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For Cowboys, Redskins Are An 'Unknown'

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Dallas Week comes early for the Redskins. Opening night. At home. In front of national TV audience.

As one of the NFL's great and long-standing rivalries, Cowboys-Redskins evokes pride and passion.

It kicks off Mike Shanahan's tenure as the Redskins head coach and marks Donovan McNabb's first start as the quarterback.

It also begins an intense drive by the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl, which will be played in 2011 in their stadium in Arlington, Texas. No team has ever participated in a Super Bowl on its home turf.

Added pressure?

"I don't think so," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said. "There's pressure on you every year to try to get to that point, especially when you have a good football team or you feel you're going to have a good football team.

"As always, there's pressure to win and it's week to week. The pressure is all on this game, this time, this first game. That's where it is. I don't think you go beyond that."

For the Redskins, the time to erase a 4-12 season and commence a new era looms. Maybe not quite as lofty an aim as Dallas' yet no less critical.

"I feel like it's everybody's goal to go out there and get it started off right," wide receiver Santana Moss said. "It's important for everybody. But somebody's going to lose."

The Cowboys won the NFC East last season for the second time in three years and also earned their first playoff victory in 13 years. Super Bowl pressure never fades in Dallas but a so-so preseason and a 3-2 record raised eyebrows. Not that it bothered owner/general manager Jerry Jones.

"How successful we've been in preseason hasn't ever impacted our regular season. I don't know of one time that the scores, or frankly to some degree how we've moved the ball, the stats or what have you, ever impacted it," Jones said.

The Redskins go into this game knowing very much what the Cowboys are.

The Cowboys face what amounts to a mystery, with a new coaching staff, new schemes, new players (including McNabb). The Redskins return only two starters on their offensive line and have adopted Phillips' beloved 3-4 defensive scheme.

The Redskins, Phillips said, are "more of an unknown. I think they can look at us from last year, the previous three years, and say, 'Hey, they're going to do these things.' We look at them and we say, 'Well, we're not quite sure exactly what they're going to do.'

"We know they're going to do certain things and they're going to be sound in what they do and they're going to come up with some things that are going to be tough on us, things we haven't seen before."

As the summer unfolded, Dallas ran the football poorly and an offensive line stripped down by injuries and the release of left tackle Flozell Adams left quarterback Tony Romo exposed at times.

The Cowboys hope to get right tackle Marc Columbo back but left guard Kyle Kosier may be out most of September. Doug Free replaces Adams after filling in for Columbo last year.

"I'm not sure if they struggled. In preseason you've got a lot of different combinations that you're playing and they really never had their starting offensive line in there," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "They're a big, strong, physical offensive line and we're going to have to deal with them."

The Cowboys finished second in the NFL in 2009 in total offense by showing good balance between the run and the pass. They ranked ninth defensively and allowed only 250 points. They swept the season series from the Redskins, winning 7-6 at home and 17-0 at FedExField.

A more aggressive, turnover-minded Redskins defense hopes it can pressure Romo and generate game-turning plays.

"Tony can make every single throw on the field but he'll also give you opportunities too sometimes," cornerback DeAngelo Hall (two preseason interceptions) said.

One new Cowboy to watch: Rookie wide receiver (and No. 1 draft pick) Dez Bryant. He missed all five preseason games due to a high ankle sprain but should be close to full speed for the Redskins.

"He's definitely ready. There are always concerns when a guy hasn't played any, any player but especially a rookie," Phillips said. "He's ready to go, he's excited, he's practicing hard. I'm excited. He's a real talent.

"I think everybody will see that once he plays, but he is a rookie and history has shown us at the receiver position it takes a while. But I think he's going to be very special."

AROUND THE NFL: Heading into the opener against the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell says "we're right where we want to be." That's after an 0-4 preseason. Which is really nothing new for the Colts. They're 2-19 in preseason games over the last five years. They were 1-3 in 2009 but went to the Super Bowl and 1-3 in 2006 when they won the Super Bowl. They open on the road against the Houston Texans and have beaten them seven of eight times at Reliant Stadium. ... The No. 1 picks of the Oakland Raiders often don't pan out but coach Tom Cable has a good feeling about rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain. "He's not one to dwell on things," Cable says. "He moves forward and doesn't let the last one beat him the next time. He's well-schooled that way." ... Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews missed all four preseason games with a hamstring injury but expects to be full-speed for the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. "Should be good to go 100 percent," he says. The Packers ranked second last season in total defense and ought to be a rugged test for the Eagles and their new starting quarterback, Kevin Kolb. ... The Seattle Seahawks were caught short by the sudden retirement last week of offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, but not too short. They hired Pat Ruel, who coached the offensive line at Southern California during Pete Carroll's tenure there. Ruel had also coached o-lines previously with four NFL teams, the last the New York Giants in 2004.

QUOTABLE: "That stadium is a state-of-the-art, beautiful money pit." – Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, talking about the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium. The Giants play the Carolina Panthers there Sunday in the first regular season game in the building.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at www.Redskinsrule.com and follow him on www.Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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