The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Cowboys 2017 Week 8 showdown at FedExField in Landover, Md.
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HOLD UP ALONG THE LINE
One of the biggest question marks for the Redskins entering Sunday's game is the status of the offensive line.
Of the normal starters, only Shawn Lauvao wasn't listed on the week's injury report. Center Spencer Long (knees), guard Brand Scherff (knee/back) and tackles Trent Williams (knee) and Morgan Moses (ankles) all appeared, though, as the Redskins try to determine which offensive line will be the best group to roll out against the Cowboys.
Because of the injuries along the line (backups Ty Nsekhe and Tyler Catalina also were on the injury report), the Redskins had to modify the week's schedule. Instead of a normal practice on Wednesday, the team went through a walkthrough before beginning on-field work Thursday.
The Redskins could see Chase Roullier make his first career start, as the rookie can play both center and guard.
"That's kind of been my role here, just to fill in wherever I'm needed in those inside three positions," Roullier said. "It's what I've been preparing for in practice this entire season, so I felt pretty prepared to play whatever position I needed to. Obviously, it's always tough whenever so many guys are going down and you're flipping around all sorts of different positions. It's something that I've been practicing for and it went pretty well."
Depending on how many of the linemen are inactive on Sunday, Washington may also need to play a new face. On Wednesday, the team announced the signing of six-year veteran offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom.
Bergstrom's played for the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens in his career, appearing in 44 regular season games with four starts.
While Bergstrom's turnaround from free agent to potentially playing in a crucial NFC East game in the matter of days isn't ideal, he has both the experience and the versatility to be an asset.
"That's something that I've been able to do, I've been able to learn offenses quickly and pretty much play any position that I need to," Bergstrom said. "I've played every spot from left tight end to right tight end and everything in between. Whatever I need to do, it's what I'm here to do."
PLAY TO THE OFFENSE'S STRENGTHS
Washington truly has a luxury with their tight end corps.
Some teams across the NFL barely get contributions from their tight ends, as there isn't exactly a surplus of players who can play the position and be factors for opposing defenses.
But for the Redskins, Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis and even Niles Paul can create mismatch nightmares. And when either two or all three are on the field at the same time, it causes headaches for defensive coordinators.
"Really, some of our best offensive stuff comes out of two-tight-end sets and one back," Gruden said this week. "Three-tight-end sets and one back, we're very successful."
Reed broke out this past Monday against the Eagles, twice finding the end zone in the second half. Davis, meanwhile, leads all NFL players in average yards per reception (19.5) and Paul has shown throughout his career to be effective both a pass-catcher and blocker.
Trent Williams said that normally when teams deploy multiple tight end sets, it means a running play is likely to be called.
While the Redskins have certainly called running plays in these formations, Washington is in an "advantageous position" with the likes of Reed, Davis and Paul on the field together, as they've proven to be some of Washington's best receivers over the last few years.
"At every position on the field, you're trying to look for favorable matchups and mismatches and sometimes we find that that happens with our three-tight-end or two-tight-end personnel groupings," Cousins said. "When you can have your whole offense available to you because of the talent we have at tight end, but stay in those three-tight-end sets, I think it can give defenses a lot of challenges as to, 'Do we put a bunch of athletes on the field? Do we put a bunch of guys who can stop the run? How do we defend that?' Week to week, teams are going to have a different approach."
USE THE RIVALRY AS MOTIVATION
The rivalry that the Redskins and Cowboys share is unique one.
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
Washington D.C. and Dallas are not neighbors by any means – the two cities are 1,300 miles apart – and the rivalry was not triggered by one player or coach. Rather, the bad blood that flows between these two teams is a result of many years of tight divisional clashes, standout individual performances and memorable moments.
The excitement surrounding a rivalry matchup like this serves as perfect motivation for a Redskins team looking to keep pace in the NFC East.
"It's just one of those games that everybody around the league looks forward to," said running back Chris Thompson. "Even if you're not fans of us or the Cowboys, everybody looks forward to the Redskins and the Cowboys playing against each other. It's very exciting for me to be a part of it."
On an individual scale, Thompson should have his work cut out for him as he battles a Dallas run defense that is led by 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee. Thompson, the team leader in both rushing and receiving yards, has benefitted from a breakout season, topping the NFL in receiving yards by a running back.
The matchup on the outside features two of the game's best. Cornerback Josh Norman, while his status for Sunday is still in question, is slated take on Dez Bryant, a three-time Pro Bowler whom Redskins fans have become quite familiar with over the years. While Norman's tenure in Washington is still young, he has already formed somewhat of a connection with the star wideout.
"I don't know Dez, but they seem like they are very similar, very fiery type guys," Gruden said of the "rivalry" between Norman and Bryant. "[They] want to win, want to produce, want to be in the limelight and make plays and they both have done that in their careers and it's a great matchup always."
DON'T LET DALLAS' POTENT COMBO GET GOING
Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott provide a hefty chunk of the Cowboys' total yardage, helped by a few other well-known stars like Bryant and tight end Jason Witten.
The Redskins, who are so far winless against the dynamic duo of Prescott and Elliott, will need a huge defensive effort to stop a Dallas offense that has put up 2,282 yards this season, the sixth most in the NFL.
Washington defensive lineman Terrell McClain knows all too well about how difficult it can be to stop Dallas' young playmakers. McClain spent three seasons with the Cowboys before coming to the Redskins in 2017.
"If I can catch [Prescott], I will try to hit him as hard as I can because I never got to in practice. I always got in trouble when I would come close to him," McClain said with a smile. "I've got to catch [Elliott] too. He's freaking fast. It's going to be fun."
Prescott, who took over as quarterback after Tony Romo went down with injury last season, looks to be on track for another impressive year with 1,426 passing yards and 14 touchdowns through seven weeks. However, Prescott's four interceptions already match his total from a year ago. Regardless of the missteps, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said Prescott's growth has been impressive to watch.
"I don't really see any weaknesses in Dak's game. Coming out of college, you weren't sure how he would adapt to the pro-style game," Gruden said. "He did some things in college like that, but he's adapted extremely well – effortlessly, quite frankly – so he's one of the top-tier guys, I think."
Prescott's seamless transition to the NFL was no doubt aided by the consistent play of Elliott out of the backfield.
Elliot led the league in rushing last season with 1,631 yards, coming less than 200 yards away from the rookie rushing record. Elliott's productivity dipped slightly in 2016 with 540 yards so far, which ranks sixth in the league. The Cowboys' second-year back, who has dealt with off-the-field issues this season, said he always looks forward to playing against a familiar opponent like the Redskins'.
"These division games are always tough," Elliott said. "We know each other's schemes so well. So these division games are always exciting to go on because you just know it's going to be a challenge."