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Cowboys expecting more dynamic plays from RG3

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Cowboys expecting more dynamic plays from RG3

IRVING, Texas (AP) The Dallas Cowboys get another shot at Robert Griffin III after he put them through their worst quarter of the season in a loss on Thanksgiving.

They aren't talking all tough about how it will be different this time around for Washington's dynamic rookie quarterback in a Sunday night game that will decide the NFC East champion.

Dallas might not even be surprised if the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor goes 8 of 8 for 178 yards with three entirely different types of touchdown throws. That's what he did in the second quarter last month to give Washington a 28-3 lead in a 38-31 victory.

``No, I don't say he can't do that again because he can,'' Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears said. ``He can create so many plays and get himself out of trouble a lot, which in turn helps him make a lot of the plays where you look and say, `Man, how did that happen.'''

Griffin's first big NFL play in Texas was a perfect deep throw to Aldrick Robinson for a 68-yard touchdown. He threw a ball behind Pierre Garcon - but just beyond the reach of Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter - on a 59-yard score. A sideline throw that only Santana Moss could catch in the final seconds of the half finished the first 28-point quarter for the Redskins (9-6) in 13 years.

When the Cowboys (8-7) pulled within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Griffin had three first-down throws on a time-consuming drive to a field goal that essentially sealed the win.

``Obviously you see the guy out there making plays and you don't like that,'' Spears said. ``A lot of that was stuff that we didn't do very well either. At any rate, it's more from how is he going to try to attack us and hurt us this second time.''

Spears says Griffin makes it easy to forget about another rookie, running back Alfred Morris. He leads first-year backs with 1,413 yards, and his 113-yard game against the Cowboys was the first of three straight during a six-game winning streak that vaulted Washington from an also-ran to sole possession of the division lead.

Morris scored the other touchdown in the big second quarter and set up Griffin's final TD toss with a first-down run to the Dallas 6.

``RG3, everybody's enamored,'' Spears said. ``It's not like he's back there alone. He can hand the ball off to a guy that can make plays.''

Still, Griffin wasn't named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday night because he was handing off. And that's not what the Cowboys took away from the Thanksgiving game.

Dallas owner Jerry Jones was still talking about Griffin's game at Cowboys Stadium when asked last weekend about the Sunday night showdown. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett didn't need to see Griffin live to believe he could pick through the Dallas defense the way he did.

``We thought he was pretty darn good in college, and we thought he was pretty darn good in the early part of the season,'' Garrett said. ``We had a tremendous amount of respect for what they were doing on offense going into our ballgame when we played them on Thanksgiving.''

With so much talk about Griffin's mobility - he's just 30 yards shy of the top 10 in the league in rushing - it's easy to overlook his 20 passing touchdowns against just five interceptions. Those are rare numbers for a rookie, but he did the same thing at Baylor for three years.

``I don't think people pay attention to how well the guy throws the ball,'' Spears said. ``He could play in a system where it was a five-step drop and he didn't have to run. He throws the ball that well.''

The Cowboys did pressure Griffin in the Thanksgiving loss, even though it didn't really look like it with his 132.6 rating on 20-of-28 passing for 311 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

Spears and Anthony Spencer, who had two of the four sacks of Griffin, will be chasing again with a defense even more compromised than it was a month ago. The Cowboys are missing five starters, and linebacker DeMarcus Ware is trying to play through hamstring, elbow and shoulder problems.

``It's no secret we've got a lot to defend on our end of the ball,'' Spears said. ``With that being said, we feel like we left some plays out there the first game and we have to do a better job of playing and keying around the football this time around.''

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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