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Skins Can Win, But Will They?

Sep 18, 2005, 4:01 AM EDT

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Can they do it? Yes. Will they do it? Read on.

You can reach me by email at rtandler@comcast.net

There is really no point in recounting and rehashing the futility that the Redskins have experienced against the Dallas Cowboys in the course of their domination—there’s no other word for it—of the Redskins over the past 15 games. Some games have been close, some have been routs. In some, the Cowboys’ star players have come through in the clutch, in others it’s been obscure players shining in key moments. Sometimes the Redskins have had better talent and/or a better record, sometimes the other guys have. Barry Switzer, Steve Spurrier, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs, Dave Campo, it hasn’t mattered.

The Dallas Cowboys have been the Washington Redskins’ daddy.

The Dallas Cowboys have owned the Redskins like a rented mule (or something like that).

All that, however, has nothing to do with Monday night’s matchup. It’s not 1999, it’s not 2001, it’s 2005. The game will come down to offense vs. defense, blocking and tackling, strategy, game plans and the like. The past will not matter a whit.

It doesn’t matter they will have the induction ceremony for Dallas Hall of Rings or whatever it is for Aikman, Smith, and Irvin at halftime. That’s something for the fans and the press. If the Dallas players are paying any attention to it whatsoever Parcells will rip them a new one. They’re not going to try to win one for the Triplets, they’re going to try to win one so as not to have to face the Tuna the rest of the week if they lose a division home game.

And, speaking of the Tuna, his eight-game winning streak against Joe Gibbs will buy a gallon of gas if it’s accompanied by about three bucks. It means zilch.

Both teams are adjusting to new schemes and new players. Dallas spent $50 million in bonus money to buy some upgraded defensive talent and have switched to a 3-4 scheme. It was modestly successful in San Diego last week as they allowed almost 300 yards and three touchdowns to the Chargers, who were playing without star tight end Antonio Gates.

For their part, the Redskins have made the seemingly-contradictory moves of installing a big-play passing offense while reinstalling Mark Brunell as the starting quarterback. They racked up a respectable 325 yards but no touchdowns in their season-opening 9-7 win over Chicago.

Neither is an elite team, neither is awful. Overall, these two teams are a lot like the others in the muddled middle of the NFL. They both have some strong points and some weaknesses. The two quarterbacks both are past their primes. Brunell vs. Drew Bledsoe would have been a marquee matchup in 1998; in 2005 it’s misplaced in prime time. Dallas has some older, slower but accomplished receivers, some suspect spots on the offensive line and a questionable secondary with the exception of safety Roy Williams, while their defensive front seven could be very strong. Washington counters with a very good offensive line, some small, speedy receivers whose effectiveness with Brunell throwing the ball is questionable, and a defense that is greater than the sum of its parts although the parts include a stud DT in Cornelius Griffin, a Pro Bowl linebacker in Marcus Washington, a revived Shawn Springs at cornerback and a potential superstar in safety Sean Taylor.

The game is a coin flip and it could well come down to which running back performs better. Clinton Portis is more the proven commodity, with over 4,000 rushing yards to his credit in three NFL seasons. And, after holding Chicago’s Thomas Jones to 31 yards on 15 carries last week, the Redskins will try their luck against his younger brother Julius. Last year their luck was pretty good.

Jones’ 57 yards rushing (in 22 attempts) in the teams’ second meeting last year was by far his lowest output of the nine games he participated in. In the other eight games he played in during his injury-shortened rookie campaign he never gained fewer than 80 yards. And don’t try to say that he was wearing down after a long NFL season—he hung 149 yards on the Giants in the season finale the next week.

If Jones gains 57 yards on Monday, the Cowboys will lose. Should Portis put up just 2like he did in Dallas last year before he left with an injury, Washington will have a very tough road to a win.

So who will it be? Which back will lead his team to a win and a 2-0 start to the season?

Last year the policy in this space was that there would never again be a prediction that the Redskins would beat the Cowboys until such time that the Redskins actually did beat them. But, keeping with the theme here that what’s in the past is irrelevant, the final will be:

Washington 17, Dallas 16



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