Dallas Cowboys: LaRon Landry

IRVING, Texas – First-round picks have to be the cornerstones of NFL rosters. The majority have to be more than one-contract players. If not, it generally means they didn't live up to expectations.

PODCAST
ESPN Insider Ed Werder joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett to discuss the Cowboys, the NFL draft and much more.

Listen Listen
With 2008 first-rounder Mike Jenkins gone off to Oakland and Felix Jones all but gone to anywhere else but here, the Cowboys have not extended the contract of one of their first-round picks before it expired since DeMarcus Ware, one of their two first-round picks in 2005.

Through a quirk in the system, Marcus Spears (2005) was a restricted free agent in 2010 and was kept for a year, but only because the price was right and cheaper than the guys who backed him up. He ultimately re-signed after the 2011 lockout ended and was cut this offseason after the second year of the current deal. Bobby Carpenter (2006) was traded to St. Louis in the final year of his deal.

The 2007 pick, Anthony Spencer, is on the team, but his deal expired after 2011 and the Cowboys have kept him with the franchise tag the last two years. In 2012 they did it because they weren’t sure how much they loved him. They did it this offseason because they didn’t feel like they could lose him. It is possible Spencer could sign a new deal this offseason, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush on that done.

The Cowboys had six first-round picks from 2005-08 and have extended one before that player’s deal expired. How does that compare with the rest of the NFC East?

The New York Giants had three and extended one (Mathias Kiwanuka, 2006) and let two walk (Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips). Philadelphia had two and extended one (Mike Patterson, 2005), but that was in the second year of his deal and he didn’t become a dominant player. Brodrick Bunkley (2006) was traded by the Eagles before his deal was up. Washington had two and kept Carlos Rogers (2005) for a year the same way the Cowboys kept Spears, but then he signed with San Francisco in 2012. LaRon Landry (2007) walked after his rookie deal was up with the Redskins.

For the Cowboys, the next first-rounder to come due will be Dez Bryant, their top pick in 2010, whose contract is up after the 2014 season. Will Bryant cash in on a big deal before his contract expires?

NFC East position battles to watch

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
5:15
PM ET
So John Clayton has this piece on the 10 best position battles brewing this summer between rookies and veterans in the NFL. I scrolled through it, thinking it would provide me with some material for a late-Friday afternoon post, and to my shock and dismay there wasn't one NFC East mention in the whole thing. Come on, John! Help a guy out, will ya?

Anyway, it got me thinking: There must be some interesting position battles to keep an eye on throughout the offseason and training camps in our division, right? I mean, some situations where things aren't yet set in stone? There are, and here's one for each team.

Dallas Cowboys' inside linebackers: Sean Lee is set at one of these spots, but the other will be interesting to watch. The team drafted Bruce Carter in the second round in 2011, and they believe he's part of their future on defense. But he was coming off an injury when they drafted him and played in just 10 games as a rookie, and they can't be sure he'll be ready to hold down a starter's spot full-time in 2012. So they went out on the free-agent market and signed Dan Connor, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to start next to Lee while Carter continues to acclimate himself to the pro game. The interesting aspect of this will be how good Carter looks in training camp and whether he can play well enough to demand to take reps and snaps away from Connor. The veteran, Connor, will start with the job, but Carter is the future there, and it's just a question of when he's ready.

New York Giants running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw is the unquestioned veteran starter, but he doesn't come without questions. Foot injuries have limited him over the past several seasons, and his good friend and veteran safety net, Brandon Jacobs, is off to San Francisco to play for the 49ers. Assuming Bradshaw won't be able to make it through the season fully healthy on a starter's workload, there are going to be plenty of snaps to go around. The question is how many of those snaps first-round pick David Wilson can steal from holdover youngsters like D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown (who's suspended for the first four games for drugs).

Philadelphia Eagles safeties: The team wants Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, its second-round picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts, respectively, to be the starters. Of the two, they're more confident about Allen, who's had some injury issues but played well when healthy last season. They have him penciled in as a starter. Whether Jarrett can fight off Kurt Coleman for the other starting spot is one of the training-camp questions the Eagles will face. It's also possible they'll add a free-agent veteran to the mix, but they'd rather get the production they need from their young guys if they can.

