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Redskins vs. Cowboys: Five storylines to follow Sunday night

Can Robert Griffin III and the Redskins pick up a second consecutive victory? (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins on Sunday take on the Dallas Cowboys in their second nationally televised game of the season, and in that game, they will try to pick up their second consecutive victory and move into a tie for first place in the downtrodden NFC East.

Washington enters this game having won both meetings with Dallas last season. The Cowboys, meantime, aim to bounce back from a 51-48 loss to Denver on Sunday, and improve to 3-3 and remain in first place in the division.

Here are five storylines to follow in this game:

1. Robert Griffin III’s return: Griffin’s first game in his home state represented something of a full-on coming-out party as he threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-31 victory on Thanksgiving Day. As the final minutes ticked off the clock, the large number of Redskins and Baylor fans took over Cowboys Stadium with thunderous chants of “R-G-3! R-G-3!” What kind of performance does Griffin have in store this time around? He has gradually improved each week, and in his last outing, he looked as much like his old self as he has all year. Now a full nine months removed from that surgery, he says his knee feels great and that he is mentally sharp. Griffin and the Redskins have to get off to a fast start against a Cowboys team that has shown an ability to score with ease.

2. Romo’s ability to rebound: Tony Romo is coming off a career game in which he passed for 506 yards and five touchdowns. But a late-game interception cost him a chance to relish the performance, as it set Denver up for the winning field goal. Romo has produced a number of late-game collapses in his career. But it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back this week. Will he shake it off and pick up where he left off just before the interception? Or will that costly and emotionally-draining mistake have a carry-over effect in this game?

3. Pass rush: Tying into the previous storyline, the Redskins can’t afford to let Romo get comfortable. Despite his miscues, Washington’s coaches and players have a lot of respect for Romo. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett says Romo is the best in the league at being able to move around in the pocket and keep plays alive so his receivers can get open. Washington must pressure the quarterback often and try to force him into mistakes so he doesn’t torch them early and often. Washington will need a big game from Brian Orakpo, who doesn’t have a strong track record of success in divisional games. In six games against the Cowboys, he has zero sacks. That has to change this week. Meantime, Ryan Kerrigan also must be disruptive. He has two sacks in four games against Romo & Co. Another big outing from Barry Cofield also will help ease the pressure on defensive backs DeAngelo Hall, Josh Wilson, David Amerson and Brandon Meriweather as they try to collectively minimize Dez Bryan and Jason Witten’s impacts on this game.

4. Morris’ workload: It’s no secret, that the Redskins’ tried and true key to success is balance on offense. Their passing game is at its best when the running attack is clicking. That’s because as Morris gets going, the defense naturally begins to key on him, and that sets up the play-action attack and opportunities for big plays downfield. Morris has rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns in his two games against the Cowboys. Another quality day will go a long way toward ensuring Washington’s success on offense, and it will help keep the ball out of Romo’s hands.

5. Special teams: Place kicker Kai Forbath is set to return to action after missing the last three games because of a strained groin. His 2013 season hasn’t gotten off to a quality start. He missed his lone field goal attempt in the season opener, and then got hurt the following week. In a game that could come down to the final minutes, the Redskins very well could wind up turning to the second-year kicker (who initially began his career with the Cowboys but missed his entire rookie season because of injury) in the clutch. Field position also likely will play a big factor in this game. Forbath hadn’t attempted kickoffs as of Thursday morning. He had done better in the preseason and the season opener when it came to kicking with distance. But now coming off of a layoff, will he still be effective? The Redskins’ return units, particularly on punts, have performed poorly. Special teams coach Keith Burns says he is willing to live through rookie return man Chris Thompson’s ups and downs as long as he plays smart. But with so much at stake, do the Redskins continue to give the fifth-round pick chances, or do they go with a veteran such as Santana Moss as they try to put an end to their struggles? On the flip side, Washington has to try to pin the Cowboys deep in their own territory. Sav Rocca must be on point, providing punts with both distance and hang time, and Niles Paul, Reed Doughty and their teammates on the coverage units must deliver quality stops.

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

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice Friday at 11:50 a.m.

More on the Redskins and NFL:

Jenkins and Jackson’s roles are undefinedGarrett says Griffin is still a worry

Jenkins: Translating Snyder’s letter | Snyder’s letter | Bog: Folks who liked it

The Outsider: Reviewing Redskins blitzes that worked against the Cowboys

Morris still eager to carry Redskins’ load | Forbath healthy and kicking well

Opening Kick: Should Redskins do HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks?’ | 49ers’ Harbaugh open to it

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

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