Dallas Cowboys: Kevin Barnes

The NFC East: Living in the nickel

August, 9, 2012
One big reason cornerback Terrell Thomas is important to the New York Giants is that the Giants really like to use defensive backs. The Giants learned earlier this week that Thomas' latest knee injury would not require surgery and that he should be able to play for them this year. This is good news, because with Aaron Ross having left via free agency and second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara still developing, the Giants need Thomas. Not just as the starter opposite Corey Webster, but in the nickel and dime defensive packages they used more than any other team in the league last year.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants used five or more defensive backs on 734 defensive snaps last year -- more than any other team in the league. That number accounted for 68.5 percent of their 1,072 defensive snaps. Only the Green Bay Packers went with five or more defensive backs on a higher percentage of their plays -- 69.0 percent, or 724 of 1,049.

I know this because our NFC North blogger, Kevin Seifert, recently did a post about how often the NFC North's teams were in nickel or dime packages last year, and he passed along the chart he got from ESPN Stats & Info showing how often each team in the league went with extra defensive backs. That's how things work on the ESPN.com NFL blog network. We're a team. A brotherhood. Eight pistons firing as one. It's really quite beautiful to watch sometimes.

Anyway, I looked at the chart and noticed that the NFC East's teams basically lived in nickel and dime defenses. Well, three of them at least. The Giants ranked second in the league in percentage of plays with five or more defensive backs. The Dallas Cowboys were fifth, at 59.5 percent. The Philadelphia Eagles ranked eighth, at 56.8 percent. And the Washington Redskins were the exception, ranking 24th at 43.9 percent.

The Redskins had injury issues at safety, didn't like the job Kevin Barnes was doing as their inside corner and have very good linebackers that they don't like to take off the field. But the other three teams in our division ... they love them some nickel.

Back to the Giants for a second. Just because they used extra defensive backs this much last year doesn't automatically mean they'll do it again. They're deeper and stronger at linebacker this year, and they didn't re-sign veteran safety Deon Grant. That means, if they go to those three-safety looks they've run the past couple of years, the third safety would have to be someone like Tyler Sash or Will Hill. With Thomas currently on the shelf, there's a chance they could ask safety Antrel Rolle to play the nickel corner position, but that's not ideal. Michael Coe is likely the next corner off the bench if Amukamara is pressed into a starting role, and while he's looked good in camp, he lacks experience. The Giants liked linebacker Jacquian Williams in coverage late last year and in the postseason, and it's possible they could design more packages this year that use just four defensive backs, since their 2012 strengths may lie elsewhere.

The Cowboys' ideal plan is to start Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne at cornerback with Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins backing them up. Scandrick is good in the nickel spot, and overall this plan would give them enough depth to go to the nickel as often as they like. The issue right now, of course, is that Jenkins and Claiborne are hurt, and even if they expect those guys back for the start of the season, they're probably not getting to practice those nickel looks as much as they'd like to. Or at least, not with the personnel they'd prefer to use.

As for the Eagles, they're similar to the Giants in that they're stronger at linebacker this year and subtracted one of last year's starting corners when they traded Asante Samuel. With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as the starters, the nickel spot right now is likely to fall either to veteran Joselio Hanson or (more likely) rookie Brandon Boykin. Curtis Marsh has been getting a lot of work in camp and is the first option off the bench should one of the outside guys get hurt. And undrafted rookie Cliff Harris has a chance to make the team and add depth. Given the responsibility the Eagles' linebackers have for run support and gap control in the Wide 9, it's likely the Eagles will lean on their defensive backs as much as they did last year, and play as much nickel.

A lot of this depends on opponents, too. The Giants, Eagles and Cowboys all like to throw the ball a lot, so when they play each other they structure their defenses to stop the pass. And having teams like the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Lions on the schedule, as NFC East teams do this year, can make teams go to the nickel more. But if we're basing it on last year alone, our teams like to use extra defensive backs as much as anyone in the entire league.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins preview

November, 18, 2011

Scout's Eye
The last time the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys met, some eight weeks ago, the Redskins were off to a 2-0 start with an impressive opening day win against the New York Giants while the Cowboys had just evened their record to 1-1 after Tony Romo managed to steal a game in San Francisco despite a broken rib.

