NFL Preview - Washington (2-5) at Dallas (6-1) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Things have been coming up Cowboys in the 2014 NFL season.
The surprising 'Boys entered Week 8 with the league's best record at 6-1 and long-time rival Washington looming on "Monday Night Football." And the Redskins are expected to start their third different quarterback in just eight games.
Washington first-year head coach Jay Gruden sort of named Colt McCoy as the team's new starter while Robert Griffin III continues to rehabilitate a dislocated ankle suffered in Week 2 against Jacksonville.
Gruden, however, is also paying lip service to a potential RG3 return but that's likely an attempt to game a competitive advantage.
"We're preparing for Colt to be the starter," Gruden said. "But we're trying to get Robert some reps, get him ready, but right now it looks like odds are Colt will be the starter, but we're trying to work Robert into the lineup and trying to get him reps to get him ready to go."
If it is McCoy under center, it will be the University of Texas product's first start since Dec. 8, 2011 when he piloted the Cleveland Browns against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I just want to go out there and be who I am -- that is who I am every day in here -- be confident and play the best football I can play," McCoy said.
McCoy replaced an ineffective Kirk Cousins at halftime during last Sunday's 19-17 win against Tennessee and led the Redskins on a 10-play, 76-yard game- winning drive, culminated by a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal as time expired.
"We needed a win bad," said Forbath. "Colt stepped in, put me in a great position. I couldn't ask for better field position to kick the game-winner, so hats off to our offense for getting us there."
McCoy, who was 6-15 in his career as a starter in Cleveland, finished 11-of-12 for 128 yards and a touchdown to Pierre Garcon in the second half against the Titans as Washington halted a four-game skid.
"He's had to learn like all back-up quarterbacks have had to do. But he's very, very smart," Gruden said when discussing McCoy. "He's been in this system before -- a West Coast-type system -- so he's familiar with a lot of the pass concepts. We figured if his number was called, he'd be ready to go."
Cousins was 10-of-16 for 139 yards with an interception over the first 30 minutes. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in six games -- five starts -- as RG3's original replacement.
The Cowboys earned their sixth straight victory with a 31-21 home win over the New York Giants in Week 7.
DeMarco Murray went over the century mark in rushing yards for the seventh straight week and Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes in the NFC East clash.
Murray gained 128 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, becoming the first running back in NFL history to open the season with seven straight weeks of 100-plus yards in the process. Last week, Murray matched Jim Brown's NFL record of six straight weeks with a 115-yard performance in Dallas' win in Seattle.
"I think we did this as a group, so it's hard for me to accept this individually," Murray said when addressing his record-breaking streak. "The offensive line is a huge part of this -- the tight ends, the receivers, the entire coaching staff. But I definitely give a lot of credit to those guys. But there's a lot of hard work that (still) needs to be done. It's a long season."
The surging Cowboys haven't lost since a Week 1 setback to San Francisco in which Romo threw three interceptions. The veteran QB has tossed 13 touchdown passes against just three picks since that game, including a 17-for-23 effort with 279 yards and his fifth straight multi-touchdown game against the Giants.
Two of his three touchdowns went to tight end Gavin Escobar, who made three catches for 65 yards in the first multi-score game of his career. Dez Bryant led all receivers with nine catches and 151 yards.
This game marks the 16th meeting between the Cowboys and Redskins on "Monday Night Football," the second-most frequent matchup in the 45-year history of the series (Raiders-Broncos, 17 times).
Dallas leads the all-time series with a 64-40-2 advantage and has won five of the past seven meetings, including both matchups in 2013. The 'Boys are 43-32 on "Monday Night Football." while the 'Skins are under water at 27-36 on the national showcase.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Cowboys have morphed from a pass-first bunch to a team predicated on the running game under offensive play caller Scott Linehan.
Murray leads the NFL with 913 rushing yards and has more yardage on the ground by himself than 28 NFL teams. He's also run it 187 times and that's on pace for an NFL record 427 carries which could be an issue down the line for a player who has a significant injury history dating back to his years at Oklahoma.
It will be tough for Linehan to ease up the workload right now, though, because it's tough to move away from the hot hand.
A big part of Murray's success has been his dominant offensive line, highlighted by three former first-round picks, left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and rookie right guard Zack Martin.
Murray gave each of his starting linemen $1,300 iMac computers this week after breaking Brown's record.
"That just shows how much respect he has for us, how much he appreciates us, so it's a great gift," left guard Ronald Leary told the The Fort Worth Star- Telegram.
The dominant running game sets up the play-action pass and Romo has plenty of weapons, starting with Bryant and tight end Jason Witten as well as emerging stars Terrance Williams and Escobar.
Washington's strength has been on the defensive side of the ball where Gruden's club ranks sixth overall and third in the NFC, allowing 321.9 yards per game. The Redskins are farther down the list against the run, however, although still a respectable 12th, surrendering 103.3 ypg.
The unit took a major hit against the Titans when linebacker Brian Orakpo went down with a season-ending pectoral injury, the second straight year a torn pec ended Orakpo's season prematurely.
Offensively the Redskins are also impressive on paper, third in the conference with 389.4 ypg but the issue has been turnovers and a minus-nine ratio is what sent Cousins to the bench.
Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has been getting it done with few stars and his group is also helped by the time of possession edge the Cowboys' running game usually produces.
Adding a QB to the mix in McCoy who hasn't started in 1,054 days also won't hurt.
"I am really just trying to get a grasp of what they do, how they play," McCoy said of the Cowboys. "They have beaten a lot of good teams, a lot of good quarterbacks. So, we obviously know that this is a huge task for us as an offense."
Gruden also wants to at least keep Griffin in the Cowboys' thoughts.
"He's been cleared to do just about everything," the coach said of RG3. "It's just a matter of now that's he's doing everything, continuing his rehab, how's he feeling? How's it holding up? All that good stuff."
The Cowboys have too many weapons on offense to lose anything other than a shootout and Washington loses the ability to push the football down the field when they make the move from Cousins to McCoy.
So, even if Colt can clean up the turnover issues, this is not the type of matchup where that will make a discernable difference.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Cowboys 33, Redskins 16