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Posted at 11:28 AM ET, 11/21/2011

Redskins-Cowboys: Five observations

The Washington Redskins showed signs of life Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but in the end, they suffered yet another defeat, losing 27-24 in overtime to drop their sixth straight.

Two missed field goals by Graham Gano loom large, but other shortcomings – both on offense and defense -- had a hand in the loss. Redskins players would much rather see the game come down to overtime rather than end in a blowout, but they say there were no moral victories to take from this defeat.

“It stings even more,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. Maybe the mindset will change after they review the tape and see some positive developments, or maybe all the narrow misses will make them feel worse today.

Either way, here are five observations from Sunday’s game:

1.) Third-down woes

Washington’s defense did a good job of containing Dallas RB DeMarco Murray, limiting him to only 73 yards on 25 carries for a 2.9-yard average (his lowest of the season), but the unit’s struggles on third down continued. The Cowboys converted on eight of 17 third-down attempts. The most costly breakdowns came on third-and-8 on the Dallas 41 when Tony Romo completed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten; in overtime on third-and-15 when Romo completed a 26-yard pass to Dez Bryant to set up the winning field goal, and in the first quarter on third-and-8 when Romo completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Bryant. Third down is when playmakers earn their paychecks. The Cowboys did. The Redskins did not.

2.) More snaps needed for Helu

For a second straight game, the Washington Redskins started Ryan Torain, saw the running back struggle (four yards on five carries) and then went to Roy Helu, who made the most of limited opportunities (35 yards on eight carries – 4.4 ypc). In between, Mike Shanahan also gave Tashard Choice a shot, but the former Cowboy’s motivation to stick it to Dallas didn’t translate to on-field production (seven yards on six attempts). Helu finished with more carries than Torain for a second straight week, but his activity came too late. As this team’s running game continues to struggle, it would be wise to give Helu the nod from the start. Use Torain to spell him if he wears down. The rookie is the only back that has produced during this six-game losing streak.

3.) Timeout what-if

What would’ve happened if Mike Shanahan hadn’t called time out in an attempt to ice Dan Bailey on that overtime kick? Sure, what’s done is done, but you have to wonder. Shanahan appeared to have rescued Tony Romo from a Chris Webber moment because the quarterback was about to call a timeout that he didn’t have, to keep the play clock from expiring. Dallas would’ve been penalized and backed up five yards. Bailey barely made the kick from 39 yards out. Would he have connected from 44?

4.) Kerrigan, Fletcher continue shining

You can’t help but to be impressed by the one of the youngest Redskins and one of their oldest. Ryan Kerrigan – Washington’s first-round draft pick out of Purdue – extended his sack streak to three straight games and has taken over the team lead with six this season. The rookie would have loved to get another inch or two of air when he tipped a Tony Romo pass that could have wound up as an interception but instead was caught. But Kerrigan continues to make his presence felt this season, and he’ll only get better. London Fletcher had another gutsy performance, recording 16 tackles (two for a loss) and a sack. The 36-year-old spent last week hobbled by a bum ankle and left last night’s game in a walking boot. He isn’t 100 percent, and battled a hamstring injury earlier this season, but he continues to make plays.

5.) More tough times ahead

You’d love to say that the Redskins’ offense finally has gotten its groove back, and that things will get better from here, but the outlook isn’t the best, thanks largely to injuries. Starting left tackle Trent Williams suffered a late-game knee injury, which Shanahan said trainers believe is his MCL (we’ll find out more this afternoon), which means he could return to the sidelines after missing two games earlier this year with an ankle sprain. The offensive line has been hit hard by injury already this year, and another will mean more interrupted chemistry and steps backwards. On defense, Washington saw starting cornerback Josh Wilson – who has played two of his best games the last two weeks – go down with a hamstring injury. That could be a big loss if he’s sidelined for the next couple of weeks. And starting strong safety LaRon Landry’s re-aggravated Achilles injury is cause for concern. He made it through nine games last season but only seven this year (he missed the first two with a hamstring injury). Landry wanted to play Sunday, but was unable to practice all of last week. It’s not a good sign. Could he wind up on IR for a second straight year? Rookie DeJon Gomes did a solid job filling in for Landry, but the Redskins would much rather have a fully healthy Landry. Up next is an improving Seattle Seahawks team, which seeks its third straight win.

By  |  11:28 AM ET, 11/21/2011

 
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