Blame quarterbacks for Redskins' slide

Since that meeting, the Redskins have lost five of their last six. A large part of those losses are due to the poor play of the quarterbacks Rex Grossman and John Beck. When you study the Redskins, the first thing that comes to mind is what we had to deal with during the Dave Campo years here in Dallas when it came to the quarterbacks. During that span we wasted a lot of time trying to get quarterbacks ready to play that gave us no opportunity to win games. I am seeing a lot of the same things in Washington.

Mike Shanahan’s inability to successfully identify a quarterback has done a lot of damage to the Redskins. Time, money and draft selections have been wasted on players like Donovan McNabb, Grossman and Beck.

Any pro personnel director could tell you without hesitation that McNabb was slipping badly and Andy Reid was more than ready to move on from McNabb with Michael Vick. As much as Shanahan wanted to believe that there was still gas left in McNabb’s tank, it wasn’t the case at all. Everyone knew that except Shanahan.

As the Redskins were going through training camp, Shanahan was still in search of a quarterback and placed a call to the Dolphins about Beck, who have had their quarterback issues as well. The Dolphins were more than happy to ship Beck to the Redskins. Shanahan made his biggest mistake of the off season by not addressing the quarterback situation through the draft when he had the opportunity to do so with a top-10 selection.

Shanahan could have selected Andy Dalton, Jake Locker or Christian Ponder but instead chose to trade down and select linebacker Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue. Kerrigan has been a nice player this season but doesn’t help his quarterback situation now or in the future.

Beck has made three starts this season and has yet to win a game. As a matter of fact, Beck has an 0-7 record as an NFL starter. He plays like a quarterback that is afraid to make a mistake. You never see him really push the ball down the field. Everything Beck does is short and underneath.

Beck really struggles because he isn’t that accurate when it comes to throwing the ball at any level. He will struggle to hit receivers on the move and he will also struggle to hit them when stationary. The ball doesn’t come off his hand with any zip at all; there is no power to his game.

This is also the case of Grossman, who is back after throwing four interceptions in a loss to the Eagles. I have never been a fan of Grossman’s game because he really lacks arm strength, but I can’t question his toughness. He will stand in there and take shots.

Grossman is not the tallest or most mobile quarterback in the league, but you will see him slide in the pocket to try to help him with throwing lanes. The lack of arm strength appears when the Redskins try to throw the ball down the field.

Cowboys catch a break: No Moss

There have been too many times where Anthony Armstrong or Santana Moss get a step on a corner but have to wait on the ball because neither Grossman or Beck can get it down the field.

The Cowboys catch a huge break in this game because Moss will miss it due to a hand injury. Moss has punished the Cowboys over the years with his playmaking ability, so the fact that he is out of the lineup is a huge plus for Rob Ryan and this defense.

The Redskins generate offense in two areas.

Tight end Fred Davis is the real deal and is someone that nickel back Frank Walker and safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam are going to have to deal with. Davis doesn’t play like a traditional in line tight end. Not to say that you won’t see him inline, but the majority of his work is in the slot or flexed. Davis likes to work the middle of the field and he will be the go-to guy on third downs. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan likes to move him around the formation and create opportunities.

Redskins also will struggle to run the ball

Shanahan will also try to run the ball against the Cowboys’ front seven. Last week against the Bills, Dallas’ run defense was outstanding when the game was in the balance. That wasn’t the case the previous games against the Eagles and Seahawks.

The Cowboys will need to be ready for running backs Ryan Torain and Roy Helu in this zone blocking attack. Torain runs the ball hard but he is really straight line and doesn’t have many moves. He will attack the hole, then lower his head to finish the run.

