IRVING, Texas – The Redskins have won six straight games, arguably the hottest team in the NFL.
Along the way, they've lost their starting quarterback for a game and a half and still won. They've also defeated the Cowboys in rather convincing fashion, although they needed to stave off a fourth-quarter comeback.
So as the Redskins and Cowboys meet for the NFC East title on Sunday night at FedEx Field, it might not be easy to find reasons why the Cowboys will turn the tide and knock off Washington.
Then again, just look at the offensive side of the ball.
The Cowboys won't have the same look they gave the Redskins the first time around, especially on the offensive line, where three different positions will be changed.
In the 38-31 loss to the Redskins, the Cowboys played without left tackle Tyron Smith and center Ryan Cook, who was replaced by left guard Macknezy Bernadeau. Derrick Dockery started at guard.
And don't forget DeMarco Murray was out for the fifth straight game with a foot injury. And if that's not enough, wide receiver Miles Austin suffered a hip injury in the first quarter, coupled with Kevin Ogletree being out with a concussion. That forced the Cowboys to rally back in the second half with Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley at receiver. Since that game, Harris has elevated himself ahead of Ogletree as the third receiver.
Still, the Cowboys were missing several key pieces on offense, especially on the line. Offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said it showed from a verbal standpoint throughout that game.
"Anytime you have great communication and continuity it goes well for your offense to function," Callahan said. "You can execute better and you can play off one another better and you can anticipate things a whole lot better. Having them back is a plus."
Not to make excuses, because the Redskins not only had a short week but lost a day to travel as well, but if there is a week to lose some offensive linemen to injury, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving, where only three days sit between games.
Having to replace Cook with Bernadeau, who had only played his first game at center just four days earlier, was quite a challenge. The same goes for Jermey Parnell, who made his starting debut in place of Smith, who was in uniform but less than 100 percent.
"I think our offensive line has played better here lately," head coach Jason Garrett. "They've gotten healthier and have started to play together better as a unit. It's been a challenge with the injuries, but I think we're seeing more positive things from them. Obviously we need them to play well this week."
If the line plays well, it certainly gives DeMarco Murray a chance to run well. Last week, Murray had just 40 yards on 11 carries, including a costly fumble that led to a Saints touchdown in the third quarter. The previous game, Murray lost a fumble against the Steelers near the goal line, wasting a golden opportunity for points.
In the first game against the Redskins, Felix Jones started and rushed just six times for 14 yards. Overall, the Cowboys had only seven carries from their running backs.
While Callahan said he definitely hopes for more attempts, he was realistic to say things often don't go as planned.
"You just don't know. All these games are different," Callahan said. "Every time you get in one of these games you sit there as a staff and say, 'OK we're going to run 30 times.' We only ran it 11 times last week you know so you want to be balance and you strive to do something to create balance and create more opportunities and some of those plans get pushed out of the way when you have to adapt after the first quarter and you may take advantage of certain things."
The last time against the Redskins, it was Washington adapting after the first quarter. That's when they scored 28 straight points to take a 28-3 halftime lead.
So it might be easy to put it mostly on the defense for giving up four second-quarter touchdowns, but the offense did have a key fumble by Bryant and a forced interception by Romo. Both plays led to touchdowns for Washington.
So the Cowboys obviously have their hands full with the Redskins' offense, led by Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris. The best way to limit them, will be to keep them off the field, and the Cowboys might have a better chance at that this time around, especially with more pieces to the puzzle in place.