A new era begins for the Redskins vs. the Cowboys Sunday Night on NBC, as Mike Shanahan replaces Jim Zorn as head coach and Donovan McNabb takes over at quarterback for Jason Campbell.
Jim Zorn did the best he could. Now it’s time for Mike Shanahan to reap the rewards.
Perhaps one day, Zorn will be remembered as fondly in Washington, D.C. as he is in Seattle, where he made his debut as an NFL quarterback for the expansion Seahawks in 1976. It won’t be anytime soon. Zorn was a lightning rod for controversy during his two years as head coach of the Redskins; most people couldn’t bring themselves to speak ill of the beloved Joe Gibbs, whose second tour of duty in Washington was largely a failure.
But Zorn isn’t there to be kicked around anymore. Shanahan has been given full control of the program, something Zorn never came close to enjoying, and one of the first things Shanny did was get himself a proven quarterback. Donovan McNabb, if healthy, will be under center for the Redskins this Sunday night (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) when they face the Dallas Cowboys in an important NFC East battle.
McNabb’s NFL resume is strong: 11 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, six Pro Bowls (including last year) and one trip to the Super Bowl. As long as McNabb ages well – he turns 34 in November – he represents an upgrade over Jason Campbell. However, McNabb was surrounded by quality personnel in Philadelphia. While Campbell made positive strides under Zorn’s tutelage, he was also sacked 43 times last season.
Shanahan’s no dummy. He went out and got McNabb some protection, trading with the New Orleans Saints for two-time Pro Bowl right tackle Jammal Brown, and taking left tackle Trent Williams from the Oklahoma Sooners (Brown is also from OU) with the fourth overall pick in the draft.
This is huge for Washington supporters. Not only will McNabb have time to operate, but the Redskins will also have much better run blocking this year after finishing No. 26 in that category (3.92 adjusted line yards per play) according to the stats at Football Outsiders.
If you’ve been reading this space for a while, you know how much I love the offensive line – good or bad. This is how you squeeze value out of the football betting odds. Most casual fans can’t name anyone on the field other than the skill players, but a star QB is nothing without his bodyguards. The Redskins offense has improved more than the market realizes.
And the Cowboys are in more trouble. Their offensive line is in tatters to start the 2010 campaign: RT Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier are both out with knee injuries, as is sixth-round tackle Sam Young from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Alex Barron will start in Colombo’s place; this is only a slight downgrade, but Barron’s going to be dog tired facing Washington’s potent rush – especially if nose tackle Albert Haynesworth is given the opportunity to play. And Montrae Holland is definitely a step down from Kosier at guard.
Check out the Best NFL Betting Lines for the Cowboys vs Redskins!
Most of the talk in Dallas has been about the addition of Dez Bryant (a former Oklahoma State Cowboy) at wide receiver.
He has the tools to be an outstanding player, but there’s only so much Bryant can add to a team that already has tight end Jason Witten (94 catches last year) and wideout Miles Austin (81 catches). Roy Williams (38 catches) has already found this out to his dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, in Washington, McNabb can be expected to get the most out of TE Chris Cooley (83 catches in 2008) and WR Santana Moss (70 catches last year).
So you’ve got a matchup featuring the plausibly undervalued Redskins against the overvalued Cowboys. And on top of that, Washington is a 3.5-point home dog. Yes, the glorious half-point above the most magic number of them all. Roughly one in six NFL games ends with a winning margin of a field goal, and Sunday night is shaping up to be a close one. Is football great or what?