The back that I think is the best fit for this offense is Helu. He just plays like he has a better feel for the offense when it comes to reading the blocks, then making the cut. Torain is more about attacking the hole; Helu is more about allowing the blocks to develop then making his cut.

Helu also does a nice job of catching the ball out of the backfield. Solid, dependable hands and does a nice job of getting up the field and gaining positive yards.

I mentioned the issues that the Redskins have at quarterback, which I feel are the most important, but their offensive line -- other than left tackle Trent Williams -- really struggle, run or pass.

Left guard Maurice Hurt is the weak link of this line. He plays overextended, doesn’t adjust to twist stunts and has poor sustain. He has been nursing a knee injury and might not be active for this game. Center Will Montgomery would slide over to his spot and Erik Cook would take over at center.

Right tackle Jammal Brown has had his shares of problems when it has come to pass protection. Have seen defenders get the edge on him without many problems.

Williams can make the cut-off block on the backside and reach the front. Williams had a little trouble in the 49ers game when he and Hurt had to sort out the twist game. Both of them did not adjust all that well. Look for Rob Ryan to throw some movement stunts against this line to see if they have corrected those problems or teams will continue to take advantage of them.

Redskins' defense will create pressure

If the Redskins can ever find a way to build any type of offense, they would have a shot in this division. No matter how bad the offense plays, the Redskins defense is always there to clean up the mess.

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and his staff have done a nice job in the games I studied. The pressure that they have able to generate with their front seven, particularly outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Kerrigan, has been impressive.

Orakpo was the first rusher that Doug Free faced after the 49ers game, when he struggled so bad with his technique. I was told that Free was really worried about the inside rush from Orakpo and it affected him in the game. Free has been rock solid the last two weeks and appears to once again be playing with confidence.

Both Orakpo and Kerrigan are relentless rushers when coming after the quarterback, but you will also have to deal with them on the backside when running down plays. If the Cowboys’ tackles and tight ends don’t finish blocks on the backside, then Orakpo and Kerrigan will be right there to make a play.

One of the major reasons for success in this Cowboys running game has been their ability to secure blocks and allow DeMarco Murray to use his vision to make cuts when he reads it. Without those backside blocks, this running game wouldn’t be as potent.

Watch for safety Landry to key on Cowboys' rushers

In the Buffalo game, safety LaRon Landry played more in the box, almost like a linebacker. I have a feeling that Haslett will probably try to do the same to see if he can have some success stopping Murray. Garrett can counter much like he did last week against the Bills -- throw the ball early in the game to get them out of that.

The Redskins have some run players in nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive end Adam Carriker. Cofield shows the ability to get up field quickly off the snap and be disruptive in the backfield. Will be interested to see if Cofield lines up over Montrae Holland, who has struggled with quickness in the past.

Carriker plays with more brute force and power than great technique. When Tyron Smith has had his troubles, it’s been against ends that play with power. But to Smith’s advantage, this will be the second time that he has faced Carriker, so he can go back and study how he needs to attack him.

Former Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen is not playing as well against the run as he did when he was here. There is something about Bowen that leads me to believe that he really was an outstanding nickel or backup player, and the more snaps that he has to play, the more he will struggle. Bowen can still generate some pass rush, but he isn’t nearly as affective as he was when here.

At inside linebacker, the ageless London Fletcher is still around the ball a great deal. When in position to make a tackle, he can get the job done.

I was not impressed with Rocky McIntosh at all. I saw too many times where he was beaten in coverage or he missed a tackle. In the 49ers and Bills games, he was really bad in both those areas. McIntosh struggled much more than Fletcher at getting off blocks.

Cowboys should target Barnes in Redskins' secondary

In the secondary, the Redskins will use three safeties when they are all healthy, which at this time they are not. Landry has missed the first two days of practice with an Achilles injury, but he should play. O.J. Atogwe has been dealing with knee and toe problems and Reed Doughty has a chest issue.

