NFC East: audibles 11
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys aren't officially calling this a must-win game, but they might as well. Quarterback Tony Romo returns after missing three games with a broken right pinkie. I've had an up-close look at the splint, and it gives him a lot more flexibility than the previous one. Romo's still experiencing some pain when he throws longer routes, but he says it's not affecting his passes.
The Cowboys have hinted at tweaks they've made to the offense throughout the week. From what I've been told by sources at Valley Ranch, those tweaks include a lot more no-huddle and more pre-snap motion for Terrell Owens. You might recall that it was Washington that provided the blueprint for how to defend T.O. in press coverage. The good news for the Redskins is that cornerback Shawn Springs should finally be able to play again. Springs, Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot should give the Redskins a lot of options. And it looks like cornerback DeAngelo Hall will be ready to go.
The Redskins will probably be without running back Clinton Portis, who is nursing a knee sprain. Portis shredded the Cowboys defensive line at Texas Stadium earlier this season, so it would be a huge loss. Ladell Betts is a capable backup, but he's also been sidelined with a knee injury. Coach Jim Zorn has talked about teaching Shaun Alexander some different things, but he's not a good option.
The Redskins will try to take a couple of shots early at Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman, who is returning from a sports hernia. Santana Moss burned Newman on a deep ball in the Redskins' win, and Jason Campbell will look to find him on several hitches and screens. Moss' hamstring wasn't right against the Steelers, and it affected how Campbell played. That said, look for a big game from Chris Cooley. At some point, he'll be matched up with Ken Hamlin or Keith Davis. And that's not a good situation for the Cowboys. Cooley's learned his trade by studying Cowboys tight end Jason Witten -- and he's learned well.
The Redskins can lose this game and still be in the hunt for a playoff game. If the Cowboys lose, they can pretty much rule themselves out.
Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at New York Giants (8-1), 1 p.m. ET
Cowboys-Redskins is a great rivalry, but this might be the game of the week. The Giants have been unbelievable on the ground with the combination of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. The Ravens do a superb job of stopping the run. In fact, they hold teams to under 70 yards per game. Everyone is anxious to see that first collision between Jacobs and Ray Lewis, who's never backed down from a challenge.
The thing that impresses me most about Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is that he's at his best when the stakes are highest. He's been excellent on third downs, which is also true for Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He was 7-of-10 on third down against the Eagles, and six of those passes went for first downs. The absence of Plaxico Burress in training camp allowed Manning to bond with young receivers such as Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon. In fact, Smith's become one of the better third-down receivers in the league this season. He does a great job of getting separation from cornerbacks in tight spots.
On defense, the Giants will try to rattle Flacco early. I think you'll see Justin Tuck use a lot of his inside moves to apply pressure. It drove the Giants nuts that they didn't have any sacks against Donovan McNabb. If they have less than four sacks against the Ravens, I'll be surprised. The Ravens' defense will be a great test for Manning and the offense, but New York will find a way to win.
The Eagles can't afford to sleepwalk through this game. Honestly, they're not good enough to do that. The Bengals pushed the Cowboys and Giants to the brink earlier in the season and then beat the Jaguars.
I think Andy Reid will actually try to establish the
run against the Bengals. All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook sat out a portion of practice Friday, but Reid was just being cautious. Westbrook has been asking for an opportunity to find some rhythm in the running game, and he may get that chance.
The Eagles were gashed by the Giants in the running game. That's not going to happen against the Bengals. But this team still has enough offensive firepower to worry the Eagles' secondary. With the addition of Asante Samuel, the Eagles were supposed to be an elite secondary. That hasn't quite been the case, though.
The Eagles will have an opportunity to work on their performance in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. For some reason, Reid seems to be at his worst in those important situations. Against the Giants, he used a lot of misdirection with the speedy DeSean Jackson. This isn't the type of game the Eagles need to win 21-17. They need to win impressively in order to get some confidence back. And stop trying to convince me that they played well enough to win the Giants game. The final score wasn't an indication of what took place on the field.