Washington Redskins secondary: There are currently 15 defensive backs listed on the Redskins' roster, and it's safe to assume they can't all make the team. The question is which of them will play. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall would appear to be set as the starting cornerbacks, but the team did sign free agent Cedric Griffin, and intriguing undrafted free-agent cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a name to watch in the summer. The more interesting questions are at safety, where the Redskins lost starters LaRon Landry and O.J. Atowge and things are wide open. The guy they like the best for the future is 2011 draft pick DeJon Gomes, but while they view him as a starter at some point, they don't know yet whether that point is this year. Their free-agent safety signing list is a fascinating one, including Brandon Meriweather, Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson, any of whom c0uld emerge as a starter. Griffin also might have been brought in with an eye toward playing him at safety, and Reed Doughty was a valuable injury fill-in last season and could get a shot at more playing time in this crowded field. The Redskins appear to be installing an all-out competition for safety roles, and from here it's impossible to know who will play well enough to nail them down.

NFC East: Free-agency primer

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
8:54
AM ET
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Dallas Cowboys

Key free agents: WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, LB Keith Brooking, LB Anthony Spencer (franchise)

Where they stand: Dallas needs serious help in the secondary and will have to decide whether it wants Elam back at safety while it pursues at least one cornerback. The Cowboys are expected to release Terence Newman, and they could look to add depth at that position and a new starter. Franchising Spencer indicates that while they would like to improve their pass rush, they won't be players in the Mario Williams market. Expect their free-agent focus to be on defensive backs and possibly some upgrades on the interior of the offensive line. They would like Robinson back as their No. 3 receiver, but if he's going to get No. 2 receiver-type offers, they'll likely let him walk.

What to expect: The top two cornerback targets are likely Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan. You can't rule out Dallas making a play for Saints guard Carl Nicks, who'd be a huge help to their offensive line. But someone like Baltimore's Ben Grubbs is likely to be more attainable financially. What the Cowboys really need on the line is a center, but it's not a great market for those unless they can get their hands on Houston's Chris Myers. The Cowboys likely will hunt for some second-tier safeties and inside linebackers to add depth, then target defensive back again early in the draft.

New York Giants

Key free agents: WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, LB Jonathan Goff, P Steve Weatherford (franchise).

Where they stand: The Super Bowl champs must get their own cap situation in order first, as they project to be about $7.25 million over the projected cap. That may mean tough cuts of people like Brandon Jacobs or David Diehl, or it may just mean some contract restructuring (like the big one they apparently just did with Eli Manning). Regardless, don't expect the Giants to spend big to keep Manningham or Ross. They're likely to bring back Thomas on a team-favorable deal as a result of the knee injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, and they'll probably let McKenzie walk and try to replace him internally (which favors Diehl's chances of sticking around).

What to expect: Just like last year, don't expect the Giants to be big-game hunters. They like to grow their own replacements. If Manningham leaves, they won't go after the top wide receivers but might try to find a bargain or two to supplement the young players from whom they're expecting more production next season. They could find a midlevel safety if they don't bring back Deon Grant, and if Jacobs leaves they'll probably bring in a veteran running back or two to compete in training camp with their youngsters. They liked Ronnie Brown last year as a possible Ahmad Bradshaw replacement when Bradshaw was a pending free agent, so there's a name to watch for if you want one.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key free agents: G Evan Mathis, DT Trevor Laws, DT Antonio Dixon (restricted), WR DeSean Jackson (franchise), QB Vince Young

Where they stand: Other than Mathis, whom they're working to try and re-sign before he his the market, the Eagles don't have many internal free-agent issues to worry about. They franchised Jackson because they're not ready to give him a long-term deal just yet. He's a candidate for a trade, but it would have to be a very nice offer. If they traded him, they'd hunt for a wide receiver, but they may do so anyway -- just at a lower level (think Plaxico Burress). The interior of the defensive line is in fairly good hands with Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson as starters, but they could stand to add depth to that rotation. And while they signed Trent Edwards a couple of weeks ago, they'll keep looking for a better veteran backup quarterback option with Young sure to be gone.

What to expect: Do not -- I repeat, do not -- expect the Eagles to be the same kind of player they were in free agency a year ago. Andy Reid made it very clear several times during the 2011 offseason and season that last year was unique, and the Eagles don't like to do business that way in general. They do need linebackers, and they have the cap room to play on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton or even, if they wanted to get really nutty, London Fletcher. But while you can expect them to add a veteran or two at the position, don't be surprised if they sit out the higher-priced auctions this time around.

