Beating Cowboys would ease 5-8 pain

Playoffs highly doubtful, Redskins turn attention to a rival in a tailspin

NFL Week 15

December 14, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Washington Redskins are playing in the Super Bowl. At least that's how cornerback Fred Smoot views it.

When the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys meet at 4:15 today at FedEx Field, Washington will try to salvage a 5-8 campaign and likely fourth consecutive playoff-barren season by defeating its most contemptuous rival.

"With the playoffs looking grim, this is our Super Bowl," said Smoot. "This is the game we're going to rise up for. This is the game we want."

There is plenty of meaning to today's game even if one of the parties needs a mathematical miracle to make the postseason.

Dallas has won 11 of the past 12 meetings between these teams, including a 21-14 victory on Nov. 2 that marked the first contest between Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and Redskins coach Steve Spurrier.

In that game, the Cowboys stacked as many as nine defenders at the line of scrimmage to overpower Washington's porous blocking schemes and dared the Redskins to beat one-on-one coverage on their wide receivers.

Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey was sacked four times, and Fox analysts Chris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman and Jimmy Johnson (the latter two are former Dallas employees) assailed Washington team owner Daniel Snyder and Spurrier.

The Redskins get a shot at redemption today. After starting the season with a 7-2 record, the Cowboys have dropped three of their past four.

And Washington has a chance to derail Dallas' hopes for its first playoff appearance since 1998. The Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) currently own the inside track for the two NFC wild-card berths, but the Green Bay Packers (7-6), New Orleans Saints (6-7) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) aren't far behind.

Playing the spoiler role has the Redskins motivated.

"Even though we're not going to the playoffs, this is still a big game, and we have an opportunity to maybe keep them from going to the playoffs," said Tim Hasselbeck, who has taken over for the injured Ramsey. "Obviously, something like that keeps a rivalry going."

Added fullback Rock Cartwright: "I know the Cowboys need this win. We also need this win. It's like a playoff game for us. We've just got to continue to scratch and spoil their playoff hopes."

As bad as Dallas' recent stretch has been, the team still boasts firepower. The Cowboys average 122.2 yards rushing a game, and the wide receiving trio of Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn and Antonio Bryant (a combined 104 catches for 1,640 yards and nine touchdowns) is widely considered one of the best groups in the league.

The defense is surrendering a league-low 260.8 yards a game and has allowed fewer first downs (197) than any other team in the NFL.

That's why -- even though the Cowboys own one of the worst turnover ratios (minus-6) in the league and have given up 76 points in their past two games -- Parcells is not as downtrodden as he appeared after the Philadelphia Eagles walloped Dallas, 36-10, last week.

"I'm happy that we ... still have something to play for," Parcells said. "I'm happy about that, but I know we're going to have to play a lot better than we played recently if we're going to do anything."

It would appear that Washington would be the perfect opponent for the Cowboys.

The Redskins have dropped seven of their past nine and stopped a three-game skid by beating up on the woeful New York Giants (4-9).

Injuries to running backs Trung Canidate (questionable, sprained foot) and Ladell Betts (doubtful, aggravated forearm) and offensive linemen Chris Samuels (questionable, sprained knee) and Larry Moore (injured reserve, sprained foot) have depleted an offense that is ranked 23rd in the league.

But the opponent is Dallas -- a motivation not lost on cornerback Champ Bailey.

"I don't care whether we spoil their season or not," he said. "I just want to beat them."

THREE KEYS FOR REDISKINS

1. Keep running

Fresh off a season-high 48 carries that culminated in 150 rushing yards against the New York Giants, Washington should return to a similar formula against Dallas. Although the Cowboys boast the league's top-ranked defense and sixth-best rush defense, they are not impenetrable. Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles ran at will against Dallas, posting 167 yards on 22 carries (7.6 yards per attempt) and one touchdown.

2. Gardner vs. Edwards

As good as the Cowboys' top-ranked pass defense is, cornerback Mario Edwards has been a marked man the past two weeks. On Thanksgiving, the Miami Dolphins' Chris Chambers torched Edwards for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Edwards was flagged for three penalties in his matchup with Philadelphia's Todd Pinkston, including a pass interference call that ignited a 26-0 run. Rod Gardner (52 catches, 543 yards, five touchdowns) could have a field day against Edwards.

3. Disrupt Dallas

Bill Parcells' preference to establish the run could be a reoccurring theme today. Running back Troy Hambrick rushed for 100 yards against Washington on Nov. 2, and the Cowboys compiled a season-high 208 rushing yards that day. Parcells will rely on the run to make quarterback Quincy Carter, who has struggled in his past two games, feel more comfortable in the pocket.

Redskins today

Matchup: Dallas Cowboys (8-5) vs. Washington Redskins (5-8)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

Time: 4:15 p.m.

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

Line: Cowboys by 1

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