I, of course, am not a football coach. The Shanahans and Jim Haslett are, and there’s a good chance that what they choose to do will have little resemblance to what I suggest here. But looking at the strengths and weakness of each team, this is how I would go about trying to beat Dallas:
Skip the secondary blitzes this week. It’s bad enough that Kevin Barnes has developed a habit of tipping off slot blitzes before the snap. But with Dez Bryant playing and Jason Witten continuing to be the best tight end in football, there is no reason for an overly aggressive approach here. LaRon Landry (hopefully) and Oshimogho Atogwe need to be downfield countering Dallas’ athleticism. If DeAngelo Hall jumps a route, there needs to be help behind him. No 73 yard touchdowns this week, please. Keep as many guys in coverage as possible in shifting zones and try to confuse Tony Romo. Hopefully his hero complex will take over, he’ll make a dumb throw or three, and there will be a defender he didn’t spot lurking in an underneath zone to take advantage.
Count on the linemen and outside linebackers to win their battles. There are two great matchups on the edges – Orakpo against Doug Free and Kerrigan against fellow rookie Tyson Smith. Those are tough opponents, but you draft two outside linebackers in the top half of the first round in order to take on and beat the tough opponents. None of the three starting defensive linemen is himself a dominant pass rush threat, but interior line is a major weakness for Dallas. Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield should be able to collapse the pocket with some regularity, and either get to Romo themselves or prevent him from stepping up to escape the OLBs. The more successful they are, the fewer risky blitzes Haslett will feel compelled to call.
The few blitzes that do occur should come from the inside ‘backers. Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher seem to be a more effective blitz duo than last year. With a struggling interior line, I doubt the Cowboys will be able to adjust correctly to every blitz. If the OLBs don’t win their matchups, this may be the best and safest way to pressure Romo. And since the poor Dallas line is unlikely to get much push in the run game, there is somewhat limited risk that these blitzes will be exploited by up the middle runs. They should be used sparingly, because underneath coverage will be important in this game. But a few well-timed ILB trail blitzes should have a pretty good probability of success.
Extra pads for Tim Hightower and Roy Helu. Even if Dallas doesn’t blitz a lot the running backs are going to spend a lot of time blocking. Neither offensive tackle can be expected to shut down DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. And Jay Ratliff is simply far superior to any member of the Redskins offensive line. Even if Dallas doesn’t blitz a lot, there will be leakage and someone needs to be back there to bail out the Redskins’ outclassed linemen.
Give DeMarcus Ware something to think about. Screens to his side. Quick hitches to the wide receiver on his side. Bootlegs to his side. Runs right at his gap that he’ll probably stuff but he will have to keep in mind anyway. Trent Williams will need all the help he can get, and if Ware is free to focus only on getting to Rex then it is not going to go well for the good guys.
Exploit Ratliff in the run game. Ratliff will spend his night shooting right through the gaps between Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, and Chris Chester. None of those three are likely to stop him. How do you beat an aggressive, gap-penetrating defensive tackle? Football jujitsu. Draw plays through the gap he just vacated, for example. And the Redskins don’t usually run trap plays, but they would come in handy against this guy.
A conservative passing game. Yes, it is necessary to take occasional shots downfield. But the Dallas secondary is a weakness and the front seven is a strength. Leave the backs and tight ends in to block, and let Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney run their precise routes and beat their men to move the chains. Sooner or later one will find himself in position for some serious yards after the catch. This is a game that may be decided by which team gets the timeliest strip-sack – so the gameplan should be built around giving Rex time to throw, even if it subtracts some from the explosiveness. If Rex has a limited number of reads to work through before he gets hit, so much the better.