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Redskins Prepare For Cowboys Starters On Sunday

After years of December struggles, the Dallas Cowboys appear to be on a positive track this year, winning all three games they've played in this month, clinching the NFC East in the process.

The biggest reason behind this turnaround may be the offense, as quarterback Tony Romo, running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant are having their best seasons to date.

Check out the top images from Washington Redskins' practice on Dec. 26, 2014, at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va.

And considering that these Redskins-Cowboys games always have a little bit more emotion behind them, and seeing as the Cowboys are trying to go for a perfect month heading into the playoffs, Washington is going to be ready for Dallas' best shot.

"You prepare for the Cowboys and you expect to play their best," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said earlier this week. "You expect Dez Bryant and Tony Romo. You expect DeMarco Murray, you expect all their guys and they have got a lot of them."

And if the Cowboys elect to play some of their second- and third-stringers, the Redskins will be ready for them too.

"We're preparing for what they do and then whoever does it I'm sure [Joseph] Randle's stepped in and done a nice job as Murray's replacement," Gruden said. "They have a lot of weapons that can hit you but we are preparing for their best."

During the week leading up to the first Redskins-Cowboys game of the season, a game the Redskins would win 20-17 in overtime on Monday Night Football, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett explained that when Romo is provided the opportunity to roll out of the pocket and throw, it gives their wide receivers time to disconnect from coverage.

"They do a nice job of utilizing their talent," he said. "They bring 17 (Dwayne Harris) in on certain plays. They have No. 11 (Cole Beasley) run certain routes. The running backs do certain things. They utilize their talent really well."

In that Monday Night Football meeting at AT&T Stadium, the Redskins' defense set the tone for what would become their best performance of the season.

The Cowboys' first two drives ended with punts after third-down sacks, while the next two drives resulted in turnovers, as safety Brandon Meriweather forced fumbles on their running backs on both occasions.

Rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who made the game-winning pass defense in overtime to seal the game for the Redskins, said the Washington defense needs to get off to a similar start in this Sunday's game.

"We just do the same thing we did last time – get off to a fast start and know who they want to get the ball to in the passing game and know how they want to get it to them," he said. "We've just got to know everything and play with our minds."

Breeland and second-year cornerback David Amerson combined to frustrate Bryant into one of his worst games of the season.

While he has 1,221 receiving yards, ninth-most in the NFL entering Week 17 action, he was held to just 30 yards on three receptions Week 8 in Arlington, Texas.

Breeland said the key to slowing Bryant down is to play aggressive on him at the line and in contested situations, because "he's very dangerous once he has the ball in his hands."

"He's a big receiver, he's a very fast guy," Breeland said. "So if you can be patient and stick to him and not let him have a chance to catch the ball, you'll have a better chance at defending him."

Amerson added to Breeland's comments about accounting for Bryant, saying they "just have to make it hard on him every time."

"Everyone knows he's a great player and week in and week out he makes amazing plays," Amerson said. "My main thing is to go out there and make it tough for him, harass him, get your hands on him, and when the ball comes to him, be right there in tight coverage and compete with him."

The run game, meanwhile, is led by Murray, who enters Sunday's game with an NFL-high 1,745 yards and 12 touchdowns.

While he started out the season at a record-setting pace, rushing for at least 100 yards in 10 of the Cowboys' first 11 games, he's tailed off some recently.

In three of the Cowboys' last four games, he's been held to less than 100 yards.

Before their game against the Colts last Sunday, Murray underwent surgery on his broken left hand. And while he was able to play in the game, he didn't practice Thursday this week with an undisclosed illness.

Regardless of if he can go or not, inside linebacker Will Compton said their mindset "doesn't change, you just have to execute" when any of their three running backs in the huddle.

"There might be some tendencies depending on which back is in," he said. "One back might be more of a scat back and getting out for receiving and stuff, but the preparation is all the same and at the end of the day, we just got to take care of ourselves."

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