- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before the season began, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys were generally considered to be on a similar level.

Both teams made the playoffs twice from 2005 to 2007; the Redskins finished 8-8 last year, while the Cowboys were 9-7. Both teams had a coach on the hot seat. And both featured a starting quarterback without a playoff victory.

But as the division-leading Cowboys (6-3) welcome the last-place Redskins (3-6) to their gaudy new stadium Sunday, the teams seem as far apart as their records.

Washington had lost four in a row until shocking Denver at home last week while scoring more than 17 points for the first time all season. Dallas had won four in row until getting upset at Green Bay last week.

And despite its poor performance against the Packers, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger is a fan of what the Cowboys are doing.

“Even though Green Bay scored 17 points, one of those touchdowns came on a drive that started on the Dallas 3-yard line,” Baldinger said. “The secondary is playing great. The linebacking corps is upgraded. The defense is just better since [coach] Wade [Phillips] took over the [playcalling].

“Marion Barber, Tashard Choice and Felix Jones are a good trio of backs. Tony Romo is doing a good job of taking care of the ball for the most part. The line has played very well against some great blitzing defenses. There’s no T.O. coming back to the huddle complaining about not getting the ball. Miles Austin is just glad to be playing.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Redskins owner Dan Snyder are often considered of similar ilk. But Baldinger said Jones - a former Arkansas player - would never undercut a coach the way Snyder - who never played the game - did in relieving coach Jim Zorn of the playcalling duties after the Redskins were stunned by the visiting Chiefs in Week 6.

Snyder parted ways with his previous five coaches in less than eight years. Jones hired a new coach five times from 1994 to 2007.

“Jerry will always take the heat when things don’t go well in Dallas,” Baldinger said. “Snyder doesn’t do that in Washington.”

The Cowboys also have built mostly through the draft. Of the remarkable 12 players on their roster who have been chosen for Pro Bowls while with Dallas, all but two haven’t played for another team. The Redskins have six players on their roster who’ve been to Pro Bowls with Washington. Three have played for other teams.

Even with aging longtime starting offensive linemen Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas out for the year, nine of Washington’s regulars are in their 30s. With offensive tackle Marc Colombo hurt, only six of Dallas’ starters are that old.

Redskins offensive linemen Levi Jones, Casey Rabach, Stephon Heyer (restricted), quarterback Jason Campbell, defensive end Phillip Daniels, linebacker Rocky McIntosh, cornerback Carlos Rogers, safety Reed Doughty, kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Hunter Smith are all headed toward free agency. Only three Cowboys starters are unsigned for 2010: Austin, defensive end Marcus Spears and safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Even kicker Nick Folk and punter Mat McBriar are under contract.

And while it would take a miraculous turnaround for Zorn to be back in 2010 given the Redskins’ struggles and their upcoming games with the contending Eagles, Saints, Giants and Chargers - and Dallas again - Phillips should return if the Cowboys get to 10 victories.

“You have to figure Zorn won’t be there next year,” Baldinger said. “The new coach will have to answer so many questions. Is Jason the quarterback? Is Clinton Portis through? Samuels and Thomas are probably done, and I don’t know how much Rabach has left. What kind of offense is it going to be? You might have to do what Kansas City did - blow the whole thing up and start over.”