Redskins look to buck skid vs. Cowboys

Players set for challenge against first-place rivals

NFL Week 9

November 02, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - After coming up empty in their past three games, the Washington Redskins are looking to bag a Tuna.

When Washington takes the field at Texas Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys at 4:15 p.m. today, the 3-4 Redskins will match wits with coach Bill Parcells and a rejuvenated Cowboys team that leads the NFC East at 5-2.

It's a daunting task for a team that has lost its past three games and weathered public criticism from coach Steve Spurrier and linebacker LaVar Arrington, but Redskins players know that defeating Dallas would help put to rest the turbulent two weeks since Buffalo thumped Washington by 17 points.

"It may have been a little hectic, but not really," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said. "I do feel as if we've settled down. ... I think we're ready to get back in there and get back to work."

Waiting for the Redskins is a different Cowboys team than the past few seasons.

Gone are Dave Campo and three consecutive 5-11 seasons.

Parcells, a strict disciplinarian, has applied pressure and instilled confidence.

The results have been overwhelming. The defense, ranked first in the NFL, has given up an average of 244.7 yards a game and is first in the league in fewest first downs allowed per game with 14.

The offense - built on Parcells' plan of mistake-free, run-oriented football - is a modest 12th with an average of 331.1 yards a game, but has turned the ball over only 10 times, ninth-fewest in the league.

It's a reversal that Parcells believes took place during the offseason when he set out to eliminate what he called a "culture" of mediocrity.

"When you have three consecutive losing seasons, no matter who you are or what organization - even though this is a storied organization - there's still a tremendous degree of negativity and not much hope when things aren't going well," Parcells said. "We're just starting down this road. I don't know what kind of team we have, but I do think that I'll know a heck of a lot more in the next four weeks."

Parcells' track record suggests he's the closest thing to a miracle worker. He won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, guided the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl in 1996 and turned a New York Jets team that was 1-15 in 1996 into an AFC East champion in 1998.

Redskins right guard Randy Thomas' rookie season was 1999, Parcells' final year coaching with the Jets, and Thomas said he's not shocked at what Parcells has done in Dallas.

"I know what type of coach he is," Thomas said. "He's going to get his guys up for everything. He's done a great job."

The same has not been said of Spurrier, who is 10-13 in Washington.

Spurrier's reputation as an offensive guru has suffered as the Fun 'N' Gun is ranked 18th (317.4 yards a game) and has allowed a league-worst 25 sacks.

The defense hasn't fared any better, slipping to 21st (329.3) and accounting for just 10 sacks.

With a laundry list of injuries that likely will put running back Ladell Betts (forearm), cornerback Fred Smoot (sternum) and left guard Dave Fiore (knee) on the inactive list for today's game, the Redskins know that regaining the .500 mark will be an uphill climb.

"That's when you find out what type of team you have, because no matter what type of injuries you have, the game is still scheduled," free safety Matt Bowen said. "They're still going to play it. So go down there and play."

It's a sentiment that is roundly shared by Bowen's teammates.

"I'm just ready to play. All this extra stuff belongs where it belongs," Arrington said. "[Playing is] the only way to start our healing process with one another. Let's go out there and play a game and do what we know we can do."


1. Grab a cushion

Nothing will alleviate the pressure on quarterback Patrick Ramsey and Washington's embattled offensive line more than taking a lead. In two of the team's three wins, the Redskins led at the half. In three of the team's four losses, Washington trailed at halftime by an average of 10 points.

2. Test Quincy Carter

Stopping running back Troy Hambrick will force the Cowboys to rely on Carter to be the main threat, and Carter wasn't up to the challenge last week against Tampa Bay.

3. Red zone woes

Opposing offenses are running amok against the Redskins inside their 20-yard line. In 22 possessions in the red zone, opponents have scored 15 touchdowns for an NFC-worst touchdown conversion rate of 68.2 percent. Perhaps the only reprieve this week is that Dallas has the NFC's worst offense in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on seven of 21 trips (33.3 percent).

Redskins today

Matchup: Washington Redskins (3-4) vs. Dallas Cowboys (5-2)

Site: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas

Time: 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Cowboys by 4 1/2

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