Redskins LB Brian Orakpo and DE Andre Carter vs. Cowboys Ts Flozell Adams and Doug Free
Orakpo, who plays right end in passing situations, was shut out during last week's 45-12 loss to the New York Giants, just a week after tying a franchise record with four sacks. He leads all rookies with 11. He'll aim to make up for failing to bring down Tony Romo on the play when the Cowboys quarterback threw the touchdown pass that beat the Redskins with just 2:41 left on Nov. 22 in Dallas.
The additions of first-round choice Orakpo and All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth have greatly enhanced a pass rush that has soared from 24 sacks in 2008 to 38 so far in 2009. The biggest beneficiary has been Carter, who led the Redskins with just four sacks last year. Carter, who moves from right end to left end on passing downs, also has 11 sacks, 10 in the nine games before last week. He'll play the final two games with a torn left biceps. If Orakpo and Carter -- whose 22 sacks are the most by an NFL pairing -- get one more sack, they'll be Washington's top duo of the past 23 seasons.
Adams, a five-time Pro Bowl pick, has looked every bit of his 34 years often this year. Romo has been sacked 31 times in 509 dropbacks -- compared with just 20 sacks in 470 dropbacks last season.
Free, whose first start came in the Week 10 victory against Washington, is getting his first significant playing time in place of the injured Marc Colombo.
1. The first quarter
Last week's first 15 minutes against the Giants were a disaster for the Redskins, who were outgained 134 yards to minus-3 yards, had the ball for just 86 seconds and trailed 14-0 just two plays into the second quarter. That can't happen against Dallas, which is plus-30 in first-quarter scoring. Washington is minus-38.
2. Limit big plays
Last week against a Giants offense that ranks seventh in yards per play, Washington was beaten for catches of at least 25 yards by three receivers and for a 31-yard run. Dallas is full of playmakers -- Miles Austin, Roy Williams, Felix Jones, Marion Barber, Patrick Crayton, Jason Witten and Tashard Choice among them.
3. Control the rush
DeMarcus Ware, who had a sack in six straight games against the Redskins until that streak ended Nov. 22 in Dallas, leads a strong pass rush. New York beat Washington's line, which includes expected reserves Mike Williams and Levi Jones, for five sacks and 12 hurries last week.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Washington played in Dallas on Nov. 22 having already lost No. 1 running back Clinton Portis and starting right guard Randy Thomas for the year. Their replacements, Ladell Betts and Chad Rinehart, were lost that day. And yet the offense scored 88 points the next three weeks against Philadelphia, New Orleans and Oakland before falling flat Monday against the Giants. The line, which has used 11 players, has struggled to protect quarterback Jason Campbell. Dallas' defense, ranked 14th but tied for sixth in points allowed, held the high-powered Saints to 190 yards and a field goal through three quarters last week. Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who kills the Redskins, was carted off with a neck injury six days earlier, then had two sacks last week against New Orleans.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
The Redskins rank ninth on defense, fifth against the pass and third in sacks per attempt. However, they have surrendered 15 plays of at least 30 yards the past seven games, including three while getting routed Monday. Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Carlos Rogers have been particularly victimized in coverage. The Cowboys have gotten such big plays from eight players, but they didn't get any in the first matchup with Washington. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is just 3-3 against the Redskins, who have held the Cowboys to 39 points in his three starts at Washington. Marion Barber ran well in both of Dallas' victories the past two years. Backup receiver Patrick Crayton is a Redskins killer.
This game has the potential to be remembered as Shaun Suisham's revenge. Cut three weeks ago by the Redskins after missing a gimme field goal try that would've sealed an upset of the then-unbeaten Saints, Suisham on Monday was signed by the Cowboys, his previous team. Suisham made 18 of 21 kicks for Washington this year. Notably, his other two misses came Nov. 22 at Dallas. Despite a bad game last week against the Giants, the Redskins have the NFC's best coverage units. Their return units, however, are among the worst. Crayton has returned two punts for touchdowns. Dallas punter Mat McBriar is having a better year than Washington's Hunter Smith, who may not play Sunday. Suisham's potential replacement, rookie Graham Gano, is 2-for-2 on field goals but already has had an extra point blocked.
- David Elfin
Doubtful: Devin Thomas (ankle).
Questionable: Albert Haynesworth (knee), Andre Carter (biceps), Cornelius Griffin (shoulder), Stephon Heyer (knee), DeAngelo Hall (knee).
Probable: Anthony Montgomery (hip), Todd Yoder (toe).
Out: Marc Colombo (ankle), Pat Watkins (knee).
Probable: Deon Anderson (knee), Martellus Bennett (concussion), Ken Hamlin (ankle), Terence Newman (knee), Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb), DeMarcus Ware (wrist).
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