It's been another whirlwind offseason for the Washington Redskins in the Nation's Capital. A new GM, a new coach, a new quarterback, a new mentality; all those changes have inspired hope in a starving fan base on the brink of despair.
No more bingo callers on offense, no more overindulgent spending sprees, no more slip-n-slides or swinging gates. These Redskins are intent on ending their reign atop Mount Ineptitude, preferring instead a climb up Olympus. They may not be successful right away, but one thing is for sure: these Redskins are for real.
Sunday night backed by 90,000 strong, the team will begin a new era with Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb at the helm. Anticipation is at an all-time high as Washington prepares to take on their archrival, the Dallas Cowboys, in what is sure to be a memorable debut for the new-look Redskins organization.
The Cowboys enter the season heavy favorites to win the NFC East, but Sunday night will give Washington the chance to prove they belong in the discussion. Here's what they will need to do to win game one under Shanahan.
Win The Battle Of The Left Tackles
Trent Williams will make his Redskins' debut at left tackle against elite pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Doug Free replaces long-time Cowboy Flozell Adams at left tackle. He'll square off against budding star Brian Orakpo.
Each team's left tackle has a tremendous amount of pressure on them this week. Williams must live up to his status as the number four overall pick in this year's draft, while Free is considered to be the make-or-break piece of the Cowboys offense. Adams was a fixture for years at LT in Dallas and losing him will certainly deal a blow to an offensive line already struggling with injuries.
Both tackles must protect Pro Bowl quarterbacks in McNabb and Tony Romo and both will be under heavy scrutiny when it comes to keeping their quarterbacks' jerseys clean. In fact, the game could be decided by which tackle outplays the other.
We have yet to see just how effective Jim Haslett's pass rushing schemes will be, but given Orakpo's athleticism and natural ability, I like his chances of schooling Free. Williams will require help against a player the caliber of Ware, but he possesses the talent and physicality needed to hold his own while matching up against a superior opponent on Sunday night.
McNabb vs. Himself
Donovan McNabb will be making his debut in the Burgundy and Gold and it's against an opponent who has defeated him three straight times, including twice in a row to end the 2009 season.
In those three losses to Dallas, McNabb's completion percentage sits at 53.4 percent. He has tossed just two touchdowns compared to three interceptions while being sacked 11 times. He was hurried, hit and hammered en route to three devastating losses, leaving little doubt he would like to right those wrongs in Washington.
McNabb will be battling a tough Dallas front seven, the pressure of playing with a different team in a new offense and a sprained ankle to boot. That's a tall order for anybody to tackle, but if McNabb folds under the pressure there won't be a good outcome to the game.
Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff feasted on the Redskins interior offensive line in 2009, notching a pair of sacks last year while limiting the Redskins to a measly 121 yards rushing in two games. Ratliff was responsible for much of the Redskins' inability to move the ball on the ground as he manhandled Casey Rabach and the offensive line.
The Redskins only managed four first downs on the ground in last year's series against Dallas. Clinton Portis and the interior blocking will need to change that if the Redskins want to wear down an aggressive Cowboy defense.
With Vincent Jackson still on everyone's mind, Anthony Armstong, Joey Galloway or Devin Thomas must emerge Sunday night to end the incessant rumblings that the Redskin receiving corps is lacking a viable option opposite Santana Moss.
Armstrong had a fantastic preseason, which could mean he sees a lot of playing time, but the coaching staff seems to value the experience Galloway brings. Thomas might have the most potential of the threesome, but consistency has been a problem for him.
One of the three must be a solid complement to Moss and the tight ends or the Cowboys won't have to worry about mismatches in the secondary. Washington wants to make Dallas think twice about doubling Moss every play, and the only way to do that is find another receiver who can produce.
If the receivers behind Moss fail in this endeavor, Jackson might be that much closer to punching his ticket out of San Diego.
Get The Crowd Involved
The Redskins have this marketing campaign rolling right now. Maybe you've seen it? The slogan reads ‘R you in? Right now there are some skeptics, but the fans will push all their chips into the hand if Washington can create a buzz.
Last week Virginia Tech played a game at Fedex Field and the stadium was rocking. Hokie fans taught Washingtonians a valuable lesson. Less talk, more cheering.
The new HD video boards are a step in the right direction. Now if those boards feature some turnovers, sacks, and touchdowns, things are going to get seriously loud in Landover. Haslett's new 3-4 defense has preached the importance of chaos and the more of it on the field, the more of it in the stands.
There's a misconception that all Redskins fans are white-collar yuppies more interested in the latest business merger than the final score. Of course that's just a misconception.
Once an outsider peels aside the layers of corporate America located in the luxury suites, they will find a fanbase so desperate for a winner they wear dresses and pig snouts just to remember the good old days. They flock to Canton whenever a Redskin is inducted so they can revel in past triumphs because there isn't anything to crow about in the present.
Despite the harsh times, many continue to root for this embattled franchise and the changes made this offseason only increased their support. Sunday will be the tell-all for many. Were the offseason moves once again all style and no substance? Or will this year bring something more?
Washingtonians are hoping their misfortune ends on Sunday. They are ready for a winner and if the Redskins can give them even the semblance of a champ, the fans will do their part and re-establish themselves as the 12th man at Fedex Field.