Washington Redskins

Key free agents: S LaRon Landry, LB London Fletcher, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis (franchise), QB Rex Grossman

Where they stand: Mike Shanahan said in December that Fletcher was a priority, but he remains unsigned with less than a week to go before free agency. Presumably, they'd still like to lock him up before he hits the market. If they can't, they'll have to replace a major on-field and off-field presence. Carriker is likely to be back, but the Fletcher situation has to be settled first. Landry likely is gone unless he wants to take a low-base, high-incentive deal to stay. The Redskins are sick of not knowing whether he'll be able to take the field from week to week. Grossman could return, but only as a backup to whatever quarterback upgrade they find.

What to expect: The Redskins could have more than $40 million in cap room with which to maneuver in free agency, and they're going to need it. They need a quarterback, of course, and if they can't make the trade with the Rams to move up to No. 2 in the draft and pick Robert Griffin III, they'll look at Peyton Manning and Kyle Orton and possibly Matt Flynn, though he doesn't appear to be high on their list. What Shanahan really wants is a true playmaking No. 1 wide receiver, which is why the Redskins have their eyes on Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, who are at the very top end of that market. They'll be able to outbid almost anyone for those guys if they want to, but they may have to get quarterback figured out first if they want to persuade one of them to take their offer over similar ones. They'll also hunt for help on the offensive line and in the secondary, as they need depth in both places.

Cowboys position series: Safeties

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
11:01
PM ET
This is the 10th installment of our 12-part series breaking down the Cowboys roster. Today we look at safeties.

[+] EnlargeAbram Elam
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFree agent Abram Elam knows Rob Ryan's defensive scheme, but he might want a longer deal than the Cowboys are willing to offer.
Players: Gerald Sensabaugh (signed through 2016), Danny McCray (signed through 2012), Abram Elam (free agent), Mana Silva (signed through 2013), Barry Church (signed through 2012).

Top free agents: Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders; Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans; LaRon Landry, Washington Redskins; Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers; Mike Adams, Cleveland Browns.

Top draft prospects: Mark Barron, Alabama; Antonio Allen, South Carolina; Harrison Smith, Notre Dame; George Iloka, Boise State; Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State.

2011 review: The Cowboys were inconsistent at this position in 2010. Last season, Elam's return brought some stability, but he became inconsistent, too. Sensabaugh played well at the start of the season but a foot injury slowed his progress. The Cowboys valued Sensabaugh and gave him a new contract. Church showed defensive coordinator Rob Ryan he could play a little linebacker and should see more playing time in 2012. McCray was a solid contributor on special teams but a shoulder injury late in the season slowed him down.

Offseason preview: Signing Elam might be a good thing for the Cowboys since he knows Ryan's defensive scheme, but he might want a long-term deal and that's something the franchise might be unwilling to offer. Sensabaugh can play both safety spots, and seemed to excel as a free safety. Finding a strong safety willing to play the run with a force is must for the Cowboys. If the team elects to draft a safety, Barron most likely will be gone at No. 14, so waiting until the second or third day of the draft might be the best move. A free-agent safety might command too much money on the open market, which the Cowboys don't seem willing to offer.

Bryan Broaddus' Scout's Eye: Since losing Darren Woodson, Jerry Jones has attacked this position with poor results, either through the draft (Roy Williams, Tony Dixon) or free agency (Ken Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh). As other NFL teams have been able to fill this all-important position, the Cowboys have continued to struggle to find the right mix. During 2011, the Cowboys made a two-year commitment to Sensabaugh and nothing to Abram Elam. When he signed, Elam was praised as a player that would help his teammates master Rob Ryan’s scheme. As the season wore on, however, it was clear that Elam and his teammates were far from prepared on a weekly basis. I don’t have a problem with the Sensabaugh signing, but this team needs a safety that can play with some range and help these corners on the outside. Too many times, the ball went down the field and receivers were able to make plays to keep drives going. I like younger players like Barry Church and Danny McCray, but they are more forward players and aren’t safeties with range. Ryan needs a guy that can make plays down the field or the defense will continue to struggle to get off the field. To me, fixing that problem is just as important as finding a player that can rush the passer.

Need meter (0-5): 3

Dez Bryant makes his return to FedEx

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
9:52
AM ET
LANDOVER, Md. -- The first time wide receiver Dez Bryant played at FedEx Field he suffered broken ribs at the hands of linebacker London Fletcher and talked smack with and gained a level of respect from cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

It was Bryant's first game in a Cowboys uniform because he missed the entire preseason with an ankle injury.

