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Redskins Prepare For a Balanced Cowboys Offense

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The Dallas Cowboys struggled to run the football in the preseason. So did the Redskins.

The Cowboys carry a reputation as a pass-first team that likes to run later. The Redskins? More or less a blank slate right now.

Head coach Mike Shanahan's history is to run first (and well). The Redskins can rely on past experience against the Dallas offense. Dallas cannot do the same when these two teams meet Sunday night.

The Cowboys averaged a piddly 2.8 yards per carry in their five preseason games and their longest run was 21 yards. They did not score a rushing touchdown. The Redskins averaged 2.9 yards per attempt with a long of 18 and scored twice on the ground.

Last season, Dallas's offense ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing and that's the important number for the Redskins defense.

"You go by what you know," says linebacker Brian Orakpo. "There are plenty of teams that went 0-4 in the preseason and then went 12-4 in the regular season and vice versa. You go by what you know, what they're known for, what they're (offensive) coordinator is known for.

"They're a pass-run team, so we know they're going to try to put points up on the board early. They like to throw the ball but they've got a three-headed monster with (Marion) Barber and company (Felix Jones, Tashard Choice). We've got to keep them one-dimensional."

Barber averaged 1.9 yards per carry in preseason. Meaning? Maybe not too much.

"I look at what I know they're capable of," defensive end Adam Carriker says. "I've played against them a couple of times. They're a big, physical team and they've got some good running backs. They can run the ball."

The NFL carries the reputation of a pass-first league but the offensive mix still counts.

The New Orleans Saints seem to always be throwing but they ranked sixth in the rushing last year as they cruised to a 13-0 start and won the Super Bowl. They defeated the Indianapolis Colts for that title and the Colts were the worst rushing team in the league.

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The Saints topped the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game; the Vikings ranked 13th in rushing. The Colts beat the New York Jets on the AFC side; the Jets led the NFL in rushing. The San Diego Chargers won the AFC West while finishing 31st in rushing. The Cincinnati Bengals took the AFC North while ranking ninth, ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, with the fifth-strongest rushing attack. The New England Patriots sat atop the AFC East with the 12th-best running game.

In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles (22nd) and Green Bay Packers (14th) were playoff qualifiers. The Arizona Cardinals came in 28th in rushing but won the NFC West.

Each team, it seems, finds it own peculiar balance.

Some of Dallas' preseason problems stemmed from changes in the offensive line.

Doug Free replaced the released Flozell Adams at left tackle, left guard Kyle Kosier has been out with a sprained knee and Montrae Holland is in, and right tackle Marc Colombo is trying to get back for the opener after arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August.

The same could be said for the Redskins, minus the injuries. They've replaced three starters on their offensive line from last year, with rookie Trent Williams at left tackle and veterans Artis Hicks and Jammal Brown at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Building chemistry and cohesion takes time.

If neither team showed much in the way of the running game in preseason, it could also be by design.

The Redskins spent a lot of time looking at their receivers and needed to throw to do that. With a returning cast in the backfield and among coaches, they gave carries to backs who ultimately didn't make the final roster.

"They're just like us," defensive end Phillip Daniels says. "They're not going to show a lot in preseason. Guys pride themselves in preseason on stopping the run and teams put more people up there when teams come out running."

Clinton Portis rushed the ball only nine times in preseason. He could get that many attempts in a half in games that count. Same for Barber, who had 12 carries.

What we've seen isn't what we'll get.

Starting Sunday, the race to the run is on.


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 Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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