Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Getting Ready for the Browns

I received an email this morning from a guy who could not believe that the Cowboys trailed the all-time series with the Cleveland Browns. Well, believe it.

According to the 2008 Cowboys media guide, there are actually 5 teams that have the edge on the Cowboys:

Baltimore Ravens: 2-0 – or 19-11 as the old Browns
Cleveland Browns: 17-11; (0-1) as the new Browns
Miami Dolphins: 8-4
Oakland Raiders: 6-3
San Francisco 49ers: 16-14-1

A few more have tied all-time records:

Denver Broncos: 5-5
Houston Texans: 1-1
Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-2
St Louis Rams: 14-14

That is it, though. The other 22 teams have losing records against Dallas. 22-5-4 is a fair Win-Loss record, no? I can’t imagine anyone else can match that.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Scouts the Cowboys

Coach: Wade Phillips, 13-4, second year; 61-42 overall.

Series record: Browns lead, 17-11, counting postseason.

Most recent meeting: Cowboys won, 19-12, Sept. 19, 2004, in Irving.

League rankings: Offense was third overall (17th rush, fourth pass), defense was ninth overall (sixth rush, 13th pass), and turnover differential was plus-5 (2007).
Offensive overview

When everything's going right, it looks like the Browns on a good day. They like to run the ball to set up a play-action passing game that pushes the ball vertically, not horizontally. Their one-two receiving punch is a dangerous, physical receiver (Terrell Owens) and an athletic, pass-catching tight end (Jason Witten). Their Pro Bowl quarterback (Tony Romo) emerged from a modest background and had a breakout year in 2007. Sound familiar? One change this season is making bruising runner Marion Barber their feature back. However, with injuries to an already-suspect receiving corps, they may incorporate rookie change-of-pace back Felix Jones into the passing game. Setting it all up is a huge offensive line with Pro Bowlers at left tackle (Flozell Adams), center (Andre Gurode) and right guard (Leonard Davis).
Defensive overview

Their defense is aggressive, stops the run and attacks quarterbacks with a pair of fast outside linebackers. They're not afraid to blitz or play man coverage in the secondary. No, this is not the same brand of 3-4 played by the Browns. Bookend rushers DeMarcus Ware (14 sacks in 2007) and Greg Ellis (12.5) can change games by themselves, as long as opponents are having trouble running the ball. The other strength of the defense is the secondary, featuring four first-round draft choices and one in the second. The unit is so deep that one former No. 1, safety Roy Williams, may get more bench time as ex-Browns cornerback Anthony Henry takes on new responsibilities in the "dime" defense, allowing Adam "Pacman" Jones to move outside. Henry also could be assigned exclusively to Kellen Winslow in multiple-receiver formations.

Special teams overview

As a rookie, kicker Nick Folk was strong and accurate. He missed only once in preseason, from 50 yards. Punter Mat McBriar was fourth last year with a 47.1-yard gross average and has a knack for hard-to-handle, end-over-end kicks. The return units appear in good shape with Adam "Pacman" Jones handling punts and rookie Felix Jones slated to return kickoffs. The coverage teams have been a big question mark, hastening the return of Keith Davis this week after his release from Miami.
Players to watch

Quarterback Tony Romo: The undrafted free agent-turned-celebrity quarterback has a big arm, a trophy girlfriend in Jessica Simpson, a new $67.5 million contract - everything but a win in a big game.

Receiver Terrell Owens: The most recent time he visited Cleveland with Philadelphia, he hit the Browns for 109 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. Remember the stadium banner "T.O. has B.O."?

Linebacker DeMarcus Ware: Bill Parcells' No. 1 lasting contribution to the team, his 25.5 sacks the past two years are second-most among NFL linebackers.

Injury report

WR Miles Austin (knee), WR Sam Hurd (ankle), LG Kyle Kosier (foot) and OLB Anthony Spencer (knee) are out.

Small world

Cowboys cornerback Anthony Henry was a Browns fourth-round draft pick in 2001 and played with them through 2004. . . . Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo was Browns defensive coordinator in 2003 and '04. . . . Cowboys defensive line coach Todd Grantham was Browns defensive coordinator in 2005 through '07.

- Tony Grossi

Derek Anderson good to go for the Browns

Browns quarterback Derek Anderson practiced full-go Monday for the first time since suffering a concussion Aug. 18 and is expected to start Sunday's opener against the Cowboys.

Coach Romeo Crennel stopped short of declaring him ready to start because he wants to see how Anderson responds to a full practice in bright sunlight. But Browns General Manager Phil Savage said on Saturday, "I feel like he'll be ready to play this week."

Anderson wasn't available during the open locker-room session because the team wanted him to have a practice under his belt before talking to the media.

"We'll see what he can do [Monday]," Crennel said. "If he can handle himself, the possibility is greater."