He caught eight passes for 56 yards and returned one punt for 11 yards in that loss.

Bryant returns today the healthiest he's been in a while. He missed one game with a thigh contusion, suffered on a punt return in Week 1.

"To tell you truth what I remember from that game is walking out in the field," Bryant said Friday. "I see LaRon Landry and I see DHall. DHall is running past me. LaRon Landry looking at me like he just wants to rip my head off. In my head, I'm like 'I'm on the same field as DeAngelo Hall and LaRon Landry.'"

Bryant said he loves the one-on-one competition from cornerbacks. He had a fierce verbal affair with the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis in Week 1. In his first meeting with the Redskins in Week 3, he had four catches for 63 yards, but there wasn't as much trash talking.

"I'm excited about it," Bryant said of the game. "I had to come back to reality a little bit. I had to get myself together and play. But I was excited to play against them in my first game. I used to watch them on TV and now I got to go against them. I can't be too much of a fan."

How you feeling? Cowboys-Redskins

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
9:36
AM ET
As you get ready for this afternoon's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins in Washington, here's one reason for Cowboys fans to be feeling good and one reason for Redskins fans to be feeling good:

Cowboys feeling good: The Cowboys are rolling, and while they're certainly not about to take lightly a division rival who held them without a touchdown in Dallas' 18-16 Week 3 victory, this Redskins team is a shell of that one. Washington has scored a grand total of 20 points in its past three games, hasn't been able to run the ball at all and is led by a quarterback, Rex Grossman, who is prone to mistakes and turnovers. The opportunity is there for a confident Cowboys' defense to flex its muscles against an offense that right now is among the very worst in the league.

Redskins feeling good: It's tough to find too many reasons for Redskins fans to feel good about anything these days. But even though safety LaRon Landry looks as though he won't play today, Washington still has a very good defense that could make life difficult for Tony Romo with an aggressive pass rush. The Cowboys' running game isn't at full strength due to the absence of fullback Tony Fiammetta, which means Dallas might have to throw more than it has been, and if that's the case the Redskins will have a chance to make some plays. If Washington can win on first downs and on special teams, the chance exists for an upset. And if all else fails, there's always the law of averages. The Redskins have lost five in a row, and that can't go on forever.

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Redskins keys

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
8:00
AM ET

*Cowboys LT Doug Free vs. Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo: The last time that Free and Orakpo met was Week 3 after Free had played one of the poorest games of his career at left tackle. Free struggled badly against the 49ers, not only with his technique, but his confidence as well.

Orakpo is the type of rusher that will come at you from all angles and all rush points. His game is similar to DeMarcus Ware’s in that he just doesn’t have one pass-rush move. What makes rushers like Ware and Orakpo difficult to block is their ability to use their hands with body position and feet.

Scout's Eye
Orakpo is explosive off the edge and he can get into a blocker quickly, then turn the corner. Orakpo can also make himself small where Free doesn’t get much of a hitting surface on him. If the tackle can’t get his hands on him, then it makes it difficult to stop his path to the ball.

In the last meeting, Free was concerned about Orakpo’s ability to sell him hard up the field then plant on his outside foot and come inside, leaving Free to have to try to adjust inside to stop his rush. Again, this goes back to what we have seen in Ware in that he has shown the ability to attack blockers inside or outside.

The Seattle and Buffalo games were more of what we have expected from Doug Free, which is a good thing when you are match up against a player of the talent of Orakpo.

*Cowboys nickel CB Frank Walker vs. Redskins TE Fred Davis: With Santana Moss out of this game with a hand injury, the focus of the Redskins passing game now shifts to tight end Fred Davis. Since Walker joined the club, he really has done an outstanding job of playing the role of the nickel corner that plays inside against receivers but also handles the tight end. The Cowboys had a run there where they faced some outstanding tight ends and Walker has done a good job.

Davis is not like your normal tight end when it comes to playing inline. He is a decent blocker at the point of attack, the type that stays after you, but he really makes his living getting down the field.

Walker has been effective covering these tight ends by being physical with them. Walker has an advantage over, say, Barry Church because Walker knows what it is like to play on the outside, cover receivers and play routes. Davis can run routes better than most tight ends, so you need someone like Walker that is comfortable carrying receivers down the field.

If the Redskins do make it into the red zone, then you will most likely see the coverage switch to one of the safeties, either Gerald Sensabaugh or Abram Elam, who do a better job in a smaller area.

*Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray vs. Redskins SS LaRon Landry: This will be an interesting matchup because Landry will be the eighth man in the box that Murray will have to deal with when finishing runs.

Landry is a physical player that plays with a burst and can bring a load when coming forward. Landry is the type of player that loves to go for the big hit and tries to punish ball carriers.

Murray has done a nice job of making himself difficult to bring down in the open field. Murray has had success taking the ball hard front side then cutting it back.

If Tyron Smith and Doug Free are successful cutting off the backside, then there will be a lane to run the ball. In that alley will be Landry to meet Murray.

Last week the Cowboys did a nice job of taking Bills safety George Wilson out of the game by throwing the ball early in the game and having success. Wilson, like Landry, is a big hitter that plays well in the physical side of the game.

The Redskins have a better front seven than the Bills with Barry Cofield and Adam Carriker along with outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. If the Cowboys are going to have success running the ball, they are going to have to block these edge players in Orakpo and Kerrigan. Both these players are outstanding at chasing the play from the backside.

Secure these two and the ball has a chance to get to Landry. Don’t and the running game will struggle, but there is no doubt that there will be some serious collisions between Murray and Landry in this contest.

Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Redskins preview

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
8:39
AM ET

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.

NFC East All-Division Team: Week 5 update

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
11:00
AM ET
Eli ManningChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter two straight interception free performances, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning takes the top spot in the divisional rankings.
Back with another edition of the NFC East's rolling All-Division Team, which this week features yet another change at quarterback. The New York Giants' Eli Manning has taken over the top spot after a second straight interception-free victory. Tony Romo has more yards and a better completion percentage, but Romo has also cost his team two games with second-half interceptions while Manning has been the steady leader his team has needed him to be while recovering from its early-season injury problems. Since the second quarter of the Week 2 game against the Rams, Manning has been unflappable and, when it's been needed, excellent.

The Eagles' Michael Vick had the best individual Week 4 game among division quarterbacks, but while I'm sure the vast majority of people who comment on this post and harass me on Twitter about it will ignore what I am about to type here: This list is meant as an overall evaluation of the way the players have played to date, in all four games this season. It is not -- I repeat, NOT -- based solely on performance in this past week's games. (For example: Ryan Torain is not the running back, because LeSean McCoy has had the better year.)

That out of the way, here is the list to which you're all scrolling down anyway. Some notes will follow:

Quarterback: Eli Manning, Giants (Last week: Tony Romo)

Running back: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (McCoy)

Wide receiver: Hakeem Nicks, Giants; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles (Maclin, Miles Austin)

Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys (Witten)

Fullback: Owen Schmitt, Eagles (Darrel Young)

Left tackle: Jason Peters, Eagles (Peters)

Left guard: Evan Mathis, Eagles (Kory Lichtensteiger)

Center: Will Montgomery, Redskins (David Baas)

Right guard: Chris Snee, Giants (Snee)

Right tackle: Tyron Smith, Cowboys (Smith)

Defensive end: Trent Cole, Eagles; Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants (Cole, Pierre-Paul)

Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins, Eagles; Jay Ratliff, Cowboys (Jenkins, Ratliff)

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys; Brian Orakpo, Redskins (Ware, Ryan Kerrigan)

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Cowboys; London Fletcher, Redskins (Lee, Fletcher)

Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Eagles; Aaron Ross, Giants (Samuel, Mike Jenkins)

Safety: Kenny Phillips, Giants; LaRon Landry, Redskins (Phillips, O.J. Atogwe)

Kicker: Dan Bailey, Cowboys (Bailey)

Punter: Sav Rocca, Redskins (Rocca)

Kick returner: Devin Thomas, Giants (Brandon Banks)

Punt returner: Brandon Banks, Redskins (Banks)

