Friday, September 19, 2008

Hello from Wisconsin

From the inside of a below-average hotel in Appleton, Wisconsin…Here is some Friday linkage:

Scouts Inc breaks down Sunday

Points should come in bunches when these two offenses take their shots Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, his defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders will have their hands full finding ways to contain these explosive attacks.

Expect Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to stay aggressive, using his power running game to set up a potent vertical attack. Meanwhile, Packers coach Mike McCarthy will spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets in his version of the West Coast passing game, exploiting matchups in the secondary and setting up RB Ryan Grant and the zone running game. But amid all the fireworks on offense, the game could be won or lost on the hidden yardage in the kicking game.

When Dallas has the ball

Garrett has blended a power run game led by RB Marion Barber and a quick-strike timing passing attack to form perhaps the league's most intimidating offense. An aggressive play caller, Garrett loves to throw vertically in nontraditional passing situations. Expect him to incorporate varied personnel groupings with an up-tempo approach to try to keep the Packers' defense off balance.
WR Terrell Owens will continue to move around in the formation, with TE Jason Witten often flexing out. But that isn't likely to influence Sanders, who routinely plays four across on the back end, with CBs Charles Woodson and Al Harris in a physical press mode. Sanders isn't a big fan of the blitz, instead relying on his front four (led by DE Aaron Kampman) for pressure and LBs A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett to clean things up. But the Packers are versatile, and Sanders will use an array of personnel groupings.

When Green Bay has the ball
McCarthy would love to hammer away with the run and force Dallas to commit to stopping it, which would effectively set up the play-action attack. But Green Bay's finesse zone run scheme and injury concerns along the interior offensive line could be prohibitive. Instead, expect McCarthy to try to slow a strong Cowboys pass rush by spreading the field with multiple groupings, aligning his receivers in different spots and taking full advantage of QB Aaron Rodgers' quick release, mobility and smarts.
Phillips and Stewart will continue to rely on an attacking 3-4 scheme on early downs, using CBs Anthony Henry, Terence Newman and Adam Jones to match up on the back end. In sub packages, the Cowboys will try to pressure Rodgers with a four-man rush while getting physical in the secondary. Expect a lot of maximum-coverage designs intended to disrupt a Packers passing game that depends on good timing and rhythm.

Dallas Keys to

1Get the run game going early: The Cowboys have the personnel to run inside or outside and attack on all three levels in the passing game, which places a tremendous amount of pressure on a defense. A balanced, dynamic attack starts with a huge offensive line and Barber, a powerful, slashing runner who can wear down a defense. The Packers' undersized defensive line will be prone to fatigue if Barber has early success, and it will need to control its gap responsibilities to allow Barnett to make plays in the box. Expect Dallas to attack the edges of Green Bay's run defense, where the Cowboys hold a decisive power advantage.

2Adjust outside rush lanes and incorporate more inside games.: Last week the Cowboys too often allowed Eagles QB Donovan McNabb to attack the pocket and extend plays. Rodgers has excelled at using his mobility in the pocket to do the same so far this season. The Cowboys need to show more discipline on the edge pass rush while still containing Rodgers in the pocket. Expect Phillips to dial up a lot of interior games and some single-zone pressures to attack inside to try to bait Rodgers into game-changing mistakes.

3Keep attacking downfield: QB Tony Romo has been a whiz at avoiding pressure in the pocket while maintaining his eye level downfield. Owens is an amazing playmaker who can hurt a defense at all levels, and Witten is a dynamic receiver who puts a lot of pressure on opposing safeties. The Packers aren't switching their corners, as they did a year ago, to align Harris over the opposing No. 1 receiver. Expect Dallas to keep sliding Owens around the formation, but Garrett might use more two-tight end packages to get Witten isolated one-on-one on Hawk on the outside.

Green Bay Keys to

1Rodgers protecting the ball: He has been impressive in his first two outings as QB Brett Favre's successor, but Rodgers will be tested by a fast and talented Dallas defense. He has a great understanding of Green Bay's system and processes his pre-snap reads quickly at the line. Rodgers is a good athlete with a quick set up and release. He's very accurate and throws a catchable ball with nice touch. He can hit receivers in stride, allowing them to get upfield quickly. But Rodgers must make excellent decisions in this matchup and avoid turnovers at all costs. The Packers can't afford to let the Cowboys' offense attack from a short field.

