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Redskins can't afford a half-hearted effort vs. Cowboys' offense

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Sports,NFL,Redskins,John Keim

Stopping Dallas won't be easy Sunday

ASHBURN -- The formula worked for two quarters and much of a third. And then Dallas hit a big play. And then Dallas went on a long drive. And then, after a turnover, Dallas scored again.

The Redskins escaped that Thanksgiving Day game. They also learned a lesson or two. Clearly, on Sunday, they hope to apply that knowledge against an offense that has scored 27 or more points in five of the past seven games. The Cowboys topped that figure just once in the first eight games.

Two players in particular are hot: quarterback Tony Romo (17 touchdowns, three interceptions in the last eight games) and receiver Dez Bryant (808 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns in the last seven games). Also, receiver Miles Austin (66 catches, 943 yards) played sparingly in the first game, a 38-31 Redskins win, because of an injury. And running back DeMarco Murray did not play.

"They're just clicking, man," Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "Tony's throwing for a lot of yards this year. Dez is in a groove. ... It's going to be tough. Anyone who thinks this will be like it was on Thanksgiving, they're in for a rude awakening."

The Redskins held the Cowboys to 124 first-half yards, but nine of Dallas' 10 longest plays in the game occurred in the final two quarters. That helped them rally from a 28-3 deficit to draw within seven in the fourth quarter.

Clearly, the Redskins want to repeat the first 30 minutes. Here's how they can do that:

Make the Cowboys one dimensional?» Dallas had no running game to speak of in the first game and, in fact, threw on every play but one in the second half. The inability to run limited its options in the red zone, where it converted on two of four trips. However, Murray's presence helps even if he's averaging only 4.1 yards per carry this season.

"He gives them a physical presence in the backfield," Hall said.

Murray doesn't have to post great numbers for the Cowboys to win. He averaged 3.6 and 2.5 yards, respectively, in wins over Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

"They have everything you want for a good offense, but if you let them be balanced, it's almost impossible," Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said.

Have lots of movement up front » All but one of Dallas' offensive linemen weigh at least 320 pounds, so it's a bigger front. The Redskins countered in the first game with a steady dose of stunts and twists by the front seven, trying to use quickness. But they sacked Romo only twice, so look for a combination of stunts and blitzes, too. It's how the Redskins hurt them in the first half.

"When you face a big powerful line like that, you don't want to sit in front of them and be a sitting duck," Cofield said. "You want to move them around."

The stunts help create what the Redskins need: steady pressure.

"Romo can't be allowed to pat the ball and be comfortable or he'll kill you downfield," Cofield said.

Create false looks » Redskins linebacker London Fletcher intercepted Romo in the first game on a well-designed coverage. He and Hall, both covering on the defense's left, appeared to be in man coverage off the snap with Hall on Cole Beasley and Fletcher on Jason Witten. But as the receivers crossed, Hall stayed outside in zone, and Fletcher peeled to the middle. Romo threw to Beasley, who appeared to be breaking open until the coverage changed.

"They've got a lot of weapons," Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "I think it's going to be a great opportunity for us to see where we're at."

jkeim@washingtonexaminer.com

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