Cowboys, Redskins exchange places since opener Now Dallas is doing Super swagger, and Washington is looking for answers

December 09, 1992|By Tim Cowlishaw | Tim Cowlishaw,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- When they met under the hot Monday night lights in September, it was all so different. The Washington Redskins were the ones with the strut in their step, fresh from their third Super Bowl season. The Dallas Cowboys were the ones with so many questions to answer.

When they reconvene in RFK Stadium on Sunday, it is the Cowboys who can clinch a division title and improve their chances of a first-round bye. The Redskins are the ones having to answer all the questions, the main one being: What is wrong?

"What's wrong with the Redskins?" coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday, repeating a question that he has heard too often in 1992. "When I hear that, I say to give me some specifics. If you're talking about winning games, I'd say we just haven't been as good a team this year. The way I look at it, we just haven't matched up as well against the teams we've faced. That's no answer. But we just haven't played as good."

Perhaps the only thing that hasn't changed in this rivalry during the past three months is expectations. Washington came into Texas Stadium a two-point favorite. The Redskins go into Sunday's game a three-point favorite, a fact of life that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Gibbs agree is out of order.

"I don't agree with it," said Jones, almost lobbying to be listed as a favorite. "We've played very well up there. I think we have the monkey off our backs up there."

Gibbs finds the point spread even more preposterous.

"We were favored against the Cardinals by 13 [when Phoenix won]," Gibbs said in a conference call. "Did any of you bet any of that? If you did, you lost your hide. Those guys [oddsmakers] are ridiculous."

"We don't put any credence in that. We know we're going up against probably the best team in the league."

That distinction belonged to the Redskins a few months ago. But since the start of the season, injuries have altered their look, particularly in both lines. Jim Lachey, the All-Pro left tackle, missed six games but has returned to strengthen the offensive unit, and last week Earnest Byner had his first 100-yard rushing day since Week Three.

"We weren't even getting to the line of scrimmage for a while there," Gibbs said. "At least last week we made a few yards."

But Washington's still having problems stopping the run, and that's largely a product of injuries to tackles Eric Williams and Bobby Wilson. The Redskins' defense ranks 19th in average gain per rush.

That weakness didn't exist a year ago, which makes the Redskins doubly concerned about Emmitt Smith, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past four games against Washington.

The other major change from a year ago lies with Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, who has descended from NFC Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP to becoming the lowest-rated passer in the NFC. His numbers have improved the past two weeks, but his 11-14 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is far from last year's 28-11.

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