The best combination for the Redskins is when Atogwe and Landry are the starters. Doughty will try to be physical in the run but doesn’t cover all that well.

Of the two corners, Josh Wilson knows how to play the fade and doesn’t give you much room. He also runs very well. DeAngelo Hall likes to bait quarterbacks into throws and will drive on routes. Have been told that he hasn’t been playing well this year, but in the games I studied, I didn’t see that. The weak link in the group is nickel Kevin Barnes, who needs to be attacked.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins review

September, 28, 2011

The week for Jason Garrett started with questions of which players might be available to play in a Monday night contest against the division rival Washington Redskins.

Scout's Eye
To Garrett’s credit, he was able to focus his squad despite several key players not being able to practice during the week in preparation for the game. In the media opportunities that we had with Garrett during the week, you knew that he was not going to allow the injuries to be an excuse for how his team was going to perform. Garrett was clear that he was going to take his best 46 players and go find a way to win a difficult football game on Monday night.

Here are some thoughts from that victory:


In our Countdown to Kickoff Show on 103.3 FM ESPN on Monday night, our group got into a discussion about whether the Cowboys could win this game without Tony Romo in the lineup. When it came my turn to answer that, there was no doubt in my mind that the Cowboys had to have Romo to win.

I respect Jon Kitna and what he was able to do when pressed into duty last season, but this was the type of game that Romo needed to play in. Even at 80 percent and with what he was able to do last week against the 49ers in the fourth quarter, I felt that just by stepping into the huddle it was going to be a huge boast for his team and they would find a way to make plays for him.

With all that was going on with this Cowboys offense, the injuries and the missed assignments, Romo had to find a way to win this football game.

With the Cowboys facing a third-and-21 from their own 30-yard line, Romo was joined in the backfield by John Phillips and Tashard Choice, who came in after Felix Jones re-injured his shoulder trying to dive for another early snap from Phil Costa. Romo had Dez Bryant wide to his right, Jason Witten in the slot to the left with Kevin Ogletree outside of him.

The Redskins showed the same blitz that they used at the 10:00 mark in the third quarter, rushing eight and playing man coverage across the board behind the blitz. The Cowboys had seven men to pick up the blitz and the line turned the farthest rusher loose for Romo to handle.

At the snap of the ball, Bryant read the all-out blitz and ran the “smoke” route, turning his body to Romo and looking for the ball quickly. Romo pumped the ball in Bryant’s direction, but feeling the pressure, decided to pull it down and flush to his right. As Romo was working farther right, Bryant saw Romo point up the field. Bryant took off at Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was playing loose in coverage and got turned around.

One of the key points of the blitz pickup was that Tashard Choice came across the pocket from right to left to pick up Ryan Kerrigan on the edge, which bought Romo enough time to get the ball down the field. Bryant had separation on Hall and easily caught the ball and started up the field. Hall was forced to try to bring Bryant down any way he could and grabbed his facemask on the tackle, adding another 15 yards to an already big play and putting the Cowboys into field-goal range.


Last week, the offensive line wasn’t at their best until the fourth quarter. When studying this Redskins defense, it presented a whole different set of problems for this line.

Outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan put a great deal of pressure on teams' offensive lines, not only with the way they rush the passer, but also with the way they play the run.

Last week, Doug Free had one of the worst games he's had since he was named as a starter before the 2010 season. Free was off-balance with his footwork, his punch and his ability to control San Francisco’s Justin Smith in the running game, as well.

Free drew a tough assignment with Orakpo. Early in the game, it appeared that he was on that same path of struggles that he had in San Francisco. Orakpo is an explosive, pressure player. He is a relentless rusher and if he gets the corner, he can make you look terrible.

On one series, Free missed Orakpo with his punch and allowed him to grab that corner, quickly giving up a pressure. Free also gave up a sack to Rob Jackson because he was unable to get his hands on him to carry him wide around Romo. Free’s footwork on the play was terrible. He was slow and overextended. Free also gave up a holding call to Stephen Bowen on a reach block when all he could do his grab his jersey.

