DeAngelo Hall ready to ‘rise to the occasion’ vs. Dez Bryant

DeAngelo Hall has had some of his best games against the Cowboys. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

DeAngelo Hall has had some of his best games against the Cowboys. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

No one needs to tell DeAngelo Hall how large a task awaits him this Sunday as the Redskins resume play following their bye. The cornerback already knows that in all likelihood, he will frequently find himself matched up with explosive Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

Having faced Tony Romo and the Cowboys twice a year for the past five seasons, Hall has good familiarity with the quarterback, his tendencies and those of his offense. Bryant and Hall have faced off five times in the young but talented receiver’s previous three seasons, with Hall’s Redskins going 3-2 in those matchups.

Hall has had some of his best games against the Cowboys, but Bryant has made some plays as well.

In last year’s Thanksgiving Day contest, Hall recorded three tackles, two pass breakups and an interception against the Cowboys. He and his teammates limited Bryant to moderate success — seven catches for 60 yards — until surrendering an 85-yard touchdown. Hall still chalked the outing up as a win because the Redskins prevailed 38-31. (That big-play touchdown also came with Hall covering another receiver, and Hall also says he and his teammates could only tip their caps to the Cowboys on that play, on which Romo broke the pocket, avoiding a would-be sack, and bought Bryant a little extra time to create separation on the crossing route and made the catch.)

In their next meeting, Hall found himself matched up with Bryant almost exclusively and limited the receiver to four catches for 71 yards and no touchdowns as Washington won 28-18 to lock up the division title.

Hall is well aware that Bryant has gotten off to a strong start this season. His six touchdown catches rank second in the NFL and his 423 receiving yards on 46 catches rank 10th. Having just closely watched as Bryant recorded six catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-48 loss to Denver, Hall knows he has his work cut out for him.

But, he looks forward to the challenge.

“It’s going to be a hell of a football game,” he said on Monday. “Any time you have a chance to go against somebody that you feel is one of the best, you’re going to try to rise to the occasion. That’s in anything you do. That’s just the competitiveness in all of us. … Any time you have a guy like that, who I feel like is a hell of a football player, and he’s obviously one of the best in the game, so you definitely want to bring it.”

These big matchups seem to bring out the best in Hall. Already this season he did well against Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, recording an interception returned for a touchdown, two pass breakups and no touchdowns allowed when matched up against Johnson.

Hall will again find himself at a significant size disadvantage. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Bryant dwarfs the 5-10, 193-pound cornerback. But Hall said there are no real secrets to limiting Bryant. The main keys to success are bringing a diverse bag of coverage schemes and techniques.

“As a coordinator, as a player, you try to do a lot of things,” Hall said before going with a basketball analogy. “You try to give him a hard foul, try to hit him, you try to do things to change the look. You can’t just sit back there and play a zone, you can’t just sit back and play man.”

A relentless motor also is necessary, Hall said.

“Just compete. Compete, try to play the whole down,” Hall explained. “The little bit of success he had down there [last season], was just a scramble play. He makes a lot of plays when Tony just extends the pocket, extends the play. That’s kind of where [Bryant] makes the majority of his big plays, so you’re always trying to stay in front of him, always trying to finish the down. Until the whistle blows, Tony’s not down. … That’s pretty much it. There’s really no mind tricks, no talking [trash] back and forth. It’s just going out and compete. Does that occur during the course of the game? Of course. That’s part of the competition that we bring. But we’re not out there trying to get into a guy’s head so he’ll drop a ball. Ultimately, you have to knock it out, or he’s going to catch it. That’s just kind of how it goes.

“You just try to play the whole down,” he added. “I was so frustrated watching [Denver cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie], and we were talking about it as a group, man. I felt like he was in good position a couple times, but just kind of, not knowing that Dallas offense, he kind of eased up for one second. You ease up for one second, and it can be 60 or 70 or 80 yards later, and that’s what happened a couple times to Denver’s secondary.”

Hall would rather this game not get into a high-scoring shootout like the Cowboys-Broncos game, but he knows that this is the new wave in the NFL. With rules setup to protect the quarterback and also make it harder for defensive backs to be physical with receivers, it’s only natural that teams tally high point totals.

A defensive back obviously hates playing in those types of games. But an effective offense helps ease the pressure somewhat, Hall explained.

“When you’ve got an offense that’s scoring 50 points with them, it’s a little easier than when you’re just getting blown out 50-0,” he said. “Those two offenses were just having a field day. As a defensive player, those are games you don’t mind being in. Obviously, it doesn’t look good on film, but you know, you can leave that game with your head held high and knowing, ‘Man, I had some chances to make plays. This is where I messed up at, this is where I have to get better at.’ You can live through that. They aren’t talking about Denver’s secondary is the worst one and they gave up — they’re not talking about that. Denver won the game. They’re talking about, ‘Wow, Dallas’s offense was great.’ That’s what they’re talking about. They’re not talking about the secondary or the plays they didn’t make. This is the new NFL. Those are the games they like. This is an offensive league, so offense definitely gets the glory. It is what it is.”

But that acknowledgement shouldn’t be misinterpreted for resignation.

“Absolutely not,” Hall said adamantly. “The goal and the end result is still the same: Try to get the ball, try to limit the guys from making plays. That’s always going to be the goal of it. But, the reality of it is, in today’s NFL, it’s not like it was back when — and I talk to [Darrell] Green all the time — it’s not like it was back when he played when you could beat a guy up a little bit and get away with it, kind of hit him five yards, kind of hit him down the field, kind of get a little advantage to put him a little closer. It ain’t like that no more. So, it kind of is what it is. You’ve just got to go out there, play as hard as you can, make the plays you’re supposed to make and sometimes when the offense has got you, all you can say is ‘atta boy.’ You schemed us up, you ran the route — the one route that could beat us, you found it.’ Those guys get paid, too, a lot of money. They’re paid to find the holes and we’re paid to cover the holes up. Sometimes you can’t cover it up. It’s tough some times, but that’s kind of how it is.”

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice at 1 p.m., and both Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan speak with reporters.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

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Outsider: How the secondary moves have helped the run defense

Mailbag: Do Redskins have any interest in Bills’ Byrd?

D.C. Sports Bog: Leonsis on Redskins name change | More

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