NFL Preview - Washington (4-6) at Dallas (5-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III said he's never been a part of such a quick turnaround in football.
He's never faced the Dallas Cowboys either.
Just days after one of his best outings as a professional, Griffin and the Redskins will try to keep the momentum going and their faint playoff hopes alive Thanksgiving day at Cowboys Stadium.
Griffin knew his team's proverbial back was against the wall versus the just- as-desperate Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at FedEx Field, where he dazzled the crowd with both his arm and legs in a 31-6 rout. RG3 completed 14 of his 15 pass attempts for 200 yards with a career-best four touchdown pass and no interceptions. His 158.3 quarterback rating was perfect.
Perhaps being anointed a team captain before the game lifted Griffin's confidence. Coach Mike Shanahan knew the Redskins had to play tough in all three phases to stay afloat in a crowded NFC playoff picture.
"We had to come out and play our best football--offense, defense and special teams," Shanahan said. "No game is perfect. We will learn from our mistakes, but I like where we're at."
Washington is right behind the 6-4 New York Giants and 5-5 Cowboys in the division standings. Griffin said he told his teammates, especially the offensive line, to take of their bodies because it's a short week with Dallas on the docket Thursday afternoon. Stretching and maintaining form are two of RG3's priorities leading up to Washington's second of three straight division battles. New York is next on the slate Dec. 3.
For how well Griffin played and the breaks the Redskins took advantage of on two deep touchdown passes, the defense played arguably its best game of the year. The defense got three takeaways and four sacks on Eagles rookie Nick Foles in his first NFL start, and did not allow a touchdown.
"That's the kind of football we've wanted to play all year," Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "Forced turnovers, and especially with Philly having a young quarterback, we wanted to really get after him.
"Force some turnovers and steal every possession for our offense."
Kerrigan had one of the four sacks on the day, helping the Redskins halt a three-game losing streak and win for the first time since Oct. 14. The Redskins allowed a season-low 177 passing yards and held Philadelphia to 257 yards total, including 80 on the ground. The defense has another obstacle to hurdle against a Cowboys offense that enjoys going to the air often.
The Cowboys are in the same predicament as Washington, holding on to their own postseason hopes by a thread. They were able to overcome a 13-0 halftime deficit Sunday to dispose of the Cleveland Browns, 23-20, in overtime and turned it up a notch defensively in the second half.
Once again, Tony Romo overcame a slow start to finish with 313 yards passing and a touchdowns, and did not throw an interception for a third straight week. He did, however, lose a fumble for the first time since Week 3 and was sacked a career high seven times.
Dallas' offensive line, ravaged already by injuries, lost starting left tackle Tyron Smith to an ankle injury and it forced the Cowboys to play musical chairs across the front. Ryan Cook and Phil Costa are expected to return soon from their injuries, while Mackenzy Bernadeau, Derrick Dockery and Jermey Parnell got their feet wet versus Cleveland.
"I think our biggest issues were protecting the quarterback, with a number of sacks and negative plays in the passing game, and similarly we didn't run the ball as well as we would have liked to," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "When those things aren't happening, you've just got to keep battling."
Romo has been sacked 15 times in the past four weeks and 24 times total. He has to be optimistic wide receiver Dez Bryant had a breakout day with a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions. Romo looked Bryant's way 15 times on the afternoon and the two connected on a 28-yard score midway through the fourth quarter.
Dan Bailey later kicked a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in overtime to even Dallas' record at 5-5. The Cowboys are in the midst of a favorable schedule with five home games in six weeks. They close out the season against, you guessed it, at Washington.
Dallas has dominated the Redskins lately, winning three straight and six of the last seven matchups between the teams. The Cowboys are unbeaten in three straight meetings at home in this rivalry.
The Cowboys have won five of six on Thanksgiving and are hosting the holiday game for the 45th time in the past 47 years. The last time Dallas and Washington met on Thanksgiving was Nov. 28, 2002, when the Cowboys recorded a 27-20 victory.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Griffin will be the third mobile quarterback the Cowboys will face this season, after winning matchups against Carolina and Philadelphia. Cam Newton had 233 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception, and also ran for a game-best 64 yards. It wasn't enough to defeat defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme, which sent Philadelphia's Michael Vick packing with a concussion early on just a few weeks ago.
It makes it that much tougher to plan for when a quarterback with that much talent is across the field. Griffin recorded a 93.3 completion percentage against the Eagles -- the highest by a quarterback with at least four touchdown passes since Steve Young back on Oct. 16, 1994. RG3 has three TD passes of at least 60 yards on the season and improvises with ease when the pocket breaks down or avoiding the rush.
Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware has to be accounted for on all downs even if he's taking a water break. Like most defenders, Ware will have a tough job trying to contain Griffin, but the numbers don't lie. Ware has recorded 10-plus sacks in seven straight seasons. Bruce Smith has the most with 13. Ware owns 109 1/2 sacks and is tied with Greg Townsend for 18th all-time.
Besides Griffin leaving the pocket, Dallas, which gave up 95 yards on 28 carries to Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson, has to clog the gaps for Redskins rookie Alfred Morris, who can break tackles and owns 869 yards on 184 carries this season. Morris, though, hasn't scored in four weeks. Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer sometimes gets to the QB with ease because there's too much concern with Ware. Nose guard Jay Ratliff is a natural run stuffer and has to be Thursday against RG3.
The Redskins have less-than-stellar receivers and one baaing veteran, so how will that unfold at Cowboys Stadium? The Eagles made Washington's receivers look like the "Posse," which consisted of Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark, on Sunday. Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon had a team-best three catches each and Santana Moss had one freakish catch for a 61-yard score. Aldrick Robinson had only one catch, but it was enough for a 49-yard touchdown.
"It was a big way to start off this second half of our season," Moss said afterward. "And I hope we can carry this momentum into our next game."
Dallas is known for making mental mistakes on defense, especially in the secondary. Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne played well versus the Browns one week after collecting flags left and right in Philadelphia. Linebackers Bruce Carter, Ernie Sims and Dan Connor must be prepared to chase RG3 Thursday and cut off his running lanes. Eagles rookie LB Mychal Kendricks was able to that on several occasions this past weekend.
Washington's defense is riding a wave of confidence heading into this matchup and could take advantage of what could be another shakeup across the o-line for Dallas. Smith is the latest lineman to go down and the team is hopeful the injury isn't that serious.
"I'm hopeful that it's not severe, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Smith's injury. "He was trying to get back. As it could be, it's a high ankle [sprain]. I've got to quickly go off it, but we're positive about it."
There may be some glaring issues with Dallas' offensive line and that could hurt them in a must-win situation for both NFC East inhabitants. Romo's not as mobile or agile as RG3, but can extend plays with his feet and wouldn't need that much time in protection. Not much has been said about Cowboys running back Felix Jones and he could be the Cowboys' wild card on Thanksgiving. The free world will get to see Griffin on a grand stage and he won't disappoint. However, the end result won't be in his favor.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 23, Redskins 16
11/21 09:12:32 ET