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Posted at 06:01 AM ET, 09/26/2011

Redskins-Cowboys: Five story lines to follow

The Washington Redskins will face the rival Cowboys in Dallas’s home opener tonight at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Washington looks to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005 while Dallas aims for its second straight victory.

The Redskins and Cowboys split last season with each team winning at home. In the last game, the Jon Kitna-led Cowboys prevailed, 33-30, despite four touchdown passes from Rex Grossman, who made his first start in place of the benched Donovan McNabb.

The circumstances are different time around, and Grossman and his teammates view this game as even more important than the last meeting with Dallas.

Here are five story lines to follow tonight as the Redskins take on the Cowboys.

1.) Washington’s pass protection

The Redskins’ offensive line did better in Week 2 than in Week 1, but the Cowboys’ pass rush is better than that of both the Cardinals and Giants. Dallas will throw all kinds of exotic blitzes at Washington’s front five in an attempt to confuse them and make it a long night for Rex Grossman. If given time, Grossman can be very effective. But he has a tendency to make poor throws while under pressure. If the Redskins hope to have a chance, they must take care of the quarterback.

2.) Romo’s health

The quarterback will be wearing a custom-fitted flak jacket and says he can handle the pain of playing with a cracked rib. How effective will he be, though? Will we see the awful throws that he fired earlier in Dallas’s game against San Francisco, or the money passes he fired down the stretch of the fourth quarter and in overtime to lead his team to a comeback victory? The Redskins will look to get some shots in on the quarterback and will see how much he can take.

3.) Landry’s status and play

Washington listed the strong safety as questionable because of the strained hamstring that has kept him sidelined for more than a month, but following both Thursday and Friday’s practices, Landry said, “You’ll see me Monday,” and added that he hopes to play. “Dirty 30” will be evaluated during pregame warmups and the determination will be made then whether he returns to the field for the first time since Week 9 of the 2010 season or if he must wait longer. If he does play, Landry said he doesn’t expect to be rusty and is licking his chops at the idea of laying out some people with big hits.

4.) Red-zone execution

The Redskins struggled in this department against the Cardinals and won’t be able to get away with squandering opportunities inside the 20 -yard line while facing Dallas’s defense. Washington can’t afford to commit penalties in the red zone, and Grossman and his receivers must be on the same page. The Cowboys will be without Miles Austin, but still have plenty of offensive weapons, so the Redskins need seven points rather than three every time they reach the red zone.

5. Cooley’s role

The tight end went without a catch last week for the first time since his rookie season, and Washington’s medical staff continues to monitor him closely as he works his way back from a knee injury that kept him out all of the preseason. Coaches say Cooley still is working his way back into football shape, but the tight end says now he finally is able to run with a burst. Fred Davis has been Washington’s go-to guy in the first two weeks, and he leads the team with 191 yards receving while tied for the team high with 11 catches. Meanwhile, Cooley has been used in a limited capacity. Now that he feels better, will roles reverse?

By  |  06:01 AM ET, 09/26/2011

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