  • Austin and Darrel Young lose their spots due to injury, and Nicks and Schmitt delivered performances worthy of those spots anyway.
  • On the offensive line, I'd had Mathis and Lichtensteiger very close for the past couple of weeks, but I just think Sunday moved Mathis past the Redskins' guard ever so slightly. Washington's offensive line has been underappreciated as a reason for the early success, and they get consideration at every position. (Chris Chester is playing great at right guard but trapped on this list behind maybe the best one on the league). Will Montgomery at center has been a revelation, and replacing Casey Rabach with him might have been one of the critical moves the Redskins made in the offseason. Don't begrudge Tyron Smith that big late sack. He's been a monster all year and done much more to help the Cowboys win than to help them lose. And yes, I'm interested to see who steps up and takes the left tackle spot with Peters out a few weeks. No one's really pushed him for it yet this year, though Doug Free finally had a good game Sunday.
  • Did some Redskin-shuffling on their excellent defense. I doubt Kerrigan will mind losing his spot to Orakpo, his mentor, who had a monster game. Those two could trade off all year. And I thought about rewarding Rocky McIntosh for his big game by giving him Fletcher's spot, but Fletcher's been that defense's heart and soul all year and has done nothing to lose it. Oh, and I moved Landry in at safety over Atogwe because, while it's only been two games... wow.
  • Cornerback was tough, as it's been all year because so few in this division are playing it well. Ross' assignment wasn't as tough Sunday as was that of Corey Webster, who had to take on Larry Fitzgerald. But Ross has been delivering excellent, reliable coverage all year for the Giants with very few (if glaring) mistakes, and I think he deserves this spot. Jenkins has been fine, but I think overall Ross has played a little bit better and should be acknowledged, especially since he's outperformed the expectations that attended his ascension to the role when Terrell Thomas got hurt.
  • I keep waiting for Brandon Banks to break a big kick return, but he hasn't done it, and I think Thomas has looked a little better overall. Banks still remains unchallenged in the punt-return category.

Okay, fire away. Let me know where I screwed up.

Laurent Robinson comes back from big hit

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
12:28
AM ET


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Before Laurent Robinson ever caught a pass for the Cowboys, he had to show his toughness after taking a big hit to the midsection from Washington safety LaRon Landry in the second quarter.

Robinson, who was signed and cut and brought back to the roster in the last two weeks, finished with three catches for 49 yards.

“That was a big hit on the sideline,” Robinson said. “It kind of shook me up a little bit, but I was able to stay in the game and keep playing.”

His first catch was a 22-yarder on a “smoke” route from Tony Romo in a drive that led to Dan Bailey’s third field goal of the game. He had a 25-yard grab in the fourth quarter before a Bailey field goal cut Washington’s lead to 16-15.

“It felt to be back out there, playing for the first time since last year,” Robinson said. “Hopefully I showed I can learn on the fly and make plays.”

Robinson said his strained hamstring, which he hurt in his first practice with the team prior to the Sept. 11 season opener at the New York Jets, was fine after the game, “so I’ll be ready to fill in for next week.”

Scout's Eye: Redskins-Cowboys preview

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
9:00
AM ET


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.

Grudge Match: Cowboys-Redskins

September, 11, 2010
9/11/10
9:00
AM ET


*Redskins LT Trent Williams vs. Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware: I have to admit that I have been impressed with Trent Williams and what he has done in the preseason for the Redskins, considering that he is just a rookie.

Williams is a nice fit in the type of offensive scheme that Mike Shanahan likes to run. He is athletic and mobile, which helps him on the front-side reach or the back-side cutoff blocks. Williams does a nice job of fitting on his man, working his hands and feet together to keep his man from the ball.

But Williams struggled some in two areas against Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Suggs is an explosive pass rusher with outstanding first-step quickness and strength in the upper body. As mentioned, Williams can run his man up the field, but where Suggs was able to get him was with power. Williams is strong, but he doesn’t have that type of strength where he can just sit down on his man and stop him in tracks.

Ware will give you all kinds of pass rush moves, plus he is very good at playing with his hands in the running game. The Redskins in the preseason did keep Cooley and Davis in to help in protection, but it wasn’t to Williams’ side. If Williams struggles early in this game, I can see some adjustments being made there.

*Cowboys run defense vs. Redskins stretch play: Mike Shanahan has always been able to run the football during tenure with the Denver Broncos because of the use of the stretch play and the scheme problems it presents for the opposing defense.

The stretch allows the running back to press front side then make a cut when he finds the hole. On the backside of the play, the defensive linemen and linebackers have to deal with offensive linemen diving into their legs. Defenders having to use their hands to fight off blocks are not looking for the back coming through the hole, thus getting the back into the second level.

The Cowboys played a team in preseason that is very similar to what the Redskins are trying to do scheme wise in the Houston Texans. who had some success running the football ones vs. ones.

What the Redskins want to do is get the running game going with Clinton Portis then use Donovan McNabb on boots and waggles off play-action to set up plays down the field to Santana Moss or Chris Cooley. The Cowboys can match up better is with the return of Marcus Spears and Keith Brooking to the lineup. Both are nice run defenders and could give the defense a real boost.

