Ailing Cowboys host first-place Redskins in NFC East tussle
It is starting to look as if the Dallas Cowboys will have quarterback Tony Romo on the field for Monday night's contest against the undefeated Washington Redskins.
It is a host of other injuries that could deny Dallas its first victory in its third home opener at new Cowboys Stadium, however. The lack of healthy bodies could also lead to Washington's first 3-0 start in six years.
After taking some heat for late mistakes in a Week 1 loss to the New York Jets, Romo suffered a fractured rib and pneumothorax early on in last Sunday's meeting with San Francisco. He missed nearly all of the third quarter, but returned to the game and helped rally his club to a 27-24 victory in overtime, hitting Jesse Holley on a 77-yard pass to set up Dan Bailey's 19-yard game- winning field goal.
Bailey forced OT when he connected on a 48-yard kick as time expired in the fourth quarter.
"That was a great win for a lot of different reasons," said Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. "We talk all the time that it takes everybody (to win) and we certainly found that out (Sunday)."
Romo did not practice on Thursday or Friday, but reports have indicated that his lung injury has healed. Therefore, it could just be a case of how much pain he can tolerate in his rib area as to whether he can start or not on Monday night.
Jon Kitna replaced Romo during his absence on Sunday and would get the nod versus the Redskins if the Dallas starter can't way.
While Kitna is preparing in case he has to start, he isn't counting his teammate out.
"I think (Cowboys owner) Jerry (Jones) said it best, it's really Tony's decision for how he feels he can execute. So we'll see what happens," said Kitna. I fully expect him to play."
If Romo isn't able to go, he would have plenty of company on the Dallas sidelines. Starting guard Derrick Dockery (fractured tibia/MCL sprain) and wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) are both expected to miss the game, while wideout Dez Bryant could sit out his second game in a row due to a quadriceps ailment. Center Phil Costa (knee) and running back Felix Jones (shoulder) are also questionable, though cornerback Terence Newman is likely to make his season debut after missing the first two contests with a groin issue.
With the Cowboys ailing, the Redskins will try to take an early edge in the NFC East and improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005. They hadn't won their first two games of the season since 2007 before this one, and will try to win their first two division games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1973-74.
Washington found the victory column in Week 1 against the fellow NFC East member New York Giants before winning its second straight at home to start the year with a come-from-behind 22-21 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals last weekend.
Quarterback Rex Grossman led the comeback by hitting Santana Moss for an 18- yard touchdown on 4th-and-3 early in the fourth quarter before engineering a drive that set up Graham Gano's 34-yard field goal with under two minutes left in regulation.
"We feel good about where we're going," said Grossman afterward. "We feel we're heading in the right direction. We have a lot to get better on, but at the same time we feel excited that we're headed in the right direction."
Redskins safety LaRon Landry was inactive for a second straight week due to an Achilles' injury, but thinks he can play on Monday for the first time since Nov. 15 of last season.
The Cowboys have a 60-38-2 advantage in the all-time regular-season series between the divisional foes and has won four of its five most recent meetings with Washington. The Redskins' lone victory over that stretch occurred in last year's season opener, a 13-7 decision at FedEx Field, with Dallas exacting revenge via a 33-30 home triumph in Week 15. The Cowboys swept their 2009 season set with Washington, and the Redskins have left with a loss in four of their last five visits to Dallas, with the lone win a 26-24 verdict in 2008.
Washington has prevailed in each of its two previous postseason clashes with Dallas, besting the Cowboys in both the 1972 and 1982 NFC Championship Games.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan owns a 4-2 lifetime record against Dallas, including a 3-1 mark during his 14-year tenure with the Denver Broncos from 1995-08, and had defeated the Cowboys four straight times prior to last December's setback. Garrett won his only head-to-head matchup with both Washington and Shanahan with the above-mentioned Week 15 result from last season.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
While Grossman (596 passing yards, 4 TD, 2 INT) rightfully received a lot of credit for last week's win, the Redskins also rode the legs of running backs Tim Hightower and rookie Roy Helu to a total of 170 yards on the ground. Hightower (168 rushing yards, 1 TD) got the bulk of the work with 20 carries for 96 yards, while Helu added 10 totes for 74 yards. Grossman, though, threw for both of Washington's touchdowns, connecting with both Moss and tight end Fred Davis. He finished with 291 passing yards and extended Washington's franchise record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 17, but was also picked off twice. Dallas will have to be aware of Washington's dual tight-end threat of Davis (11 receptions, 1 TD) and Chris Cooley (2 receptions), with Davis recording a team-leading six catches for 86 yards against Arizona and topping all Redskin players in receiving yards in both games so far this year. Cooley and Moss (11 receptions, 1 TD) both have six career touchdown catches against the Cowboys, while both Moss and Jabar Gaffney (8 receptions, 1 TD) made five catches for over 60 yards in last Sunday's victory.
