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Can Redskins beat the Romo-less Cowboys and stay on top?

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Can Redskins beat the Romo-less Cowboys and stay on top?

The Redskins spent the past two Decembers hoping to spoil someone else’s postseason hopes.

When they host Dallas tonight at FedEx Field, however, the script will be flipped.

The Tony Romo-less Cowboys (3-8) have lost eight of their last nine games and would like nothing more than to drag a bitter rival down with them.

Are the Redskins (5-6) up to the challenge? Can Kirk Cousins and Co. win back-to-back games and end their struggles in prime time? Will they extend their tenuous lead in the NFC East, or will they wake up Tuesday morning in a three-way tie with the Eagles and Giants?

Redskins vs. Cowboys is always a big game. Tonight it’s a little bigger.  

For all of the your pregame and postgame coverage, tune into CSN Mid-Atlantic. Redskins Kickoff begins at 7:30 on CSN+, and Redskins Postgame Live starts at 11:30 on CSN.

Here are my five storylines to monitor:

1-Next man up. With inside linebacker Perry Riley sidelined, Mason Foster will make his first start since Week 16 of last season when he played for Tampa Bay. Foster has plenty of experience, having started 54 games for the Bucs from 2011-14, but he’s played only 17 snaps for the Redskins. You’ve also got to wonder when/if all the injuries will become too much to overcome. Riley, who was playing his best football of the season when he broke a bone in his foot in practice Thursday, is the second starter to be lost since Thanksgiving, joining cornerback Chris Culliver. “We’ve had a million injuries this year from the beginning of the season until now,” defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “Next man will step up and we’ll keep moving a million miles-per-hour forward and not flinch.”

2-No Romo. Speaking of injuries, the Cowboys' starting quarterback is sidelined again with a cracked collarbone. It could be argued that no single player (on either roster) is as important as Romo is to his team. The Cowboys are 3-1 with Romo this season, and 0-7 without him. Matt Cassel, who is with his fourth team in four seasons, will start in Romo’s place. He’s 0-4 as a starter this season, with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those stats, though, mean little to the Redskins, Barry said. “I know No. 9 [Romo] is hurt and is not playing, but No. 16 [Cassel] has played a bunch of games,” Barry added. “He’s had a pretty darn good career. He’s got a [good] supporting cast around him. He’s got a great offensive line. He's got No. 88 [Dez  Bryant], No. 82 [Jason Witten] and No. 20 [Darren McFadden] has played a lot of good football in his career. This is the National Football League. You’ve got to be ready every week.”    

3-Rediscovering the run game. One of the keys to beating the Giants was the Redskins’ resurgent ground attack. Alfred Morris rushed for 78 yards on 23 carries, just a week after rushing for 0 yards on 2 carries at Carolina. Game situation, of course, had something to do with it; Washington jumped out to a 20-0 lead against New York. But Coach Jay Gruden says he really liked what he saw from Morris, particularly on the decisive fourth quarter drive as the Redskins protected a six-point lead. “He looked a little bit more decisive,” Gruden said. “There were a couple of one or two yards gains in there, but he was decisive. …He was able to carry some tacklers and get the tough extra yard or two, which was good to see.” Morris’ 2015 season has been marked by inconsistency, though. Good games have often been followed by poor ones. Which Morris will show up tonight in Landover? The Cowboys' Sean Lee-led defense, by the way, is allowing 106.9 yards rushing per game (17th).

4-Hitting his stride. After missing the offseason while recovering from a minor knee surgery and then battling through a midseason hand injury, Ryan Kerrigan has started to resemble the player who enjoyed a breakthrough last season. The 27-year-old has three sacks and 10 quarterback pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com, in the past two games after failing to register a sack in the four prior contests. For a little more on Kerrigan and the recent mental adjustment he's made, click here for a story I wrote last week.

5-Trends to watch. The Redskins are riding a five-game winning streak at home, their longest run since 1991. …During that stretch, Cousins is 5-0 with 1,336 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 3 rushing touchdowns and a 121.2 passer rating. …Washington, however, has not won back-to-back games since Weeks 7-8 of last season, and Cousins has never won back-to-back starts. …The Redskins are 2-8 on Monday night since 2008. Their last win, of course, came in overtime at Dallas last October. Can they beat their bitter rivals under the lights again? Their playoff hopes could be riding on it.  

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Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation

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USA TODAY Sports

Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation

Cut bait. Sunk cost. Under water. 

Whatever the term might be, all industries deploy a certain phrase for wasted money. In the NFL, that term is dead cap, or the salary cap space a team must allocate for a particular player that has been cut or traded. 

In the specific case of the Redskins, the team carries more than $5.2 millon in dead cap space. Where did it come from? Who's to blame? Let's take a look.

Terrell McClain ($3.75M) - The Redskins signed McClain away from the Cowboys early in the 2017 free agency period. The move wasn't quite a disaster, but it wasn't very good. Washington gave McClain a four-year deal worth $21 million, and paid out nearly $7.5 million for the 2017 season. McClain never played well for the Redskins, started just two games and this offseason he agreed to give up a significant chunk of guaranteed money. Without that move from McClain, this cap hit would have been much worse. 

Su'a Cravens ($711k) - The money isn't as big of a loss as the talent. The Redskins selected Cravens in the second round of the 2016 Draft and he showed promise as a rookie while also dealing with injuries. In 2017, however, things fell apart as Cravens dealt with a training camp injury, discussed retiring from football and eventually found himself on the reserved/left squad list for the season. Prior to the 2018 Draft, the Redskins worked a deal to send Cravens to Denver for an additional fifth round pick as well as swapping picks. 

Kendall Fuller ($360k) - A promising young cornerback, the Redskins traded Fuller to Kansas City this offseason as part of a package to acquire QB Alex Smith. Losing Fullers stings — even head coach Jay Gruden admitted that — but Washington had to find a quarterback after the long-discussed Kirk Cousins saga veered toward, and eventually ended in, separation. 

Matt Jones ($150k) - One of the worst Redskins draft picks in the last five years, Washington reached for Jones in the third-round in 2015. As a rookie, Jones looked like a solid contributor, but in the 2016 season he developed a bad fumbling habit and found his way to the bench. From there, things got worse, as Jones ended the season on the inactive list after a squabble about playing special teams. In 2017, Jones was cut. He signed with the Colts, where he played in just five games and was cut earlier this year. This offseason, Jones signed with the Eagles.

Arie Kouandjio ($130K) - This is a weird one. Kouandjio was selected by the Redskins in 2015, and cut by the team in 2017. The dead money comes from that rookie deal. When Washington brought Kouandjio back late in the 2017 season off the Ravens' practice squad, the dead money from the rookie deal remained. Now, Kouandjio is injured and a candidate to start the 2018 season on the PUP list or maybe even the IR. 

Robert Davis ($103k) - Drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2017, Davis did not make the team leaving training camp. Even though he got signed to the practice squad, the dead money tolls from the rookie deal. 

Nate Sudfeld ($69k) - A late-round developmental prospect from the 2016 draft, Sudfeld made the team as a rookie but couldn't survive cuts in 2017. Quickly signed by the Eagles, Sudfeld ended up as the backup quarterback in Philadelphia's improbable Super Bowl run earlier this year. Dead money on the Redskins cap, but a Super Bowl ring in Philly. Strange. 

Tyler Catalina and Kevin Bowen account for about $12,000 in dead cap space as well. 

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Redskins schedule preview: Weeks 8 and 14 vs. Giants

Redskins schedule preview: Weeks 8 and 14 vs. Giants

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the two games against the Giants. 

Week 8 October 28, MetLife Stadium

Week 14 December 9, FedEx Field

2017 Giants: 3-13, fourth in NFC East 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 6.5

Early line: Week 8 Redskins +3.5, Week 14 Redskins -1.5

Key additions: RB Saquon Barkley, LT Nate Solder, RB Jonathan Stewart, LB Alec Ogletree

Key losses: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, G Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg

Notable: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returns after missing 12 games with a fractured ankle last year.

Biggest questions: 

  • Will Eli Manning reward the organization for bypassing the quarterback position with the No. 2 pick in the draft? Or will he continue his downhill slide?
  • Will Barkley have sufficient impact to justify his status as the No. 2 overall pick?
  • The last three years, the Giants defense has gone from being ranked 31stto 10thand back to 31st. Where is their true level?

Series history

Giants lead all-time series 92-65-3; after the Giants won five in a row from 2013-2015 the Redskins have taken three of the last five. 

Series notables

The first time: September 16, 1937, Griffith Stadium—This was the beginning of two eras: The Redskins first game in Washington and the start of Sammy Baugh’s NFL career. The game, however, belonged to Riley Smith as the Washington back scored all of his team’s points with a pair of field goals, his dazzling, 60-yard interception return in the fourth quarter and the extra point following that game-clinching touchdown in the home team’s 13-3 win. 

The last time: December 31, 2017, Met Life Stadium—It was 16 degrees at kickoff, the Redskins had only four offensive players from their Week 1 starters in the lineup and all the Redskins had to play for was a non-losing season. These were just some of the reasons for Washington to be disinterested and it seems like they dragged down the Redskins. The apathy increased when a guy named Orleans Darkwa bolted 75 yards for a touchdown just 1:17 into the game. The Redskins never competed in the 18-10 loss.

The best time: November 27, 1966, D.C. Stadium—The Redskins scored on offense, on defense, on special teams, on the ground, and through the air in racking up the highest single-game scoring total ever in a regular season NFL game with 72 points. In a losing effort, the Giants scored 41, making the combined total of 113 points, another league record. 

Backup running back A. D. Whitfield had a career day, scoring three touchdowns, one on a five-yard pass from Sonny Jurgensen, the other two on runs of one and 63 yards. All of those points came in the first half as the Redskins went into intermission with a 34-14 lead.

Charley Taylor jumped into the scoring extravaganza with a pair of third-quarter TD receptions from Jurgensen, one of 34 yards, the other covering 72. Brig Owens was the point scorer on the defensive side things, getting touchdowns on returns of a fumble and an interception.

In all, they scored a touchdown almost every way you can: four running, three passing and one each on a punt, fumble, and interception return. They also got nine extra points and a field goal. 

More than 12,000 NFL games have been played since this one and, despite rule changes designed to favor the offense and increase scoring, both the Redskins’ 72 points and the combined 113 still stand as NFL records. Only once has a team put up as many as 70 points and the combined score has the next-highest total beaten by a touchdown.

The worst time: January 1, 2017, FedEx Field—The Redskins have had many costly losses to the Giants over the years but the sting from this one is still fresh. The home team would get a wild-card playoff spot with a win while New York, with its playoff seeding clinched, had nothing to play for. But it was the Redskins who had nothing. They were able to fight back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to tie it up in the fourth quarter. But after a Giants field goal, Kirk Cousins threw an unforgivable interception that sealed New York’s 19-10 win and the Redskins went home. 

Redskins schedule series

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- The draft: Redskins should get 4 additional picks in 2019 draft
- Schedule series: Gotta beat the Cowboys

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.