Crennel said doctors will be looking for things besides Anderson's ability to handle sunlight -- although he'll get somewhat of a break from that with a 4:15 p.m. start against the Cowboys.

"I think [the doctors] need to see that he can handle the verbiage of the offense, be able to handle the checks and do the things that a quarterback has to do," Crennel said. "If he can do those things and doesn't have any headaches afterward, chances are they'll let him go."

Anderson was one of a handful of key players who returned to practice Monday. The others were receiver Braylon Edwards (foot), safety Sean Jones (knee), linebacker Willie McGinest (groin), linebacker Antwan Peek (knee) and offensive lineman Ryan Tucker (hip). Several of those, including Jones and Tucker, were limited.

Special teams star Josh Cribbs (high ankle sprain) dressed and participated in a light special-teams walk-through, but went inside when the regular practice began.

Four players sat out practice, including three starters. They were running back Jamal Lewis (hamstring), safety Brodney Pool (concussion) and right guard Rex Hadnot (knee). Rookie tight end Martin Rucker also rested. Of the three missing starters, Lewis appears to have the best chance of playing Sunday, but the team wanted to give him two more days to heal his hamstring.

"It's game time and everybody wants to play, so all of them are working really hard to try to be active," Crennel said. "After [Monday], they've got a day off, so they'll come back on Wednesday and I think we'll have a better idea about where these guys stand and how they'll be able to help us Sunday against Dallas."

Like Anderson, Edwards was kept from addressing the media until he practices, but the two looked crisp in the individual drills during the open first half-hour. Anderson, practicing without a visor on his helmet, completed several short and intermediate passes to Edwards, Donte Stallworth and the other receivers.

The workweek -- with the extra day on Monday -- will be vital for Anderson, who missed the final two preseason games and the last two weeks of practice after getting dinged on a sack by the New York Giants' Osi Umenyiora during an exhibition game. Anderson, who played only one series against the New York Jets on Aug. 7 because of a storm, completed 8 of 15 attempts in preseason for 40 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. His longest completion was 10 yards.

What's more, he was still working on his in-game timing with newcomer Stallworth.

"When a guy misses [preseason games], he's got to get back in sync with the guys that he's going to be throwing to and making the calls and the checks at the line of scrimmage," Crennel said. "But the fact that he has a year under his belt in this system, if he can get this week in, I think that'll help him."

Edwards, who appeared to be running fine coming off his lacerated right foot, caught only one pass in preseason for 2 yards, but what a fine 2-yarder it was -- the nifty one-handed touchdown from Anderson against the Jets in which he spun around at the last second to snare the ball. It was the only series the two played together in preseason, but they were in perfect sync before that during camp.

For all of your Cowboys blogging needs, please keep my friends in mind over at - Rafeal and Raul are on the case over there with good stuff daily that is not basic and obvious stuff.

Here is today’s offering

As I noted yesterday, Winslow lined up as a receiver on 75% of his plays, far more than any TE in the game.The Browns in effect run a three receiver offense, which suggests Dallas may go to its nickel a lot on early downs in order to match up. Dallas won’t go man-to-man on every down or maybe even on the majority of its downs, as the Cowboys like to zone blitz a lot.

When Dallas does match up, we might see a repeat of the strategy the team employed against New England’s three WR sets last year. In that game Dallas gave safety help to the corner who matched up against Randy Moss and took its chances on Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker. The Cowboys matched up well against the wide outs for three quarters but could not win in the slot, where Welker destroyed Nate Jones.
Terence Newman did not play in that game and his presence Sunday could allow the Cowboys to match up 1 through 3. Newman will likely get Edwards. #2 Anthony Henry, the biggest Cowboys corner at 6′1″, 207, would get the 6′4″ 240 lb. Winslow and Adam Jones will get Stallworth. Jones has improved every game for Dallas but would likely get some safety assistance; he’s a hyper-aggressive CB who tries to jump everything short and he had a lot of trouble in Oxnard and in the early games when he faced fast WRs.

Cleveland could use more three WR sets to try and create better interior matchups for Winslow, but they’ve lost Joe Jurivicius for the season and #4 Joshua Cribbs for the game. They will rely on 4th and 5th WRs Syndric Steptoe and Paul Hubbard. Dallas can emphathize.

Up front, the Cowboys front seven will match up against a Browns line considered one of the best in the NFL. The Cleveland line allowed just 10 sacks last year, according to Scientific Football ’08’s line blocking metrics, lowest in the game. The Browns invested heavily in their line last year, picking LT Joe Thomas 3rd overall in the draft and spending a mint to lure LG Eric Steinbach from Cincinnati. They formed an effective left side of the Browns line.

The line was doubly effective when you consider that Cleveland flexed Winslow off the tackles so much, meaning the Browns backup tight ends and backs were very effective at assisting their linemen.

