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Friday, December 20, 2013
Double Coverage: Cowboys at Redskins

By John Keim and Todd Archer
ESPN.com


The Washington Redskins' season can't end soon enough, with the future of the organization to be decided shortly thereafter. The Dallas Cowboys might have their own decisions to make around that time, depending on how the next two games unfold.

It's not exactly a throwback to the old Redskins-Cowboys rivalry storylines. Or even what it was like a year ago in the regular-season finale when the NFC East title was on the line. Dallas still has a shot at the playoffs, but, as usual, the Cowboys are a .500 team that can never seem to get it together late in the season.

But they look like a model of consistency next to the dysfunctional Redskins, who have lost six straight, have numerous stories citing anonymous sources and benched their franchise quarterback a week ago (ostensibly for health reasons).

ESPN.com Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Redskins reporter John Keim break down the game.

John Keim: Is Jason Garrett finally on the hot seat? If not, why aren't the Cowboys ever more than mediocre under him?

Todd Archer: Jerry Jones has said Garrett is safe, but I just have a hard time believing that would be the case if they miss the playoffs for the third straight season with him as the coach. But I don't know that Garrett would be paying for only his sins. He'd be paying for Jones' sins, too. Garrett has had some missteps as the coach, but Jones is the one responsible for the players, and, frankly, there have not been enough players for years here. The drafting has been poor. The free-agent decisions have been mixed. That's on Jones. And Jones was the one who hired Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator and made sure Garrett gave up the play calling this year. But as we know, Jones will not fire the general manager, so Garrett would be the one to pay with his job.

Meanwhile, Mike Shanahan sure seems to be acting like a coach looking to get out. I know he's saying he wants to stay. Is there any possibility he could be back in 2014?

Keim: There's a possibility, but it still feels far-fetched. There's so much nonsense going on here these days that, regardless of who's at fault, it's hard to justify continuing this regime. But owner Dan Snyder might not want to pay him $7 million -- in addition to the money he'd have to pay the coaching staff. That's a lot of cash. Still, it appears the only way that Shanahan could return is if he brings in new coordinators. Of course that means his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, would have found a job elsewhere. But if you're Snyder, why would you think it would be any different if Shanahan gets a chance to hire another staff? This is the one he thought would work. And I'm not blaming the staff, but, rather, do you trust the guy in charge to somehow hire one that is much better? How many proven guys would want to work here knowing it could be a one-year deal? Also, there would have to be a major repair job between the coach and quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the players support Shanahan and I've heard that Snyder still likes him. So, crazy as it sounds, there's a chance.

How did the players respond to the Green Bay loss -- after the game and later this week?

Archer: They are saying the right things. They say they believe, but there does feel as if there is some desperation this week. Same with frustration. I don't know how they could not be frustrated with the way they lost to the Packers. It was there for them to win, and they let it get away. But to be clear, the coaches let it go just as much as the players. I'll say this for Garrett, he has been able to keep this team on track. He does not stray from message, and, as a result, the players stay in the moment. This is a huge game for a lot of the core players who have been here. If the Cowboys can't win this one or can't make the playoffs, there could (some would say should) be big changes. They know what's on the line.

Because Griffin is a Texas native, a lot of folks here want to know what's going on with him. How has he handled the “benching,” and is there a worry he might not get teammates back on his side?

Keim: No, I don't think that he can't get teammates back. I know many are tired of the drama surrounding Griffin, but I don't think they're tired of him. All he needs to do to maintain his teammates' confidence in him is work hard, lie low and win. Griffin has handled the benching well. He was into the game against Atlanta; he has worked hard in practice; he said all the right things the day he was benched. He's definitely upset about what happened, but it hasn't caused him to feel sorry for himself.

Staying on quarterbacks, how would you rate Tony Romo this season, and is he fairly or unfairly criticized?

