4 Days to go to the Giants. I am a pretty big believer in the idea that you can’t go anywhere without making your home field a fortress. The Cowboys did anything but in 2006. Take a guess at the home record last season….
How do you go 4-4 at Texas Stadium? You lose your last 3 in a row (New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Detroit). If you would have bet against the Cowboys at home in December last year you would have made some nice coin, I suspect.
The other home game lost last year was a very difficult night to digest. It was the night the Giants rolled in and kicked the collective butts of the hometown Dallas Cowboys. On that night, the Offensive Line looked poor, the secondary looked worse, and Drew Bledsoe’s career ended. Let's also not forget Tony Romo's first pass...
I think I will be thinking of that night quite a bit as Sunday approaches, and I would sure believe many of the Cowboys still smart from that experience.
Brandon Jacobs is now the bruising RB to stop …
For 10 years, the Cowboys had to prepare for Tiki Barber when they played the New York Giants.
The focus of their defensive game plans was to somehow slow down the slippery running back. From 2003 to 2006 under Bill Parcells' watch, they did not have much luck. In eight games, Barber ran for 688 yards on 169 carries and caught 26 passes for 258 yards. He scored three touchdowns. From 2004 to 2006, Barber had more than 90 yards rushing in five of six games.
Thankfully for the Cowboys, Barber is retired, working for NBC and generally upsetting his former team with comments either on the air (hello, Eli Manning) or in a book (hello, coach Tom Coughlin).
But the Cowboys' concern about stopping the running game does not go away just because Barber traded in a football for a microphone. Not with 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs – who will make the first career start Sunday against the Cowboys – filling his shoes.
"You're going from a running back that's 200 pounds to one that's 260 pounds," defensive end Chris Canty said. "Would you feel relieved?"
But Jacobs has never had more than 96 carries in a season, never had more than 11 carries in a game, never had more than 432 yards in a season and never had more than 54 yards in a game.
That's what happens when you play behind Barber, the Giants' all-time leading rusher with 10,449 yards.
"The Giants lost Tiki, but he had 1,600 yards rushing last year, so somebody blocked for him," coach Wade Phillips said. "We have to worry about their running game first. If you can stop them from running, you can put pressure on them scheme-wise."
In the preseason, Jacobs had 29 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. His backup, Reuben Droughns, had 22 catches for 89 yards. As a team, the Giants averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Barber's retirement has changed the look of the Giants' offense. In the passing game, Barber was prolific on screens. He could line up out wide, too. In the running game, they looked to get him in space, where he could use his vision and quickness.
If Barber was more finesse, Jacobs is definitely more power.
With Greg Ellis unlikely to play as he continues to battle an Achilles' injury, the Cowboys will start rookie Anthony Spencer at strong-side outside linebacker. Cornerback Terence Newman's availability is in question, too, which could make Jacques Reeves the starting left cornerback. Newman's run support is one of his underrated traits.
Meanwhile, Dallas’ RB has a chip on his shoulder …good.
The Cowboys running back enters his fourth year in the NFL knowing that every compliment that is paid to him is laden with qualifiers, and a doubt or two. But in the biggest season of his life he's set to delete all the qualifiers, and prove to his employers he's worth a big investment.
"No, it's not just another year," Jones said.
Never is when you're scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season.
"I want to stay here and play for the Cowboys," Jones said. "I gotta prove that I'm good enough to be here and that they don't need anybody else except who we have."
It's always something with Julius Jones. Always something to prove.
In Year 1, he had to prove to his highly critical coach, Bill Parcells, that he wasn't just an injury-prone rookie.
In Year 2, he wasn't helped when a high ankle sprain dogged him all season. He had one 100-yard game, in Week 16.
In Year 3, Parcells had him labeled as a back who needed to limit his carries so he wouldn't wear down. In sharing time with Marion Barber, Jones averaged 16.7 carries per game, but he was injury-free, and rushed for 1,084 yards.
