Redskins fans are taught early not to like anything about the Dallas Cowboys. Last Sunday brought back a lot of childhood emotions as the Redskins clinched the NFC East title with a 28-18 win over the Cowboys.
I don’t like anything about the Cowboys, I hate the star, I hate their players, their coaches, their owner (oh, do I hate him and his bad plastic surgery). I even hate their cheerleaders (Well, actually you shouldn’t hate women in skimpy outfits. Let's just move on.)
However, I have to admit there is one Dallas Cowboy that I have suddenly become a real big fan of: Tony Romo. That’s right, I like Romo. Hell, I love him after Sunday’s three-pick performance at FedEx Field. My radio partner and former Redskins great Doc Walker believes that Romo suffers from something called competition anxiety disorder. I don’t know what it is that causes a quarterback to go from playing at a Pro Bowl level over the previous month to throwing up all over himself in win-or-go-home games. I’m just glad he’s a Cowboy and hope he gets an extension that keeps him in Dallas for years to come. I hope someday the rest of Redskins Nation recognizes what a unique player Tony Romo is and thanks him. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray should give this guy the key to the city to show our thanks.
In the first 2013 edition of "Chain Reactions" we look ahead to the Redskins' wild card weekend game against the Seahawks and go three downs style on what might be keys to making it 8 straight wins.
Stay Well Grounded
The Seahawks have the NFL’s top ranked scoring defense, which allows a stingy 15.3 points per game. The Seahawks also rank 4th overall in yards per game, 6th against the pass, and 10th against the run. So how do the Redskins attack? Well, like they always do -- by running the ball. The Redskins have the NFL’s top-rated rushing offense, led by their rookies Alfred Morris (now the franchise’s single-season rushing champ) and RGIII (who even on one leg averaged over 10 yards per carry and scored a touchdown against the Cowboys). The Seahawks are hardly dominating against the run, giving up 4.5 yards per carry.
The Redskins offensive line, which has been the picture of consistency this season, may need to rely on rookie Josh LeRibeus if Kory Lichtensteiger’s ankle keeps him sidelined. As we have seen this season, the Redskins' running game and the threat of it opens up everything, whether the 'Skins want to go with a read option or a bootleg, like they did against Cleveland and Philadelphia. If they run with success, those pass plays will open and RGIII will have to be sharper against what is arguably the best secondary Washington has faced all season.
The question will be how Pete Carroll chooses to defend the Redskins offense. Will he load the box and try to take away the run? Or keep the safeties back in order not to give up big pass plays from RGIII and the well-rounded receiving corps? The Redskins have been great at taking what defenses give them this season. However, they are also great at imposing their physical will on teams, as they did last week against the beat-up Cowboys. Both the offenses like to gash opposing defenses with their physical running games. The question will be which team is able to impose that will most consistently.
Win The Turnover Battle
The Redskins and Seahawks have forced an identical number of turnovers this season (31). In the giveaway/takeaway category, the 'Skins are + 17, the Seahawks + 13. So both teams do not beat themselves and are opportunistic. This time of year, the team that does not implode usually advances. The Redskins can ill afford to suddenly slip and lose the turnover battle, which has been a key in their 7-game winning streak (the only time they have not won the turnover battle in this streak was the Monday Night win over the Giants).
The amazing thing about the lack of Redskin turnovers is the two players handling the ball the most are rookies. Since back-to-back games with fumbles (against the Giants and Ravens), Alfred Morris has not fumbled in three straight games and only has lost 3 over the whole season. RGIII has thrown just 5 interceptions all season long. Griffin’s accuracy and ball protection were strengths coming out of Baylor and continue to be among his best attributes. Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett has gone from the coordinator fans most wanted to see fired to the coordinator suddenly on the radar for head coaching jobs. He has done a masterful job mixing and matching personnel. There are plenty of Redskin defensive players raising their game on defense as well, led by December’s Defensive player of the Month, London Fletcher, who is the coach on the field making sure players are lined up right to make those key plays. Winning the giveaway/takeaway category is top priority week in and week out for Mike Shanahan’s team, and this week will be no exception.
FedEx Field Advantage
I know it is popular to talk about the 12th man in the playoffs, especially in a match-up of teams that have to fly across the country. Sure, that could be big and the noise level that could cause Seahawks linemen to miss the snap count could matter. Home teams in the NFL win close to 60% of postseason games, according to Washington Post stats guru Brian Burke.
However, that is not the biggest advantage to playing at Fed Ex Field this week. The advantage could be that awful excuse for a grass field at FedEx Field. The Seahawks play on artificial turf in Seattle, where they went 8-0 this season. They do not have to worry about changing cleat lengths during home games. FedEx Field is a painted mud pit right now. Last Sunday night, the surface was an absolute mess. It did not seem to affect Alfred Morris and his ability to cut as he racked up 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. It could bother the Seahawks' stud running back Marshawn Lynch, who plays the majority of his games on a fast surface. It could also cause problems for the bigger Seahawks cornerbacks that are not used to backpedaling with unsettled footing. Sure, the Seahawks beat the Bears at Soldier Field, which is not exactly a fast track. However, that game was not played in January in the post season. It may not be a huge advantage for the Redskins Sunday, but it certainly beats playing the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where the 12th man is high on Starbucks and Seattle is 59-29 since 2002.
Prediction: Redskins 24-17 in a physical game that will be well grounded.