2Pressure Romo with a four-man rush: The Cowboys have a big, physical offensive line that is tough for pass-rushers to get around. But if Romo gets time in the pocket, he can expose the Packers' secondary, starting with Harris. Kampman is a very good edge-rusher, but Green Bay also needs a consistent interior rush from DT Cullen Jenkins to force Romo off his landmarks. The Packers will need to maintain a deep line rotation to keep everyone fresh up front.

3Coverage from Woodson and Harris: How much longer can the Packers' cornerback duo play at a high level? In Green Bay's first two games, Woodson played left corner while Harris manned the right side. Last season the Packers matched up on the back side with their corners, but Harris has struggled early on while Woodson has been very reliable. Dallas likely will try to isolate Owens on Harris early in the game. Harris is physical and can be effective in press coverage, but Owens has the strength to match him, and Harris is a risk-taker who can be baited by double moves.

Blue and Silver looks at Romo and Rodgers

Tony Romo’s sudden success in mid-’06 caught a lot of people by surprise. Back then we argued here at BSR that Romo was quick to adapt because he was nutured in the old-school, apprentice system that was the standard in the ’60s and ’70s. A QB, no matter how highly picked, was required to “carry the clipboard” for at least a couple of seasons while he learned the art of quarterbacking. Think of Craig Morton, a top 5 pick for Dallas in ‘65. He was Don Meredith’s understudy for four years before becoming a starter. Roger Staubach was a third year pro before he earned a start.

There was a sound reason for the apprentice method — QBs back then called their own plays. They were “field generals” to a far greater extent than today’s signal callers, who read miniature play sheets velcroed to their wrists. Quarterbacking is still a difficult craft to master but putting the play calling on your coordinator shortens the learning curse.

That said, way too many modern QBs are rushed into play. The good ones, the Payton Mannings, the Troy Aikmans, the Tom Bradys adapt faster. Romo, being an undrafted free agent from a small school, didn’t have the pressure his big name peers like Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson did. He could learn and grow without media scrutiny, though backup QBs are some of the NFL’s most popular players, no matter the team or city.

Romo had three years of pro experience before he earned a start. He was familiar with his offense, his teammates and the speed of the pro game. Aaron Rogers has started so effectively in Green Bay because he also learned in a pressure-free environment. Rogers was a first round pick but dropped about 15 to 20 spots below his anticipated range on draft day. He also backed up Brett Favre, who was in no hurry to retire.

Look at Jacksonville’s David Garrard, who looked like an old pro when Jacksonville finally made him a starter last year. Look today at New England’s Matt Cassell. He’s another guy with multiple years of backup experience. Replacing Tom Brady has not fazed him. He doesn’t seem to have the superstar potential of Romo and Rogers, but he knows how to move his team and minimize mistakes.

Romo’s and Rogers’ backgrounds suggest an interesting game. Both are still relative newcomers to their starting lineups, but neither is a newcomer to the pro game. Another duel, to rival Monday night’s, may be in the offing.

What does 3-0 mean? ….

The importance of Starting 3-0
Since 1990 (under the current playoff format)
-93 teams have started 3-0
-72 teams (77.4%) made the playoffs
-21 teams (22.6%) did not.

Teams Starting 3-0 and Missing Playoffs - Since 1990
1993 Cleveland Browns
1993 New Orleans Saints
1993 Philadelphia Eagles
1994 New York Giants
1995 St. Louis Rams
1996 Kansas City Chiefs
1996 Miami Dolphins
1998 New Orleans Saints
1998 Seattle Seahawks
1999 New England Patriots
2000 New York Jets
2001 San Diego Chargers
2002 Denver Broncos
2002 Miami Dolphins
2002 New England Patriots
2002 New Orleans Saints
2002 San Diego Chargers
2002 Carolina Panthers
2003 Minnesota Vikings
2004 Jacksonville Jaguars
2006 Cincinnati Bengals

We drove past Burlington, Wisconsin last night….Romo’s home town


Romo starred in football, basketball, and golf at Burlington High School, graduating in 1998.

Tony was on the Little League Roth All-Star teams in 1991 and 1992.