Despite the close score last week, the Cowboys' defense limited the 49ers to just 206 yards of offense, while running back Frank Gore had only 47 yards on 20 carries. Washington's tendency to run the ball will keep nose tackle Jay Ratliff (5 tackles, 1 sack) and linebackers Bradie James (3 tackles) and Sean Lee (23 tackles, 1 INT) busy for another week. Dallas would love to simulate the pressure it got last Sunday, when it sacked San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith six times and grabbed one interception. Cornerback Alan Ball (8 tackles, 1 INT) had the pick, while right end Jason Hatcher (7 tackles, 2 sacks) and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (6 tackles, 4 sacks) finished with two sacks each. Ratliff and linebacker Anthony Spencer (5 tackles, 2 sacks) also had sacks, while Lee matched a game-high with 10 tackles and safety Gerald Sensabaugh (8 tackles) was second with five.
WHEN THE COWBOYS HAVE THE BALL
While Kitna is a veteran backup, the Cowboys are a better club with Romo (687 passing yards, 4 TD, 1 INT) under center. He threw for 345 yards on 20-of-33 passing versus the 49ers, tossing a pair of touchdown strikes to Austin (14 receptions, 4 TD) as well. Kitna also completed a scoring throw to Austin, giving the wide receiver a new career high, but was 6-of-10 passing with two interceptions. Austin had a big game with nine catches and 143 yards, but former reality star Holley (3 receptions) and Kevin Ogletree (4 receptions) will need to step up if both he and Bryant (3 receptions, 1 TD) miss the game. Tight end Jason Witten (13 receptions) will also serve as a safety net for either Romo or Kitna after making seven catches for 102 yards last week. Felix Jones (69 rushing yards, 1 TD) led the Cowboys with just 25 rushing yards on nine carries against San Francisco, while rookie DeMarco Murray had six carries for 21 yards. Tashard Choice would likely see a bigger role in the offense if Jones is unable to play or limited.
Washington will have a heavy hitter in its secondary if Landry can play for the first time in almost a year and line up with free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (9 tackles) for the first time this season. The Redskins could also use the help after watching Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald post 133 receiving yards last week, a healthy portion of that coming on a 73-yard touchdown. Washington did an otherwise decent job on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, sacking him three times and notching an interception. Linebacker London Fletcher (14 tackles, 1 INT) grabbed the 17th pick of his career in the win, while rookie linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (8 tackles, 1 INT) had the first sack of his career. Fellow linebackers Rocky McIntosh (15 tackles, 1 sack) and Brian Orakpo (4 tackles, 1 sack) also got to Kolb, with McIntosh leading the way with eight tackles. Safety Reed Doughty (17 tackles) added six stops, while both Fletcher and cornerback DeAngelo Hall (10 tackles) finished with five tackles.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Redskins have done a great job keeping opposing offenses off the field this year. Their offense ranks sixth in the NFL with 25 first downs per game and is tops in the league in time of possession at 35 minutes and 33 seconds. On the other side, Washington's defense is fourth in the league with just 15.5 first downs allowed per game.
If he does play, Washington will need to get to Romo quickly -- and legally -- to make it a long night for the quarterback. Dallas' offensive line already features rookies at both right tackle (Tyron Smith) and left guard (Bill Nagy), so the loss of Dockery hurts. If the Redskins don't hit Romo early, they run the risk of letting him get comfortable and pain-free.
Dallas' secondary will also need to stop the Redskins' run game and force Grossman into making some mistakes. It failed to handle the quarterback the last time he faced the Cowboys, as Grossman connected on four touchdown passes in that meeting last December.
This game could very well come down to how effective Romo is, assuming he plays. He showed last week that he is a difference-maker, but his injury as well as the absence of several top targets could seriously hinder Dallas' ability to move the ball on offense. Grossman, meanwhile, is picking up confidence, so it will come down to how well he reads the Cowboys' defense. Washington is one of the more surprising 2-0 clubs and would really send out some shock waves by winning a third straight game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 14, Cowboys 13