As the game wore on, Free was able to catch himself, find his technique and do a much better job in his sets and punch. One of Free’s greatest strengths is his ability to use his feet to stay in front of his man. There are times where he will struggle with power, but again as the game wore on, he was much better dealing with that, too.


Tony Romo didn’t make many mistakes in the game, but the one he did make was the interception by nickel back Kevin Barnes.

For Romo, this was a tough one to deal with because quarterbacks are taught when it's man coverage and there is no safety help in the middle of the field, throw the ball there and have your receiver make the play.

It was third-and-18 from the Cowboys 45 with 10:00 left in the third quarter. Garrett put the offense in an empty formation and the Redskins went to a nickel to match. Ogletree was in the slot to the right and Bryant was outside him. The snap from Costa was once again low and to Romo’s right. Ogletree started his route inside, getting Barnes to turn his shoulders, but he felt Barnes hanging inside, not allowing him to the middle of the field. Ogletree adjusted his route to the outside, but Romo was facing a blitz and unloaded the ball for the middle of the field.

Barnes was in much better position to play the ball than Ogletree, who continued to work wide on the play, resulting in an easy interception. On that route, Ogletree has to get to the middle of the field to meet the ball, but he didn't read it the right way.


To be honest, I really didn’t know much of the work of fullback Tony Fiammetta before he came to the Cowboys.

In the locker room, he didn’t appear to physically be the type of fullback that I thought that Garrett would have on the roster. But watching him play against the Redskins, I was impressed with his work as a point-of-attack blocker. A trait you look for in a fullback is his ability to do is dig linebackers out of the hole. Fiammetta was able to hit his man, keep his feet going and work them out of the hole.

Fiammetta also showed the ability to adjust on the move when the Cowboys worked to get the ball on the edge. Fiammetta adjusted to take a defender when one of the offensive linemen missed their blocks to help out. When he was in the game, there were positive plays.


It was the first game back for cornerback Terence Newman after missing the entire preseason and the first two games of the regular season while recovering from a groin injury. Newman moved well in coverage and didn’t look like he was laboring or struggling to turn and break.

There were plays where he had Santana Moss one-on-one in coverage where Moss drove hard at him, but Newman was able to pedal smooth, turn and adjust in the route. Newman was able to also come forward in the running game and force the ball back inside.

He did have a play where he was trying to help Alan Ball with a tackle but was unable to wrap up the receiver.

Newman left the game with a slight concussion, but he was able to return to finish the game. He didn’t move like he was having any problems with the injured groin at all.


For the third week in a row, linebacker Sean Lee's overall play was outstanding. The thing that makes Lee such a strong player is his ability to quickly read blocking schemes and get to the ball. If Lee sees the play, he is gone.

One of the problems that Lee had earlier in his career was that he would read too quickly and take himself out of the play. You don’t see Lee overrunning plays now.

In pass coverage, his drops have been correct and in the right areas. He had an interception when Rex Grossman tried to look away to his right and come back to Fred Davis to his left. Lee was in perfect position on the play to make the interception.

If he did have a mistake, it appeared that on the Redskins’ touchdown on the goal line that he adjusted inside instead of to the flat, and Tim Hightower was able to sneak out of the backfield and catch an easy touchdown from Grossman. On the snap, you see Lee get sucked inside with no one in the flat. It was the only real mistake that he made during the game.

I would not be one bit surprised if you see Lee and Keith Brooking as the two starting inside linebackers soon. Lee and Brooking get to the football better than Bradie James.

When you watch these linebackers play, you see that James is playing a step slow. When James needs to be filling on the edge, he is getting hooked or engaged, where Lee and Brooking are past the blockers and filling the hole.


