GAME SETWHAT:Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at Washington Redskins (3-6) *WHEN:Sunday, noon (CT) WHERE:FedEx Field, Landover, Md. TELEVISION: Fox Sports (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa)*
Nick: Field position is always important in division games when the opponents know each other well. While rookie kicker Dan Bailey had six touchbacks last week, kicking outdoors is different. Washington's return specialist Brandon Banks is second in the NFC with 656 return yards with a 23.4 yard average. When the Cowboys kick off, containing Banks and keeping the Redskins pinned back will be a top priority.
Rob: Washington's Trent Williams played as well as anybody has against DeMarcus Ware this season. One question Sunday will be how the other Redskins' starting offensive tackle – whether it's Jammal Brown (groin), Sean Locklear (ankle) or undrafted rookie Willie Smith – fares on the other side against Ware and Anthony Spencer. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan believes this can be a breakout game for Spencer, and the Redskins' offensive line isn't very healthy right now.
Josh: Because of all the injuries they've had at wide receiver, the Redskins' only pass-catching threat that would worry you is tight end Fred Davis, and it'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys attempt to cover him. It's doubtful Bradie James or Keith Brooking will draw the duty often, but on clear passing downs, the job will likely fall to Barry Church or Frank Walker.
- Don't Forget...
Nick: Until DeMarco Murray's breakout game against St. Louis, the Cowboys' best rushing day came against Washington on Sept. 26. The Cowboys rushed for 125 yards, including 115 from Felix Jones, who returns to action this week. But fullback Tony Fiammetta provided the blocking for many of those big runs that day and he'll be out this week with an illness. The Cowboys haven't had the same success in the running game without a fullback.
Rob: As much as the Redskins' offense has sputtered during their five-game losing streak, return specialist Brandon Banks has the explosiveness to put them in good field position. Kicker Dan Bailey and punter Mat McBriar, who appeared to get through last week's game OK with the nerve issue in his plant foot, must be mindful of Banks. Bailey had six touchbacks last week inside Cowboys Stadium, so it'll be interesting to see if he can find similar success outdoors at FedEx Field.
Josh: Apart from the game at Cowboys Stadium last year, most of the recent meetings between the Cowboys and Redskins have been relatively low scoring. The Cowboys' total of 18 points in their previous matchup with Washington this season would've won five of the last six games between the two teams. That just increases the importance of field position, and maximizing scoring opportunities.
- Cowboys Win If:
Nick: Playing with a lead seems to be an even bigger goal for the Cowboys now that DeMarco Murray is in the mix. Against Washington, the Cowboys want to force the Redskins to rely on their quarterbacks, whoever is back there between Rex Grossman and John Beck. An early lead will not only put pressure on Washington's anemic offense and take the Redskins' crowd out of the game, but it also allows the Cowboys to pound the ball with Murray, who has proven to be that workhorse back the offense has been looking for.
Rob: They continue their recent takeaway trend. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in the last five games to make 19 for the season, tied for third-most in the league. Quarterback Rex Grossman has 11 interceptions in six starts, and aforementioned pressure from the front seven could force him into mistakes. The Redskins can't afford to give opponents more possessions, particularly a team like Dallas that's averaging 27.0 points over the last month.
Josh: The loss of Tony Fiammetta for this week seems like a big blow because all of the Cowboys' running success this season has come with him as a lead blocker. If they're able to effectively replace him, however, and continue to run the ball at a decent clip, it'll be really tough for Washington to win this one, minimizing risk for the Cowboys' offense and allowing them to control the ball.
- Redskins Win If:
Nick: Crazy things seem to happen in Washington. In 2010, Tashard Choice – now with the Redskins – fumbled the ball away for a touchdown on the last play of the half. In 2006, a blocked field goal by Washington turned into an untimed down and a game-winning field goal the other direction by the Redskins. It hasn't been all bad for the Cowboys, but something about FedEx Field suggests you have to expect the unexpected. What is expected is that the Cowboys will control the ball, control the game and win by a touchdown or 10 points. If something quirky happens early in the game to keep Washington's hopes alive, it could lead to an upset.
Rob: They get something out of the run game and get into the end zone. Sounds awfully simple, but that's their only chance to get out of this slide. They haven't held a lead since Oct. 2, and their top two running backs have gained 140 total yards in five games. The first meeting between these two teams was a field-goal fest, but the Cowboys are a different offense now.
Josh: If they are able to force the Cowboys into a few turnovers, anything can happen. Washington has done a good job of getting after the quarterback in recent meetings between these teams, so there's always the threat for a fumble or interception when that happens. Tony Romo has to protect the ball.
- Gut Feeling
Nick: I expect a close game for a quarter or so, but not much after that. This Cowboys team seems to be rather focused and will take care of business. Anything can and does happen in this league, especially on the road. I think the Cowboys are much more talented and with just a 5-4 record, they won't be taking anything lightly. Murray helps the Cowboys break away and I wouldn't be surprised to see another defensive touchdown this week.
Rob: I respect the Redskins' ability to compete every year in this rivalry, no matter the circumstances. This might not be nearly as easy as some think, especially if Washington's defense continues to hang tough and get off the field. But Tony Romo doesn't have a broken rib this time, and DeMarco Murray has added a new dimension. The Cowboys have a matchup advantage up front on defense and the Redskins haven't shown lately that they can score enough points on offense.
Josh: The Redskins are in such a bad way offensively, with so many guys injured and Rex Grossman as their quarterback, that I wouldn't be at all shocked to see Rob Ryan's defense deliver a shutout. The Cowboys' defense has had some trouble on the road this season, but this is the week they will turn that corner.