The Cowboys are a blitzing team that likes to rush five men on most passing downs. They prefer to send both OLBs, Demarcus Ware and Greg Ellis together, in addition to the line. Dallas will probably try this early, to learn if the Browns can handle both of them without assistance. Ware and Ellis combined for 26.5 sacks last year, almost as many as the entire Cleveland team (28 sacks). The Browns have two very good pass blocking tackles, in Thomas and RT Kevin Shaffer. Each gave up only two sacks last year. However, it’s very hard to block two blitzing OLBs with an offensive line without sacrificing interior protection.

And the interior is probably the weakness of Cleveland’s protection. Steinback gave up 3.5 sacks and C Hank Fraley surrendered 2.5, the two highest totals on the line. The Cowboys will likely rotate rushing NTs Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson at Fraley. Also look for Dallas to fake outside blitzes and try interior stunts and blitzes with SOLB Bradie James. The Browns had a lot of trouble in their preseason games handling interior blitzes and their QBs took a lot of shots. I expect the Cowboys to test the Browns inside and keep testing then until the blitzes don’t work.

Dallas will want to hit Anderson early and test his mettle. He missed the last two Browns games recovering from a concussion he suffered when Osi Umenyiora slammed his head into the Meadowland’s turf. Reports today said the Browns are optimistic Anderson can play. The Cowboys will try to make his afternoon to be a short one. If the can stay upright, they’re hoping the pressure can produce more bad decisions and several turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Rangers win, But Laird is tired of being jerked around

Catcher Gerald Laird has let it be known that he is not happy with having to split time 50-50 with Taylor Teagarden the rest of the season.

With Jarrod Saltalamacchia out for the season, the Rangers want to see how Teagarden plays on a semi-regular basis.

Among the comments pre-game by Laird:

"I'm real disappointed. It looks like I'm only going to get half the games. What can I say? I'll do the best I can. But they have to decide this off-season. I'm kind of tired of this stuff. I feel like they owe it to all of us to make a decision. I just want some clarity. If they're going to go with one of them, then give me a chance to go somewhere else.''


"I don't want to be doing this the next couple of years. I feel honestly like this was may be my last month as a Ranger. I feel almost like my time here is almost over. I love it here, but I want a chance to play everyday. I'm not saying I want to be traded. I just don't want to deal with this situation again. I just want to know going into camp if I'm going to have a chance to play everyday.''

Big 12’s better than awful matchups this weekend

Cincinnati at Oklahoma (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) -- The Sooners are facing the Big 12's only challenge from a BCS conference opponent this week. And Brian Kelly's team isn't bad after making six bowl trips in the last eight seasons, including three-straight wins from 2004 to the present.

Texas at UTEP (10:15 p.m., ESPN2) -- What a difference 14 years makes. The Longhorns will be traveling to the Sun Bowl for the first time since beating Mack Brown's North Carolina team there in the 1994 Sun Bowl. Who would have ever thought Brown could have ended up coaching the Longhorns?

Texas A&M at New Mexico (6 p.m., Versus) -- This one will test the Aggies resiliency coming back from their late collapse against Arkansas State. The Lobos have beaten two of their last three Big 12 foes and will be a test for the Aggies.

Houston at Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys have enough players from the Houston area and still remember their loss in 2006, so this will be about revenge. It also represents new Houston coach Kevin Sumlin's return against a Big 12 opponent after working on Bob Stoops' staff at Oklahoma.

Texas Tech at Nevada -- Enough cracks were shown against Eastern Washington to make this potentially a harrowing trip to the Silver State for the Red Raiders. And their defensive lapses aren't a good sign heading into a contest against a Nevada team that produced 426 rushing yards and 629 yards in its opener against Grambling.

Aggies try to nurse their substantial wounds

The Aggies failed to score on their final eight possessions. They had four turnovers, missed two field goals and allowed 280 rushing yards in a complete and demoralizing loss that seeped through all parts of the team. The Aggies produced 103 yards and four first downs in a scoreless second half as the Red Wolves convincingly outplayed them down the stretch.

"We were pretty honest with them about what we need to do better the next time we get this opportunity," Sherman said. "But I think dealing with the present is the best way to deal with things. I told them we were going to beat ourselves up on this loss for 24 hours and then after that we flushed it out. And if we had won the game, we would have done the same thing."

It won't get any easier. The Aggies figure to be challenged by New Mexico's unique blitzing defense that relies on an extra linebacker in its base defense.

But McGee said his team is intent on turning things around quickly after meeting with Sherman and purging themselves after the loss.

"[Coach Sherman] took responsibility like a leader does, and he wants us to be men about it, too, and understand we're all disappointed and that it hurts to lose a game like that," McGee said.

"You have to learn to deal with adversity. It shapes people and you really find [out] a lot about your character. We can go one way or the other after a loss like that. And hopefully we'll be able to handle it in the right way."

HEY! It is the return of This week in unintentional comedy with the FW Star Telegram! ….

Where have you been?

Mascots in parachutes? More, please….


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Lancerdfw said...

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