade Phillips, the Cowboys have been averaging 33 points per game. Compare that with the Redskins, who haven’t even scored more than 28 points in any game this entire season. Needless to say, the last thing the Redskins want to do is get into a shoot-out with the Cowboys, because that’s just not going to end well for them.

The Cowboys offense is good enough as it is, without the Redskins handing them even more opportunities to put points on the board, especially with any short fields. Over the last five weeks, the Redskins turnover ration is a whopping negative eight (including six interceptions from the now benched McNabb). Grossman has only attempted seven passes this entire season, yet he has already had a fumble returned for a touchdown.

Sure, Grossman is the starting QB for this team, but you’d be a fool to think that the coaches expect him to do anything besides “managing” this game and not throwing the ball to the other team.

The deck is already stacked for the Redskins, without them going out and beating themselves. If it means playing “ugly” football and winning the game 13-10 again, fine. This isn’t the BCS, so bodody is looking for style points.

2. Ride the Running Backs: As the old adage goes, “a quarterback’s best friend is a strong running game.” Feed the Cowboys defense – currently ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards and touchdowns allowed – a heavy and steady dose of Ryan Torain, with a side of Keiland Williams for good measure.

Even as the starting running back for this team, Torain has not gotten nearly the amount of attention he deserves. Despite only being active for seven games this season, he’s rushed for 563 yards. He fits the Shanahan’s zone blocking, one-cut-and-go running scheme perfectly, and rarely goes down on the first hit. He’s exactly the type of running back who can help control the clock and wear down a defense. While i’m not the biggest Keiland Williams fan, I think he provides a nice change-of-pace to spell Torain.

If i’m preparing the Redskins offensive game plan, my number one priority would be to see to it that Torain and Williams combined for no less than 35 carries on Sunday.

3. Give Dallas a Santana Moss redux: Lost in the incessant drama surrounding this team is the fact that, somewhat quietly, Santana Moss is having a really nice year for himself. He’s currently in the top 10 in the NFL in receptions, and in the top 15 in receiving yards.

Even during the season-opening matchup against Dallas, when the Redskins put up an anemic 171 yards in the air, Moss had six receptions for 77 yards.

But this Dallas defense isn’t the same as the one that opened the season, as their defense is getting roasted by opposing receivers. In the last two weeks, DeSean Jackson and Reggie Wayne have each had at least 200 yards receiving against the Cowboys. This has helped dropped Dallas to a ranking of 27th against the pass in the NFL.

Grossman definitely isn’t the most skilled quarterback on the planet, but one thing he does do well is throw a nice deep ball. If the Redskins can run the ball effectively and bring the Cowboys’ safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, there are the potential for some big play opportunities for Moss, via the play action.

4. Eliminate Jason Witten: Ok, maybe not “eliminate” in the literal sense of the word, but the Redskins should focus on not letting Witten run free on the underneath stuff.

Witten currently leads the Cowboys in receptions and is tied for the team lead in targets. After starting out slow early in the season, he has bounced back into his Pro Bowl form. Jon Kitna has targeting Witten frequently as his “security blanket.”

The Redskins know the value of having a Tight End who provides matchup problems for the opposing defense. London Fletcher is amazing, but he can’t cover Witten by himself, and neither can either of the Redskins safeties.

Either via the blitz (forcing him to stay in for pass protection) or by some type of bracket double-coverage, the Redskins need to take away Witten as an option for Kitna.

5. Force the Cowboys into a battle of Field Goals: Graham Gano isn’t exactly going to be any ballots for “The Redskins 2010 MVP” vote, but the Redskins aren’t the team in this game with issues in field goal conversions.

Cowboys kicker David Buehler has been almost as unreliable this season, missing a quarter of his total field goal attempts this season. In the last five games, he’s only six for nine when attempting field goals over 30 yards.

If the Redskins’ “bend but don’t break” defense can hold the Cowboys out of the end zone and force them to kick field goals, they have a chance to win the field position battle if Buehler proves to be as erratic he has been recently.

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