Cowboys pleasantly surprised to hear Redskins will play Grossman at quarterback over McNabb

By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 1:58 AM

IRVING, TEX. - The Dallas Cowboys were just about to hit the practice field Friday morning when the news began to spread that the quarterback they'd been preparing to face all week would instead be holding a clipboard on the sideline Sunday.

Players said no one panicked, no one raced to the film room and no one was about to blow up the defensive game plan.

"Everybody started smiling," Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "We were pretty happy about the news."

Dallas had expected to face Donovan McNabb, the Redskins' starter in the first 13 games of the season. Though the team received word early enough on Friday morning that Rex Grossman would instead start Sunday for Washington, there are apparently no major changes planned for the Cowboys' defensive game plan. If anything, Hatcher said, their job became easier.

"We'll take Rex over McNabb any day," he said. "[McNabb's] hard to contain. He's hard to bring down and he can make plays with his legs and his arm. Not taking anything away from Rex Grossman - I think he's a good quarterback also."

Even as rumors circulated this week that the Redskins might be considering a quarterback change, the Cowboys prepared solely for McNabb. That's who they watched on film, that's who they talked about in the meeting room and that's who they prepped for on the practice field.

Any last-minute alterations for Grossman shouldn't be too difficult: The Cowboys' quarterbacks coach, Wade Wilson, was Grossman's position coach from 2004 to '06 in Chicago and he's plenty familiar with what Grossman brings to the table.

"I think we prepare for the Washington Redskins' offense. . . . We certainly have great respect for Donovan McNabb and also Rex Grossman, and it'll be a great challenge for us," Dallas Coach Jason Garrett said. "But you prepare for their offense and their offensive philosophy as much as you do individual players."

Still, Cowboys players expect to see some differences on Sunday. The Redskins' offense might look similar, but the execution of it will no doubt be different. Grossman has thrown only seven passes in two games the past two seasons. He last started a game in November 2008, and has thrown three more interceptions (36) than he has touchdowns (33) over the course of his eight-year career.

Dallas rookie linebacker Sean Lee grew up in Pennsylvania, attended school at Penn State, watched McNabb lead the Eagles offense every Sunday for years and was among the Cowboy players surprised that the Redskins opted to bench their six-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

"Donovan adds an element of athleticism, he's tough to bring down, he's able to escape the pocket," Lee said. "You have to be conscious of that and the defense is geared toward keeping him in the pocket. So you change little things. But overall, their offense isn't going to completely change, just small details."

The Redskins made the change so late in the week that players won't study film of Grossman, though Dallas coaches say they might. "I think we'll go back and look at him and how they might have been a little bit different when he was playing, as opposed to when Donovan was playing," Garrett said. "But again, I think you prepare for the whole scheme."

While the defensive players' technique and tactical approach might see some small tweaks on Sunday, the bigger adjustment, players say, is their confidence level and approach with Grossman leading the opposing huddle.

"It changes how you rush them as a quarterback," Hatcher said. "You've got to rush McNabb a little differently than you do Rex Grossman. You can kind of pin your ears back now and release. You don't have to worry about him scrambling. When you're rushing McNabb, he can get out on you. He can make plays with his legs, so you change the way you blitz and the things you do."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company