*Tight Ends vs. Safeties: Both the Cowboys and Redskins have outstanding tight ends on their squads. Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett for the Cowboys and Chris Cooley, Fred Davis for the Redskins.

Witten and Cooley are playmakers. They are match up nightmares for defensive coordinators because of their ability to consistently catch the football. Witten is faster than Cooley, but Cooley does a nice job of finding space in the secondary.

Throughout the preseason, Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb had already developed a connection with Cooley, along with receiver Santana Moss as his go-to guys.

Davis is the backup to Cooley and he will line up all over the place. Davis is a nice receiver that has dependable hands. He is a big guy that moves well down the field. Where Davis is effective is when the team uses it’s boot or waggle scheme. Davis will hold like he is going to block, then work out into the route. Cowboys’ safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh will need to be aware of where these Redskins tight ends are at all times because of their ability to make plays.

The Redskins don’t have many weapons, but Cooley and Davis can more than hold their own on making plays.

On the other side of the coin, the Redskins run into a matchup problem with Witten and Bennett. The Redskins safeties do not do a good job in coverage and in this game it might do them in.

LaRon Landry is a big hitter and can be a force, but when it comes to coverage he is technique poor. Landry really struggles with movement and keeping route contact. You can fool and move him.

Reed Doughty is a decent tackler but doesn’t have the foot quickness or the cover skills to be able to control a guy like Witten or Bennett. If this game becomes tight, watch how Romo and McNabb will go to their tight ends to make plays.

The Cowboys have more weapons on the outside at receiver and along with the Redskins will have their hands full with these tight ends.

Scout's Eye on Washington Redskins

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
11:45
PM ET
Scout's Eye
Sunday's has the makings of a difficult game for the Cowboys on several levels. It’s a division opponent, it’s on the road, and the Redskins have a new coach, which means new systems on offense and defense.

Coach Mike Shanahan has had a great deal of success in his NFL coaching career running a zone-blocking scheme with a mobile quarterback. Wade Phillips and the Cowboys staff have had to resort to other means to try and figure out what Shanahan might use in his game plan.

Dallas worked against Shanahan and the Broncos two seasons ago in practice and played a preseason game as well. The Cowboys can draw from that experience but also from the four games the Redskins played this preseason against the Bills, Ravens, Jets and Cardinals.

In studying those games, Shanahan has the offense working in that zone-blocking scheme. Rookie left tackle Trent Williams is a nice fit in this offense. He is mobile, plus he is able to play with a form of power. He shows the ability to play on his feet. You rarely see him on the ground.

A nice matchup to watch was when Williams went against Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. Suggs is a pass rusher similar to what he will face with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Suggs is an explosive player off the edge. Where he was able to take advantage of Williams was down inside on the rush.

The Redskins will put tight ends in the backfield to help with protection. Cooley and Davis did help in the preseason, but it wasn’t always to Williams’ side. Look for Ware to throw a wide variety of moves at Williams early in the game to gauge where he is.

Donovan McNabb told the media Wednesday that his ankle was fine and he was ready for the start against the Cowboys. McNabb hurt the ankle in the preseason, and there was talk that he might miss the game, which you knew wasn’t going to happen. Where McNabb is good in this offense is his ability to be a deceptive ballhandler, use his feet and deliver the ball on the move.

A large part of this offense is the use of the quarterback on boots and waggles. The Redskins want to pound the ball on the stretch play, then spin the quarterback away from the flow to work the ball to Cooley or Davis on the delay or Santana Moss down the field.

What the Redskins showed in their preseason games were routes down the field. Galloway and Moss both have speed and will stretch the field on vertical routes. Moss is dangerous is when he lines up in the slot and has the opportunity to run deep or crossing routes. He puts a great deal of pressure on the defense when he is allowed to do this because he is not afraid to take his route anywhere, plus he has the speed to create separation.

Cooley causes problems because of his ability to line up anywhere in the formation and complete routes. He has consistent hands and is a dependable player on third downs, much like a Jason Witten is for the Cowboys.

If the Cowboys are going to have success on defense Sunday night, it will have to be controlling the Redskins running game and not allowing McNabb to be effective in the play-action game.

*Throughout his NFL career as a head coach, Shanahan’s teams have been of the 4-3 defensive type of scheme. In Shanahan’s return to football -- after sitting out the 2009 season -- he is now working with a 3-4 look.