Decision ’08 means Nolan Ryan

Ryan, always an honest type, has admitted his name didn’t carry the clout on the Rangers baseball side that most of us would assume. Go back to March, at the spring training complex in Arizona, and Nolan gathered the entire staff of minor league pitching coaches and instructors, telling them he wanted a coddling of pitchers (in such areas as conditioning and pitch counts) to stop immediately.

"Before we can improve our pitching, we have to change the mentality. We are not grooming pitchers to be mentally and physically tough," said Ryan. "I wanted that change to begin this season in the minors."

And the result of what he asked for in Surprise?

"Not good," said Ryan. "Most of them basically ignored me, and kept doing things the way they were being done."

When it comes to pitching, how does anyone not listen to Nolan bleeping Ryan?
As of next month, however, when there will be no more benevolent Nolan, he told me this a couple of weeks ago in a radio show interview:

"Those who didn’t follow the plan, or don’t want to follow it in the future, I would suggest they look for work in other organizations."

OK, change will come to the Rangers, starting in early October. But how much change? Is Daniels safe? How about Washington?

There are two obvious factors involved in both cases.

First, Nolan had a free skate with the fans and media this season, but now it’s his ball team and ball game. Does Nolan Ryan want to hook his reputation on the work of this GM and this manager, or instead, succeed or fail, with his own people in place? It seems to me, that’s an easy answer.

Second, since attendance bottomed out this season in Arlington (the worst in more than 20 years), how much more difficult will it be this winter to sell tickets on this same Daniels-Washington ticket? Also an easy answer.

Next question: Does fairness matter?

Answer: No.

But if it did, Washington should keep his job. The team never quits on him. I like that about a manager.

Then again, if only Daniels is fired, then the next GM should have the right to hire his own manager. Along those same lines, if only Washington is fired, does Ryan trust Daniels to hire the next manager since Jon is the guy who hired the manager who Nolan just fired?

Bottom line: Keep both or fire both.

Remember when Kyle Field was a fortress?

The Miami Hurricanes have lost eight their last 11 road games, five of them by at least two touchdowns. Miami also has 12 freshmen on its depth chart, yet the Hurricanes are four-point favorites over the Aggies for Saturday's game at Kyle Field, where Texas A&M once held reign over nonconference -- and conference -- opponents.

The Aggies are 35-18 (.660) at home this decade. That pales to A&M's mark of 55-4-1 (.925) in the 1990s, which was fourth best nationally behind Florida State, Nebraska and Florida.

Miami coach Randy Shannon knows the value of a home-field advantage. The Hurricanes
were 50-10 in the 1990s, and Miami won an NCAA record 58 straight home games from 1985-94 that helped it win three of its five national championships.

Shannon, in his second year at his alma mater, hasn't played or coached at Kyle Field, but three of his assistants have. Defensive coordinator Bill Young helped Kansas gain a 19-11 victory last year at Kyle Field, denying A&M its first unbeaten season at home since 1999.

"It is always a tremendous college atmosphere," Shannon said of Kyle Field. "There is tradition there that had been there for a long time, so it is an opportunity to go into another great football environment, which is what college football is all about, and play a good team. They have very devoted fans."

Two weeks ago, Miami played at rival Florida before 90,833.

"I heard [Kyle Field] is probably worse than Florida's stadium," Miami freshman quarterback Jacory Harris. "There are going to be a lot of people in maroon colors cheering for the Aggies, and we're just going to go out there and have a good game."
The Aggies pulled off a 38-30 upset of Texas the last time they were underdogs at home, spurred on by a crowd of 88,253.

That was the final game for head coach Dennis Franchione, who was 32-28 in five years, including 23-10 at Kyle Field.

Mike Sherman was an Aggie assistant during the good times -- from 1989-93 and 1995-'96 -- but his debut as A&M's head coach was a shocking 18-14 loss to Arkansas State in the house he once helped A&M dominate.

"That was not a great feeling," Sherman said. "You feel like you let people down in the stadium. They wanted to see us win, expected to see us win, and we didn't do that. That was very disappointing for me personally. I feel a huge responsibility that they went home without a victory."

Sherman and the Aggies will have several chances for big days at Kyle Field this year. A&M will host Colorado, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Big 12 play.

Lastly, you need to read Mark Cuban’s blog today …on the other hand, you will feel better about humanity if you don’t….

Lambeau Tour from some dude.

Romo, Lombardi, and pictures as some dude tells a Tony Romo story

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