If you want a negative to the night on defense for the Cowboys, it is the injury to defensive end Jason Hatcher. Hatcher had been playing outstanding against the run as a disruptive player and as a pass rusher, as well. Hatcher was the one end that was able to get consistent pressure on the ball.

Marcus Spears didn’t play badly in his place, but he doesn’t give you the pressure of Hatcher.

It’s a calf injury for Hatcher, so he should miss the Detroit game and we will see what happens after the bye week getting ready for New England. The Cowboys’ defense doesn’t need this injury to linger long because Hatcher was finding his grove as a pass rusher and run defender.

Scout's Eye: Redskins-Cowboys preview

September, 23, 2011

In the three seasons I worked with Bill Parcells for the Cowboys, I was always impressed with his ability to not allow injuries to become an excuse for how well our team was going to play that week.

Scout's Eye
Parcells fought daily to prepare, practice and play with those players that were healthy enough to go, including those players that were able to play despite not being 100 percent. Watching Tony Romo play last week against the 49ers in the condition he was in reminded me of the message that Parcells was trying to drill into our teams.

I get that same feeling listening to and watching Jason Garrett. It’s on the players that are on that 46-man game day roster to step up and continue to play regardless of who is taking the snaps, running the routes or carrying the football that day.

The Cowboys have had their share of injuries to key players through the first two weeks of the season, but to the credit of the staff and players in that locker room, no one is making excuses. In the NFL, no one feels sorry for the condition your team is in and the last time I checked the league is not going to cancel the season because you have several starters that will not be able to line up.

With that being said, the Redskins present an interesting challenge to the Cowboys.

Redskins offense

In the second season under Mike Shanahan, this Redskins offense is really a collection of veteran players that Shanahan has been able to piece together and develop into a productive unit.

The Shanahan scheme is about running the football first to set up other opportunities off play-action, using boots and throwing to tight ends Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. When the Redskins run the ball, they like to run the zone stretch with all the blockers stepping hard play side either to the right or left, thus allowing the back to press the ball hard front side, find the soft spot, make a cut, then head up field.

When Shanahan was with the Broncos, there was more violence in the way his offensive line was able to block the backside with cut-off blocks diving into the legs of the defensive linemen. This blocking style was a nightmare for defensive linemen having to fight blockers with their hands to protect their knees and then try to tackle a ball carrier going through the hole. This offensive line will play low on the backside, but it’s now more about trying to stay on their feet and run with the defenders.

In the Shanahan scheme, he has always been able to plug in what seemed like any back and have a 1,000-yard rusher. However, when I studied the Giants and Cardinals games, the one area I noticed improvement over last season was at running back.

Last season, the majority of the work went to a broken down Clinton Portis, who just couldn’t stay healthy enough to help the Redskins sustain any type of rushing attack. In the offseason, the Redskins went out and made two improvements at running back, adding Tim Hightower from the Cardinals and drafting Roy Helu from Nebraska. I have really been impressed with both of these runners.

Hightower has a real feel for how to run the ball in this scheme. He is a patient runner but also a powerful one. He can get the ball on the edge and around the corner.

Helu doesn’t look like he is moving quickly, but once he gets through the hole, he has some shiftiness in the open field. Helu is also an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. There are designed plays where they use wide receiver picks for him to quickly work him into the flat to pick up first downs.

At wide receiver, veterans Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are the starters. Moss has always been a difficult player for the Cowboys to deal with no matter who the coach was for the Redskins. It will still once again be that way in that Shanahan will line Moss up all over the formation. The place that he is the most dangerous is when they line him up in the slot and use him to attack the secondary on third down. Moss has always been fearless taking his routes inside and catching the ball on the move.

Gaffney has become a sneaky receiver. Had a nice out-and-up route against the Giants that was a huge play in the game. Like Moss, he is not afraid to take his route anywhere on the field. Will run the slant in the red zone and show no fear for the safety sitting inside.

