- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

KEY MATCHUP

REDSKINS CB SHAWN SPRINGS vs. COWBOYS WR TERRELL OWENS

In eight games against Washington from 1996 to 2006 for San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas, Terrell Owens wasn’t the All-Pro receiver he was against everybody else. Owens averaged 3.5 catches and 38 yards with three touchdowns in those games.

But when these NFC East rivals last met at Texas Stadium 10 months ago, Owens got on track. He beat cornerback Shawn Springs on a 4-yard touchdown early in the second quarter before leaving the Washington defense gasping after halftime. Owens caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to put the Cowboys ahead to stay in the third quarter and followed with scoring bombs of 46 and 52 yards in the fourth quarter to finish with all four Dallas touchdowns and 173 yards on eight catches.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Owens is a big receiver with deceptive speed, so Springs has to respect his ability to go downfield while being physical enough to prevent Owens from taking advantage of him on underneath routes.

What makes the matchup more intriguing than Springs’ duel with Arizona’s talented Anquan Boldin last Sunday is that Owens and Springs have been battling on and off for 11 seasons and have trained together during offseasons. There will be plenty of trash talking by the friends. If Springs can hold Owens under control, Washington’s chances of springing the upset will be greatly enhanced.

THREE KEYS

1. Keep Barber under control

The Redskins have struggled so far against power backs. The Giants’ Brandon Jacobs and the Cardinals’ Edgerrin James each averaged better than 5 yards a carry. The Cowboys’ Marion Barber is better than either of those backs, but Washington held him to a mere 37 yards on 21 carries in two matchups last season. Demetric Evans, who will start at left defensive end, is better against the run than the injured Jason Taylor.

2. Limit the big plays

The Cowboys love the big play. Quarterback Tony Romo already has connected on 13 passes of at least 20 yards to six different targets, including receiver Miles Austin, who had catches of 52 and 63 yards last week at Green Bay. The more snaps an offense needs to reach the end zone, the greater the chance for a turnover, so the Redskins want to limit the Cowboys’ chances to get big-yardage plays.

3. Keep the chains moving

While Redskins coach Jim Zorn would love some big plays of his own, he doesn’t really want to get into a shootout with the high-octane Cowboys. The Redskins would like to try wear down the talented and fast Dallas defense with the high-percentage West Coast passing game that worked so well last week against Arizona. The more first downs that Chris Cooley and Santana Moss can make, the less time the Dallas offense will have the ball.

THE EDGE

WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL

The unbeaten Cowboys are in the top 10 in offense, defense, rushing, passing and run defense. However, they’re 19th in pass defense and were torched by Donovan McNabb and the Eagles in the first half in Week 2. Jason Campbell, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and the Redskins are getting increasingly comfortable in Jim Zorn’s West Coast passing scheme. If Washington can block DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis, Campbell and Co. should be able to do some damage, which could give Clinton Portis some much needed room to operate against the quick Dallas defenders.

Edge: Cowboys

WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL

Other than a long touchdown pass on which safety Reed Doughty was beaten last week, the Redskins have played well defensively the past 2 1/2 games, allowing just 34 points. Losing Jason Taylor will hurt the pass rush, but linebacker Marcus Washington can help alleviate that loss. Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion Barber are the big weapons for Tony Romo, but receivers Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin have torched the Redskins with big plays, too. The Redskins could focus on the pass like the last two games, but Dallas is balanced. This is clearly the biggest test for new defensive coordinator Greg Blache.

Edge: Cowboys

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Cowboys have Pro Bowl performers in Nick Folk (2007) and Mat McBriar (2006), and both are off to great starts. Rookie kick returner Felix Jones already has a 98-yard touchdown, and the team’s coverage units, led by Kevin Burnett, are strong. The Redskins’ Shaun Suisham has missed three field goals, half as many as he missed in all of 2007. The chip-shot miss was the fault of Durant Brooks, the inconsistent rookie punter. Kick returner Rock Cartwright has been fine, but punt returner Antwaan Randle El has struggled so much that he’s now splitting the duty with Moss. Washington’s usually first-rate coverage units allowed a 55-yard punt return touchdown to the Saints’ Reggie Bush.

Edge: Cowboys

- David Elfin

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