He was the first Cowboys' back to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Emmitt Smith in 2001. When Jones eclipsed the mark Dec. 16 at Atlanta, the look on his face screamed "Finally!"
"Yeah, that was [big]," Jones said. "Like I said, there are still questions at the beginning of the year about me, so it continues. I've obviously got more to prove."
With the plan set for Jones to share the load with Barber again, Jones at least needs to maintain status quo. Maybe more.
He's no different than any potential free agent who eyes the type of payday that could set him for life. But he's no fool. Share-the-load backs don't receive the type of money the single, feature back does. With two first-round draft picks next year, the Cowboys could always spend one on a running back... say, Darren McFadden from Arkansas. Or the Cowboys could pursue a back such as Chargers backup running back Michael Turner.
And every now and again he's bound to hear disgruntled fans who insist the Cowboys would have been better had they taken Jackson and not traded out of the first round in 2004.
Add it up, and sometimes Julius Jones looks as if he's a little ticked.
Chip Brown examines the questions that will be asked of the Longhorns on Saturday …
There's no doubt No. 7 Texas has serious questions going into Saturday's Southwest Conference revival against No. 19 TCU.
"We have good players, but we're still trying to figure out who the leaders are," said Brown, who has a defense made up of 11 junior or senior starters.
Texas' performance makes it four straight games in which the Longhorns have underachieved: a loss at Kansas State, a loss at home to Texas A&M, a 26-24 escape against 6-6 Iowa in the Alamo Bowl and Saturday's disjointed performance.
Brown tried to keep the sky from falling. But maybe Chicken Little is on to something in Austin. The back-room spin on the Forty Acres was that Arkansas State game-planned all summer for Texas. That the Indians ran from a spread offense, completely different from the power running attack it used last year. Texas, according to the spin, was utterly vanilla because it was trying to keep surprises for TCU.
Then, how do you explain Texas' defense blitzing over and over again, and still allowing 397 yards to a team picked to finish third in the Sun Belt? How do you explain averaging 3.1 yards per carry after having all off-season to fix the running game?
How do you explain failing to punch it in after having first-and-goal from the 3? And this time Texas had senior defensive tackle Derek Lokey playing short-yardage fullback. Lokey's absence last year against Nebraska, K-State and Texas A&M because of a broken leg was the excuse when Texas couldn't make a yard in those games.
What's the excuse now?
"It's a big game for TCU, and a huge game for us," Lokey said of Saturday's showdown that could define UT's season. "They're trying to prove they belong on the national stage, and we're trying to prove that as well. We don't want them to think it's a bigger game for them than it is for us. It's not."
Does that sound like a player loaded with swagger, fully confident Texas can pounce on the SWC team that got left behind? Or does that sound like a player hoping to avoid becoming the 18th straight Big 12 team to lose to a ranked nonconference opponent since Texas beat USC in the Rose Bowl for the national title?
TCU’s defense will need to rise to the occasion …
On defense, the closer to zero the better. That goes for yards allowed and passes completed, but it's especially true with points a team surrenders.
Zero is a perfect score, or so it would seem. At TCU, though, the zero posted by the Horned Frogs during a 27-0, season-opening victory against Baylor is somewhat empty.
Even with four interceptions.
TCU players say they weren't sharp with their tackling and had too many assignment breakdowns that gift-wrapped some of the Bears' 282 total yards.
Call them perfectionists, but the Frogs know a repeat performance simply won't be good enough Saturday at No. 7 Texas.
"We played kind of sloppy," senior safety David Roach said. "In a lot of cases, we gave up the yards. It wasn't what they did. It's the little things that get you beat the most, not the big picture."
The first-half effort was most lacking. Baylor drove to the TCU 3-yard line on its initial drive before missing a field goal. The Bears outgained the Frogs 204-201, with 177 yards passing and 10 first downs.
Missed tackles drew the ire of coach Gary Patterson at halftime, and his locker-room reminder apparently served as a wake-up call in the second half.
TCU collected three of its four interceptions and held Baylor to only 78 yards and six first downs. Bears quarterbacks were only 8-for-25 after halftime.
What about Tommy Blake? …
Texas coaches and players are preparing to face TCU All-America defensive end Tommy Blake, who is listed as questionable for Saturday's game. Blake missed last week's game because of an undisclosed illness.
"I would love the chance to play against him," said left tackle Tony Hills, a senior projected to be an early pick in the 2008 NFL Draft (along with Blake).
Asked if NFL scouts would pore over videotapes from such a showdown, Hills said: "They might. That's why I need to make sure and take care of my business.... I've been studying [Blake] on tape for quite a while now."
Big night for Botts results in more accolades for Rudy …
The Rangers' designated hitter was hitting just .202 before he collected two doubles, a single and two RBI in Tuesday's 9-8 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
"He needed a game like this," manager Ron Washington said.
Botts and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo recently tweaked the 6-foot-5 switch hitter's batting stance, changing from a high leg kick to a toe tap.
"Over the last couple days, having some time off, I worked on building a better base, and the toe tap kind of made me feel a little more comfortable," Botts said.
Bacsik is now famous …
While Bonds has increased his homers total to 761, Bacsik is stuck on 756. In fact, he said Friday that he's often referred to by fans on the road as "Mr. 756," which might not be as glorious as it sounds. After all, Bacsik is the guy who threw the full-count pitch in the fifth inning on Aug. 7 that Bonds sent skyward to surpass Henry Aaron on the all-time list.
With that single moment, Bacsik's life changed forever.
"Before, I'd sign an autograph, and it was, like, if you can make $1.25, good luck," said Bacsik, who threw 12/3 scoreless relief innings Friday. "After giving up the homer to Barry, I signed some stuff for people, and a lot of it went immediately to eBay."
Win or lose, Bacsik is famous.
"I guess I got a little bit of a reality check as to why some people would like to have an autograph from me. Not so much because I'm a player and they like me, but they might be trying to make a few dollars off me. That's a little different.
"There's been positives and negatives, people trying to take my focus away from baseball. I'm not used to that. For a guy like Barry or Alex Rodriguez who deal with that every day, it's built up. For me, that's been somewhat of a difficult thing to handle."
This isn't just 15 seconds of fame. His entire life, he'll be like Al Downing, who served up the homer that Aaron hit to break Babe Ruth's record. Bacsik realizes his career could end quickly, and appearing at card shows with Downing - something he said has been discussed - isn't a bad fallback.
Especially when his autograph is worth more than $1.25.
"Yes, it's gone up," Bacsik said, smiling. "Good for me that I get a few more dollars for my autograph. At the same time, with the fans, I still try to sign for 10 minutes a day. When I was a kid, I remember how important an autograph was to me. If I can make some kid feel the same way I felt, it makes me happy, too."
Bacsik was supposed to start Sunday, which would have brought a rematch with Bonds, but he has been replaced by lefty Matt Chico, just up from Triple-A Columbus. The only way Bacsik meets Bonds again this year, it would come in relief this weekend.
The Nationals have dropped seven straight, and Bacsik hopes to prove in the final month he's worthy of returning here in 2008. He's 5-8 with a 4.74 ERA in 21 games, including 18 starts.
Shaq seeks divorce …
Shaquille O'Neal has filed to divorce his wife after nearly five years of marriage, his attorney said Tuesday night.
Attorney Ira Elegant said the petition was filed on behalf of the Miami Heat center in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear who is representing Shaunie O'Neal in the case.
The Heat did not have an immediate comment, and Shaquille O'Neal did not respond to a request for comment made through the team.
According to the filing, which was first reported by The Miami Herald on its Web site Tuesday night, Shaquille O'Neal is asking Shaunie O'Neal to provide a "correct accounting of all money, funds, stocks, bonds, and other securities" that she had access to or obtained during the marriage.
They are the parents of six children; Shaquille and Shaunie O'Neal had four together, and each had one other before their Dec. 26, 2002, wedding.