When asked about the switch, Shanahan said that in the 3-4, you can cause the offense more problems.

The scheme change presents challenges for the personnel staff. Do you have enough linebackers? Who is your nose man? The Redskins had a solid 4-3 group last season but now must move players around to handle the change.

Throughout his career, Andre Carter played as a wide 9 technique, with his hand on the ground rushing the passer. Now he is moved to outside linebacker, playing over the tight end and dropping in coverage.

Linebacker London Fletcher played with two big inside players at tackle to protect him. He now only has a nose man to do that.

Where this game can be won or lost is if the Cowboys do a poor job of handling the linebackers for the Redskins. Brian Orakpo, Carter and Fletcher can all make plays.

Across the defensive front, Adam Carriker, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Kedric Golston are not dynamic players. Albert Haynesworth is the best player in this group but has struggled with his conditioning this preseason and at this time is not a starter. Haynesworth has played both nose and end in the preseason and did a much better job in the Jets game then he did in the others.

Where the Cowboys need to worry is if Haynesworth becomes motivated and decides he wants to be a dominant player.

The Redskins like to move Orakpo around in passing situations. There were times this preseason where he and Carter were rushing from the same side or Orakpo was coming from the inside linebacker spot.

In the preseason, I thought that cornerback Carlos Rogers has played better than DeAngelo Hall. Hall is a veteran player that understands how to play routes, but the physical side of the game will be a struggle.

Look for the Cowboys to try and find a way to attack safeties LaRon Landry and Kareem Moore. Landry has been a liability in coverage because of his aggressive play. Landry is a hitter but will struggle in space.

Witten shows 'afterburner stuff'

December, 28, 2009
12/28/09
12:45
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Witten might be the best all-around tight end in football, but the one thing he isn't known for is running after the catch.

Which made his career-long 69-yard reception against the Washington Redskins even more fun to watch.

Witten got wide open on a short route against free safety LaRon Landry, who was in man coverage, and simply took off upfield. Landry never gained ground on the 6-5, 260-pound Witten.

"Hey, I didn’t know you had that kind of speed!" Jerry Jones hollered to Witten in the locker room. "That was afterburner stuff!"

Witten smiled and replied, "Don't count me out."

For the first 10 games of the season, Witten wasn't much of a big-play threat. That's changed as defenses have been forced to scheme to slow down Miles Austin. Witten, who has seen a lot more man coverage lately, has three 100-yard games in the last five weeks.

Cowboys-Redskins key matchups

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
12:07
PM ET
All due respect to the Washington Redskins – which isn’t much after their Monday night mail-in effort – but Sunday night’s game is all about the Dallas Cowboys. Can the Cowboys continue to play at a level close to the one they reached in the Superdome? Can the Cowboys actually peak at the right time? The Cowboys prepared for the Redskins this week, but they focused on themselves.

Nevertheless, we’ll give you a matchup on both sides of the ball that merits watching:

Redskins TE Fred Davis vs. Cowboys SS Gerald Sensabaugh: Davis, a 2008 second-round pick, has blossomed since Chris Cooley went on injured reserve. The Cowboys, keyed by Sensabaugh, have done a solid job against tight ends all season.

Davis has 17 catches for 211 yards and five touchdowns in the last four games. At 6-4, 257 pounds, he does his best work in the red zone.

It should help Sensabaugh that the Redskins’ running game doesn’t pose much of a threat. Washington is relying on third- and fourth-string tailbacks Rock Cartwright and Quinton Ganther, so Sensabaugh shouldn’t be fooled by play-action.

Nickel linebacker Bobby Carpenter will also match up with Davis a lot, but the emerging tight end will be Sensabaugh’s responsibility in the base defense on most plays.

Cowboys WR Miles Austin vs. Redskins FS LaRon Landry: Folks will be waiting to see what happens when Roy Williams goes across the middle, since Landry called him out for being “scared” after last month’s Redskins-Cowboys meeting.

But Jason Garrett ought to scheme to get Austin matched up with Landry as often as possible.

Landry tends to give up big plays by biting on double-moves, which he did twice in the Redskins’ recent overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. Austin, who explodes in and out of his breaks, excels on those types of routes.

If Landry respects Austin’s ability to get deep, that should give the Cowboys’ potential Pro Bowler plenty of room to work over the middle, putting him in situations to display his outstanding ability to run after the catch.

That would force Landry to make tackles in the open field, exposing another major flaw in the trash-talking safety’s game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider