Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jedi vs. Jedi Master

OK. Got a very busy day, and the blog may suffer a bit. If you need to read more about the Dallas Stars lose to New Jersey or the Mavs unimpressive win against Minnesota, I hope you know where to look. This blog shall serve you with a few reading tools for tonight’s game of the century…

First, thoughts on the game. Having seen every down of each team this season, I can tell you that I think I know these two teams like the back of my hand. I know the Cowboys can be thrown upon, and I know the Packers cannot cover a Tight End. I know that nobody has covered Terrell Owens yet, and no pass rush has really rattled Green Bay yet. I know that Tony Romo can throw the odd interception in a random spot, and Brett Favre made that throw famous. I know that DeMarcus Ware is awesome, and that Aaron Kampman isn’t far behind.

Here is my take. Green Bay is really good. But the game is in Dallas. Dallas has dominated teams, while the Packers have won several games where I wondered how the heck they just won that game. Neither team is going to impress you with their schedule, but that is more a reflection of the NFC.

Green Bay is 3-0 against the NFC East. (Winning at New York)

Green Bay is 3-0 against the AFC. (Beating San Diego, at Denver and at Kansas City)

Dallas is 2-0 against the NFC North (Winning at Chicago)

Dallas is 3-1 against the AFC, losing to arguably one of the best teams of all time.
I am going to adjust my score just a tad, because I don’t think either team is going to be able to mix in very many stops.

Give me Dallas 35, Green Bay 31. This is going to be awesome.

Romo and Favre. Favre and Romo.

To Romo, tonight's meeting at Texas Stadium between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers is about NFC supremacy and home-field advantage in the playoffs. So the kid from Burlington, Wis., did his best to downplay the Favre idolization story line during the week.

"I know what you're trying to get at," said Romo, who watched from a buddy's house when the Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI.

"I understand the angle, and it's nice and fun, but I have to beat the guy this week. At the end of the day, I don't want him to pass for 365 yards against us. That's the bottom line. I'll root for him on every other game."

Jason Witten, who has worked Romo's football camps in Burlington during the off-season, and Steve Tenhagen, Romo's favorite receiver from youth football, know better.

"The truth is, he loved him," Witten said.

Said Tenhagen: "He's got a whole lot of people believing he's not much of a fan. I think he's doing a good job of downplaying the situation."

Romo met Favre two years ago at the Packers quarterback's golf tournament in Tunica, Miss., thanks to former Cowboys teammate Marco Rivera, who played with Favre in Green Bay.

"Brett came over, and I introduced him to everybody at the table, and Tony's like, 'Hey, Brett, nice to meet you,' playing it off," Rivera said. "I was thinking to myself, 'Oh, if he could jump across this table.' "

The way Romo tells it – at least this week – he was more of a John Elway fan when he was younger, even rooting for Denver to win Super Bowl XXXII against Favre's Packers because he is a traditionalist.

"I want someone who's been a legend to go out on top," Romo said. That's why the Cowboys' January playoff loss at Seattle was so painful because it was the final game coached by Bill Parcells. "That part of me has held true in some ways," Romo said.

And there is this – Romo wore No. 16 at Burlington High School because of Joe Montana.

But don't be fooled. There is plenty of Favre in Romo.

In high school, Romo would jump up and fake a pass after a handoff, just like Favre used to do. When his coach asked him what he was doing, Romo smiled the same wide grin he shows on the field now.

When Rivera joined the Cowboys in 2005, he immediately took a liking to Romo. Part of it was the way he reminded him of Favre. Before one practice, Rivera unknowingly stuffed a No. 4 jersey in Romo's helmet to wear as revenge for Romo putting some Flexall 454 pain-relieving gel in his shorts. And Rivera made sure NBC knew of Romo's Favre imitation before his first start at Carolina last year.

"He knows Brett," Rivera said. "He knows his stats. He knows all about him. Any young quarterback in Wisconsin in high school, who are you going to watch?"
And then there's Favre's pigeon-toed walk, which Romo broke out briefly in Monday's practice.

"You know he's spent a lot of time watching him if he's got that down," Witten said.
The quarterbacks are separated by 11 years (38 to 27), but both are 6-2, and Romo is two pounds heavier than the 222-pound Favre.

"I think he's his own player," Favre said. "I think the fact that he's from Wisconsin and is younger than me and watched me play and was a Packer fan enhances this whole scenario. But I think in a nutshell his creativity with his legs is what – when I see him play – reminds me of myself. It's making something out of nothing."
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones remembers watching practices well before Romo became the starter and hearing Favre comparisons from scouts and coaches.

"Because he had a lot of impromptu about him," Jones said. "Our defensive coaches would complain because he would run our scout team, and he'd be out there making plays up and down the field, throwing back across the defense or doing things that where, somewhere in the back of your mind, you'd seen Brett make a play like that."
Romo has certainly had his share of Favre-like moments since becoming the Cowboys' starter, even plenty this year. He had his in-the-grasp fling for a touchdown at Miami, the last-second heave after it looked like he was going down at the New York Giants, and his 4-yard first-down run after a shotgun snap sailed over his head.
And, like Favre, Romo has had his share of crazy mistakes, such as the five-interception game in Buffalo this season.

"When a play kind of presents yourself, you have got to make a decision and you have to make it quick," Favre said. "His decision is, 'There is something else left on this play.' I like that about [him]."

Gosselin on the Gunslinger …click to link to read it all, it is worth it…

One plays his pro football in Wisconsin; the other grew up watching him.

The styles of quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tony Romo are matching, separated by 11 calendar years and 14 seasons of NFL starting experience. Is it osmosis?

Both pride themselves on their gunslinger mentality – a fearless streak that has powered their teams to 10-1 starts. They will match arms and styles in the parallel quest for victory No. 11 tonight when Favre's Green Bay Packers visit Romo's Cowboys.

Unpredictable, unorthodox and spectacular all apply in describing the play of Favre and Romo this and any season.

But it's not fair to compare a 2007 Favre with a 2007 Romo.

Favre is the winningest, most prolific, most durable quarterback in NFL history. He has won a record three NFL MVP awards and a Super Bowl. Favre is what Romo – or any young quarterback – aspires to be.

So let's study the career paths of both quarterbacks. Romo is in his second season as an NFL starter. Let's go all the way back to Favre's second season as a starter in 1993 and draw the comparison there.

I sought out three men who saw Favre play in 1993 and Romo in 2007 – an NFL general manager, a head coach and a talent evaluator – and asked them to compare the quarterbacks at the same stage of their careers. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

Both quarterbacks elevated their games to the highest of heights in their second seasons as starters – but also visited the depths.

Favre passed for 402 yards in a 1993 game against Chicago and four touchdowns against Tampa Bay. But he also threw four interceptions in a game against Detroit and was sacked six times by New Orleans. Romo passed for 345 yards against the Giants this season and tossed four touchdown passes against two other opponents. But he also endured a five-interception flat tire against Buffalo.

Whether Romo plays 17 seasons, wins 157 games and passes for 60,000 yards and 400 touchdowns like Favre remains to be seen. But Favre had it – whatever it is – and apparently so does Romo.

"Romo does some things you can coach and also some things you can't coach against," the general manager said. "That's a hard combination to play [against]. He also has something few of them have – the guys around him believe in him. That makes you a lot better."

Great Scouting tid bits from the Milwaukee Paper


HARD TO STOP: LB DeMarcus Ware will rush most of the time against Chad Clifton, both from two- and three-point stances. "Not many people can consistently beat Chad Clifton but he will challenge Clifton," an executive in personnel for a recent Cowboys' opponent said. "He can get to your up-field arm and accelerate as he makes his move, separating from the blocker rather than continue on upfield. If you study him, he's got great slip skill. He can slip by people in a very smooth way. He can backdoor a quarterback, but (Brett) Favre won't give you much time to come in the backdoor." Said another scout: "He's their best player on defense. He can rush the passer, cover, wreak havoc. It will be tough for him to beat Clifton. That's the one Green Bay has to win."

NEVER SAY DIE: RT Marc Colombo, the Bears' first-round draft pick in 2002, was limited by injury and performance to seven starts in four seasons for Chicago. In the '04 finale at Soldier Field, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila beat him for four sacks in 2.4, 3.3, 2.8 and 2.2 seconds. "He is like Cleveland as a city," one scout said. "Cleveland was the comeback city of the century. He is the comeback lineman of the century. He was awful." Colombo signed with Dallas late in '05, won the RT job in '06 and continues to play competitively. "I think Colombo will do as good a job against (Aaron) Kampman as anybody because he's strong," the scout said. "Someone has taken him there and taught him to use his very long arms. He settles in an inside-outside position, reads the guy, takes the inside away with his big body and then uses his long arms to shove the guy beyond the QB. Kampman will give him some trouble but he's strong and he makes a pretty good stand. It won't be easy to power rush him."

STANDOUT BACKUP: Nobody in the scouting world has anything bad to say about RB Julius Jones. However, just about every scout says that Marion Barber is the Cowboys' No. 1 ball carrier even though he has started three games in almost three full seasons. "The Packers better hope they see the other guy (Jones)," one scout said. "If you have to deal with Barber, he'll be dropping the hammer on you. It's not even close. Smart, strong, tough and instinctive. He just brings bad intentions." A defensive coach for a recent Dallas foe agreed. "It's hard to believe he doesn't start," he said. "I don't know what the hell the deal is. Barber is tougher than (expletive). Fast. Quick feet. To me, he's really a good back. He's the whole package. He'll run your (expletive) over. Jones is good. I don't see him in Barber's class."

NOT COMPLETE: SS Roy Williams, the eighth pick in 2002, has major problems trying to cover. "He can't," one scout said. "It's noticeable. What he gives them is some intimidation around the middle. You cross through there, you're taking your life in your hands. But in one-on-one coverage he's a liability." Williams is tough and has 19 career interceptions. "Obviously, he's a good downhill run defender," another scout said. "You watch the Giants, they flexed (Jeremy) Shockey out wide and tried to isolate Williams. That's what you try to do. You need to attack him. He will flow hard to action. He struggles on the deep part of the field."

RIDING HIGH: Just about everyone likes QB Tony Romo. "Is he Favre? No," one scout said. "But he's heading in that direction. I've seen him in a lot of pressure situations this year and he seems to be at his best when those things are happening." Romo was so-so down the stretch last season but has been more consistent in '07. "He is very good, especially when he can slide up into the pocket," an opposing assistant coach said. "He's a little bit of a gunslinger. Romo can make the big mistake and give it right back to you. But he can also throw that one right in there to beat you. The Jets had real good coverage and he hit (Terrell) Owens just absolutely perfect. He dropped that ball right on the money. That was impressive."

Al Harris prepares for a large dose of Owens

The last time they met at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Terrell Owens cast a spell on Al Harris that turned the already high-strung, emotion-filled cornerback into a certified basket case.

Harris, the man who will be handling the bulk of the coverage on Owens when the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys meet tonight at Texas Stadium, was understandably hyped when the Packers faced his former team, the Eagles, and their dominating receiver.

Owens didn't even know it at the time, but his mere presence on the field resulted in Harris' blood boiling so hot that he lost sight of the "team" in team defense. The only opponent Harris saw that day was No. 81, and it ended up embarrassing Harris and undercutting the team in a 47-17 loss on the road.

"I was loony," Harris said of the 2004 game. "I blew some coverages. A couple times we were in Cover 2 and I'm playing man because I was so locked in. Afterwards, Coach (Mike) Sherman called me upstairs and told me I can't get involved in those individual matchups."

Three years later, Harris is trying to avoid stoking the emotional blast furnace that roared inside him that day and is approaching the rematch with Owens in much more controlled fashion. He has to play better than he did in Philadelphia.
"I think he's going to be under control this time," cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington said. "I told him to relax. When we get there (to kickoff), then get prepared. I think he's in that state."

With 64 catches for 1,093 yards and 13 touchdowns, Owens comes into the game 2 yards and three touchdowns behind New England's Randy Moss for the NFL lead in those categories. Only Cincinnati's Chad Johnson with 21 catches of 20 or more yards has more than Owens' 19.

He has a touchdown in six straight games and 100 yards receiving in four of the last five. If the Packers are going to beat Dallas, they'll have to neutralize the 6-3, 218-pound Owens, which is where Harris comes in.

If Harris can be physical with him at the line of scrimmage, he'll be able to disrupt his timing with quarterback Tony Romo and make it easier for the pass rush to get home.

In that '04 game, Harris matched up against Owens and played him so physically that he drew two penalties for illegal hands to the face and another for illegal contact. The two got into a shoving match that Harris initiated and Owens seemed surprised to be in.

Owens wound up running through the Packers' zone coverage as if he were invisible. On some of the downs, Harris played Owens man-to-man when he was supposed to be playing zone, leaving the Eagles receivers wide open. Owens finished the game with eight catches for 161 yards and a touchdown.

"I learned a very valuable lesson," Harris said. "You can't get like that. You can't lose your cool."

Ok. A few non-game links:

ESPN features Bo Jackson

And Tom Hicks is a bad owner in England, too …I swear, he must try to tick off his fan base…

Belated recoveries were not limited to Liverpool's Champions League campaign last night as Rafael Benítez took his first genuine steps towards repairing relations with the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

A fractious week inside Anfield ended with Benítez savouring the most emotional night of his Liverpool reign as supporters marched in support of the manager before kick-off and his players produced an ultimately impressive victory over Porto.
From a renewed position of strength it would not have been difficult for the Spaniard to reinforce his opposition to the transfer restrictions which had cast serious doubt on his future at the club. Instead, he made his clearest peace offering to the Americans, reluctantly accepting their revised work structure and insisting their relationship has not been irrevocably destroyed by his previous outbursts.

"I want to make it clear that I don't have any personal problems with the owners," said Benítez. "We were talking about some issues but it was nothing personal. I was not angry with them, just surprised. I was surprised with the situation in the end because I was trying to improve my club.

"OK, now I know I may have to wait but it was a strange situation. I was just trying to do my best for my club but I don't have any personal problems with Tom Hicks or George Gillett."

The Liverpool manager had suggested a thawing in the damaging dispute on the eve of the game but that merely extended to not aggravating his American employers any further.

He had previously infuriated the pair, and courted the sack, with two petulant public displays after their instructions to freeze his January transfer plans - an order that Benítez took as a lack of faith in his ability to bring the Premier League title to Anfield.

But last night he continued: "We need to talk in the future and we will see what happens then about transfers. This has never been about my ego, but it is my responsibility. I need to take care of my team, my squad and my club.

"It would be a lot easier for me to stay and do nothing, just pick up my wages at the end of each month but I want to be involved. We all want what is best for the club and I think the owners understand that."

Benítez's conciliatory tone was in marked contrast to his stinging criticism of the Americans following Liverpool's win at Newcastle last Saturday, and his insistence that he wants to remain involved in transfer policy, a requirement now handed over to the chief executive, Rick Parry, may yet prove a problem when the manager meets his employers on December 16.

Something about Mary


Jay Beerley said...

My favorite part of tonight will be to see Jason Garrett's wizardry in action. All I know is neither receiver will be able to jam Owens if he starts out of the backfield in motion.
On defense, the key will be to get pressure without blitzing. Never send more than 5 guys, maybe even 4. Wait for the il-advised throw that both quarterbacks tend to make and then take advantage, get the pick, and get out of there with a win.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great post!
So, I'm really excited about tonight's game. As a huge Packers fan I'm really hoping for some kind of miracle blowout. It sucks that we have to play in Dallas, its a difficult place to play at and I think Favre has never won in Dallas... has he? Today might be the day, its like watching the old packers team again and Favre is better than ever. I just took NFL odds on the Pack +7 points which I think is a sure winner. GO PACKERS!!!