Shaquille O'Neal makes $20 million annually in his contract with the Heat, plus endorsement deals that are estimated to be worth several million more each year. The couple has also listed their home on Miami Beach's posh Star Island for about $32 million, or roughly $13 million more than they paid for it after O'Neal was traded to the Heat by the Los Angeles Lakers before the 2004-05 season.
Favre has big night in Mississippi ..
St. Patrick made its high school football debut Friday night at Brother Phillip Stadium but it was more of a coming-out party for St. Stanislaus quarterback Dylan Favre.
The nephew of Brett Favre and the son of Jeff Favre threw for more than 400 yards and six touchdowns as the Rockachaws spoiled St. Patrick's opener 47-6.
Email of the Day:
I understand your lack of interest in mid-major college football, what with the lack of household names, media coverage, and big-time rivalries, but I’m trying to understand how you can’t find at least competitive match-ups, especially with the UT-TCU game and your blog comment. I would think Sports Sturm would appreciate the frequent mid-major vs. BCS team games (just in the MWC this weekend alone, obviously TCU over Baylor, but also BYU over Arizona, Wyoming over Virginia, and another brilliant Colo. St-Colorado game, even though the BCS team won this time). I have never been able to understand why the Ticket has seemed to have as much interest in TCU as they would a high school JV team. I can understand SMU and UNT until they really provide something to talk about. What else does TCU have to do? They can’t go undefeated every year. Even the superior teams playing weaker teams in their own conferences lose games they should have won every now and then, like USC, West Virginia, Louisville, etc. It’s a little tiring hearing the TCU “sleeper” talk when they have been one of the most successful teams in the country over the last eight years, and of course with the 5 wins in a row over their last five Big 12 opponents recently. (Nevermind the fact that TCU is in your broadcast area and has frequently been one of only two or three teams in the state that is ranked.)
Consider the fact that TCU was favored by 21 points over Baylor (and covered, with its star RB hurt), when last year only two teams had that big of a spread coming in against Baylor all year (OU at 21 and UT at 27). Granted it is unfair to compare spreads across different years, but TCU was playing with a brand new QB and with key players out before the game started. This Saturday, TCU is nine point underdogs to Texas. Last year (again, debatable fairness, but interesting), Texas was favored by only single digits three times (Ohio St by 2, OU by 3, and Neb by 5). Meanwhile, Texas could not have looked much more beatable after their performance against an average Sun Belt team at home. Even to a novice fan, conferences unknown, TCU matching up against Texas therefore seems to be a pretty competitive match-up. With this said, TCU will probably lay an egg and lose the little credibility they have fought for, and have to wait another ten years before they get as much media talk as other inferior teams in state.
Didn’t mean to be a TCU or especially Mountain West homer, but I’m trying see where the bar for Sports Sturm and football should be set. Apologize about the length, and keep up the great blog,
Thanks, Will, for the well thought out note. I would say this:
First, I have been all over this match-up, and I think TCU will certainly make this game a game worth watching. I still am not a believer that they will win a game like this, but since they did it in Norman in 2005, I am sure they are capable.
I love watching TCU play, and I watch them a lot more than I am sure you think I do. Despite my “college football elitist” stance, I have made an exception for them on many occasions. But, I don’t know anything about Air Force, Wyoming, nor UNLV, and I honestly don’t have the time or inclination to learn. There are so many sports and teams that I have to follow, that I really must draw the line somewhere. Knowing as much as I can about the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, Big 12, and my soccer addiction, and then also try to follow Nascar, MMA, Boxing, Golf, I have put that line right before the Mountain West Conference.
They are great, and if I had any say, they would be put in the Big 12, and Baylor would be kicked out based on years and years of not competing at a relatively competent level. Relegation and Promotion belong in college sports for sure.
Anyway, once the conference season starts, I will not watch as much, but in September, when TCU is winning every game they play against the Big 12, I am watching you guys quite closely, including the 1-armed kicker and the white RB.