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.