Archer: Romo's been solid. I know that will drive some people crazy who only look at his fourth-quarter interceptions against the Packers or his decision late against Denver. I'd make the argument the Cowboys would not be sniffing a playoff spot the past three years if not for Romo. But the season has not been all candy and ice cream for him. His completion percentage is still pretty good (64 percent), but he has missed some easy throws or made his receivers have to work too hard. He's not moving as well as he did in earlier years. Maybe that has something to do with the offseason back surgery. Maybe it's because he's 33. But Romo has largely been able to stay away from the bad plays. With 29 touchdown passes and nine picks, he has done that, but everybody will remember the Green Bay game.

The Redskins gave away a lot to get Griffin. Now they're playing Kirk Cousins. Is it a deal where they're trying to drive trade value for a guy late in a season to help them in April?

Keim: They say that's a potential benefit if Cousins does well, but they'd never say publicly that was the real reason. Also, the coaches really like Cousins, so I'm not convinced they're in a rush to trade him. If, for some reason, the staff returns, the Redskins could hang on to both quarterbacks to give them another year to see how Griffin responds to a full offseason. What if, at the end of next season, Griffin is no different than he is now? Or, if he improves the way you hope, then you can peddle Cousins. I also can't imagine anyone offering the Redskins a first-round pick (which is what they think he might fetch). A second-rounder? Perhaps, depending on how the final two games unfold.

The Redskins faced a bad defense at Atlanta. Now they get another one. Is the Dallas defense bad because of injuries or other factors? Where are the Cowboys most vulnerable?

Archer: Well, they haven't been good even when they were relatively healthy. The injuries haven't helped, but they had injuries last year with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and weren't this bad. The four best players remaining -- Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher -- have struggled the past couple of games, if not longer. That can't happen. Their best defensive players against Green Bay were George Selvie, Barry Church and Sterling Moore. That just can't happen. The scheme is fine. Other teams have succeeded with it. But Monte Kiffin has not changed enough to combat the injuries. He has not played to the strengths of the guys who are left. At least, he hasn't done it enough. The Cowboys just don't have any answers. They are as bad against the run as the pass, and now they can't get any takeaways.

Any differences with how the offense runs with Cousins and Griffin?

Keim: Cousins runs plays mostly from under center compared with Griffin, who lined up in the pistol formation. They're obviously different in terms of style. The Redskins have not run the zone-read with Cousins (although I do believe he can run it; he's as fast as Philadelphia's Nick Foles, who runs the zone-read on occasion). The real difference is that Cousins is more comfortable in the pocket and has better footwork right now than Griffin, caused in large part by the lack of work the latter received in the offseason while rehabbing his knee. Cousins will run a lot of bootlegs, although Washington also ran those with Griffin. Cousins has been more decisive, but part of that is because he knows he can't run from pressure like Griffin.

Do you think Dallas will ever be a strong contender again under Jerry Jones?

Archer: That's the big question. I'll say yes only because things are cyclical in the NFL. Jones has plenty of great qualities as an owner. He wants to win. He will do everything he can to win. He is willing to do what it takes. But Jones the general manager often gets in the way. The Cowboys seem to change philosophies from year to year. One year they like this kind of player only to move on to a new player the next year. Jones said something this week on his radio show about how he does not worry about fan apathy because of the “show” the fans got in Sunday's game against Green Bay. He seemed oblivious that his team lost. He was happy it was a good show. How can he think that way? But Jones won't change. He will be the ultimate decision-maker. I think they will be a strong contender again, but it could take some time.

Obviously, the season has been a washout for the Redskins. How much joy would they take in killing the Cowboys' season?

Keim: After six straight losses, I think they'd feel good beating anyone right now, but, yeah, beating a team in the playoff hunt would make them feel better. And if it's Dallas? All the better, although I don't sense any real hatred toward them. But for the fans, if they can watch Dallas' playoff hopes take a dive because of the Redskins, that would cause them to temporarily forget the craziness of the past couple of weeks. But the word "joy" is not the one I'd use to describe much of anything around here. There are a number of Redskins who will be playing their final home game, including likely retiring linebacker London Fletcher, so that will provide a little motivation, as well.