Earlier in the report, I mentioned the play of tight ends Cooley and Davis. This will be the third week in a row that Rob Ryan’s defense will face a tight end that can be a difference maker in the game. Cooley or Davis are not trained killers as run blockers but what they can do is line up flexed or in the slot and get down the field quickly. Both have outstanding hands and can adjust to any type of pass that is thrown from Rex Grossman. Both tight ends are problems for defenses in the red zone because of their ability to use their size to separate.

The Cowboys have to be careful if the Redskins get their running game going on the stretch play, then they try to take advantage of the play-action game using Cooley and Davis.

At quarterback, I have never been a Rex Grossman fan. But to his credit, he has managed to lead his team to a 2-0 start. There is a side of me that truly believes that Shanahan wanted John Beck to start, but Grossman did enough to win the job.

When you study Grossman, you still see the same mistakes that ended his career in Chicago: red zone interceptions, fumbles in the pocket when sacked and tipped passes at the line. Grossman will still struggle with his decision making and his reckless way that he will throw the ball into coverage, thinking that his arm strength can get the job done.

What Grossman does well, is that he can show accuracy hitting the receiver on the move. In the Giants game, he was able to work the ball on the fade to Anthony Armstrong, who made a pretty play.

The Cowboys have to try to affect Grossman in the middle of the pocket. He will move if flushed but the majority of the snaps he likes to stand in the middle of the pocket and throw the ball. The problem with that is that he is not that tall and he will struggle to get power on the pass when he feels the rush in his face.

Last week against the 49ers, Jay Ratliff and the blitzing linebackers were able to cause problems for Alex Smith. I look for Rob Ryan to try and do the same thing to Grossman.

Redskins defense

When I broke down the Redskins offense, I spoke of the new additions at running back and what a difference they have made. But in my view where the Redskins have improved the most is on defense.

I like what the Redskins did with the additions of defensive end Stephen Bowen, nose tackle Barry Cofield from the Giants and the drafting of outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. If you are a fan of the Cowboys, you grew to appreciate the fine work of Bowen but Cofield and Kerrigan are really nice players.

Cofield is a strong point-of-attack player that knows how to fight blocks and keep himself square to stop the run. Cofield is also strong in his ability to get push in the middle over the guards on pass rush.

Kerrigan was the Redskins first-round selection out of Purdue this year and opposite Brian Orakpo has been a force not only against the run but as a pass rusher. Kerrigan at Purdue was a hand-in-the-dirt player, but he has made the transition to the outside linebacker spot. Kerrigan is strong against the run and can cover down the field, but he is most effective as a relentless, effort pass rusher.

Kerrigan will see the majority of his plays against Tyron Smith, who I thought was the best offensive linemen for the Cowboys last week against the 49ers. Smith will once again need to match the effort and intensity of Kerrigan and not allow him to get off the rock with any consistency or pace.

In the secondary, Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall are the corners with Kevin Barnes the nickel. Hall has always been a gambler in coverage. Wilson is good in tight coverage and can really close on the ball. Wilson can also run well enough to hang with any of the Cowboys receivers. Have seen Wilson be a bit of a hit or miss tackler.

At safety, O.J. Atogwe from the Rams plays as the free safety with Reed Doughty in the lineup for the injured LaRon Landry, who is trying to work his way back from a hamstring injury. Atogwe plays well in the box and is a willing tackler. Doughty will also fill in the running game but doesn’t have catch-up speed in coverage. If the Cowboys are to try and take advantage of one of these safeties, it will be Doughty.

There is a ton of movement in this front. The Redskins will slant the line one way then bring the linebackers back the other way. On the blitz, they like to bring the inside linebackers on games.

The Cowboys can’t make the mistake that the Cardinals did and that’s block Orakpo or Kerrigan with backs. Both play with way too much power and quickness. The way to successfully handle these rushers is try to keep them wide in their rush. Orakpo and Kerrigan like to take a direct path to the quarterback, but they have struggled the most when tackles forced them up the field.

If the Cowboys are going to win this game, Doug Free and Tyron Smith are going to have to handle Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.