IRVING, Texas – Bill Callahan's expertise shined through as he discussed the Cowboys' matchup against Washington on Sunday.
Callahan has responsibility over the entire offense, not to mention the playcalling in his role as offensive coordinator. But with nine years of experience coaching offensive line in the NFL, Callahan is well aware of the challenges presented by the Redskins' penchant for pressure.
"Washington poses some incredibly huge problems and issues across the board with their front and their pressure package," he said. "I think Jim Haslett has done a great job changing up their looks and the variety and the volume of alignments and pressures we could potentially get."
Haslett, in his fourth season as Washington' defensive coordinator, has overseen a front seven that has tallied 15 sacks in just four games this season. That's nearly halfway to the Redskins' 2012 sack total of 32.
A big part of that is the reunion of outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Kerrigan earned Pro Bowl honors in 2012, but pass rush partner Orakpo missed 14 of 16 games. The pair have combined for eight sacks through the first month of the year.
"So they play the 3-4, they give you all the variety of pressures from that front – from their base," Callahan said. "And then when they get into the sub, that's where they get real extensive, real creative – they come from everywhere."
It's the creativity of the Redskins' sub-packages – which can use as few as two down linemen and a rotation of linebackers – that Callahan said the Cowboys need to be mindful of. With Washington allowing an average of 300 passing yards per game, the Redskins seem likely to provide plenty of pressure to help their secondary.
"They keep giving you different looks. It's hard to see where exactly they're coming from," Callahan said. "There's not a steady beat – if they give you one, they might not bring it to you again. So you're sitting on the sideline trying to come up with answers for one blitz, and they're dialing a totally different concept the next time."
Here are some more notes from the Cowboys' Thursday locker room session:
Protecting the Quarterback
Dez Bryant said Monday that Tony Romo is one of the most criticized players in the NFL. Asked why he thought so, Bryant had a ready response.
"Because he's got the star on his helmet – there's no question," he said. "It's been going on a long time, even when I was in college, I used to hear things. And I still always thought Tony was a great quarterback, and he still is to this day. Like I say, he's the leader of our football team, and as soon as things go right, everybody will be praising him."
Bryant said the players in the Cowboys' locker room had Romo's back, and he knew Romo had their backs as well.
No Worries About Hall
This is the second time this season Bryant has faced the prospect of being covered by a fiery cornerback. He was questioned in September about the gamesmanship of Rams corner Cortland Finnegan.
On Thursday, he was asked about Washington's DeAngelo Hall, and he gave much the same response.
"I don't think there's really any more of that. The way I look at it, I don't think he'd do it to try to get in anybody's head – that's just the way he plays," Bryant said. "But from what I've been seeing, he's just been focusing more on football and trying to help his team."
Don't tell DeMarco Murray where the Redskins' defense ranks.
The Redskins are last in the league in yards allowed per game at 440.5 and are in the bottom five in both pass defense and rush defense, but Murray doesn't care about the stats when it comes to division games.
"You can never go on stats when you play a team like this and when you play a game like this where it's a division rival," Murray said. "They're a great defense."
Murray wasn't active for the first game against the Redskins last year, but he had some success in the finale, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 17 rushing attempts.
The running back wouldn't divulge whether or not he expects to be more of a factor in the offense this week. After rushing for 175 yards on 26 carries against the Rams, he's totaled that exact amount of rushing attempts the last two weeks combined.
"You've just got to stay ready," Murray said. "You get antsy a little bit when you're not getting the ball as much, you try to make a big play and you might miss a thing or two there. You've got to trust your technique, trust the game plan, stay focused and let it come to you at the end of the day." [embedded_ad]
The Redskins' blitzes bothered Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense in two losses last year. Romo was sacked two times in each loss and threw a combined five interceptions between the two games. One of those interceptions went to NFL ironman London Fletcher, who leads the league with a whopping 244 consecutive regular season games played.
"Fletcher's still there, (Ryan) Kerrigan and (Brian) Orakpo both on the edges, we respect those guys and we know it's going to be a hard-fought game," Murray said. "We're excited for the challenge."
Austin's Role vs. Redskins
Sunday night looks likely to mark Miles Austin's return to the lineup after a two week absence with a hamstring injury. Callahan said the coaching staff hasn't determined how large Austin's role will be, but they will find room for him.
"Miles is a veteran player and we love having him back – we're going to use him," he said. "To what degree, to what extent, we'll have to wait and see. We have so many groupings right now – I think you saw that on Sunday – a lot of people coming in and out of the huddle. We'll continue to do that."