Breaking Down the Boys …
The Dallas Cowboys have lost all five of their appearances at Lambeau Field since 1960 but won't be losing there Sunday night when they meet the Green Bay Packers in a clash of unbeaten NFC contenders.
At least that was the opinion of four personnel men Tuesday. Dallas is favored by 3 points.
"Dallas is on the roll and they win," said an executive in personnel for a recent Cowboys opponent. "They're both 2-0 but Dallas is just playing with so much confidence right now."
On opening day, the Cowboys went to Cleveland and manhandled the Browns, 28-10. They outgained the Browns, 487 yards to 205, amassed 30 first downs and converted eight of 11 on third down.
Dallas is 11-1 in its last 12 regular-season road games.
"If you block them you'll be OK because they have a little trouble in coverage," the
scout said. "But their front seven is good and they have playmakers on offense. They have a receiver, a tight end, two backs and a good quarterback. It's going to be tough."
On Monday night, the Cowboys overcame a nine-point, first-half deficit to overhaul the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-37, at Texas Stadium.
"I see Dallas winning late," another personnel man said. "They will start out slow and get better as the game goes on. Their edge is in their playmakers.
"They're better running the ball and their O-line is better than (the Packers') D-line. And Green Bay does not have an answer for 'T.O.' (Terrell Owens). If (Charles) Woodson's toe is OK, he will play him. That will be the key right there."
Quarterback Tony Romo had passer ratings of 103.6 in Cleveland and 123.2 against the Eagles. Last November, Romo posted 123.5 in the Cowboys' 37-27 triumph over the Packers in Dallas.
"Green Bay's defense has not played an offense worth a crap," a third scout said. "The Vikings and Lions have some talent but don't have the quarterback to do anything with it."
Romo owns a 21-5 record since becoming the starter in mid-2006.
"How does Green Bay win this game?" the scout said. "I think Aaron Rodgers will fare well, get a 250-yard game and (produce) 20 points. Then I see Dallas putting up 27 to 30.
"I don't know how Green Bay can shut them down. I can see (Aaron) Kampman beating (Marc) Colombo but I don't see any other pressure coming through there. And the Packers don't have a back like the Cowboys just faced in (Brian) Westbrook."
Second-year coordinator Jason Garrett uses some of the vertical passing game that he learned from Norv Turner as Troy Aikman's backup in the early 1990s. Garrett will use a three-tight end set often and anywhere on the field. The running game features straight-ahead wall blocking.
WR Terrell Owens (6 feet 3 inches, 218 pounds) and TE Jason Witten (6-5½, 262) are among the very elite at their positions. Owen demands combination coverage because of his size, strength and speed. He's excellent after the catch, doesn't drop many when he's focused and can be a devastating blocker when he wants to be. Witten didn't enter the league in 2003 with a great 40-yard time (4.67 seconds) but manages to get down the seam on most teams. He is very hard to contain on third-down possession routes. Coach Wade Phillips said Witten would play after suffering a reported separated shoulder Monday. Starting alongside Owens is Patrick Crayton (6-0, 203), who works inside adequately but should be more of a No. 3. Crayton has good hands and competitive speed. Speedster Miles Austin (6-2, 216), a legitimate deep threat, is replacing Sam Hurd, the No. 3 who is out with an ankle injury. Rookie TE Martellus Bennett (6-6, 265) might be high maintenance but also is an exceptional athlete with receiving skills whom the Cowboys are starting to utilize. Athletic TE Tony Curtis (6-5½, 251) also plays extensively.
This probably is the biggest unit in the NFL. LT Flozell Adams (6-7½, 340) has been winning for 11 seasons with his sheer size and long arms. But two or three plays each week he looks terrible trying to cope with speed. LG Kyle Kosier (foot), who will miss a few more weeks, has been replaced by free agent Cory Procter (6-4½, 308). Procter, who played just 169 snaps from 2005-'07, fits the mold. He's a rugged drive blocker but struggles in space. C Andre Gurode (6-4, 318), a Pro Bowl starter in '07 along with Adams and RG Leonard Davis (6-6, 353), is strong and creates movement at the point by pounding on people. Another highly aggressive player is Davis, a classic mauler for the run game. He has lost some athletic ability over eight seasons but takes up so much space that rushers have trouble getting around him. RT Marc Colombo (6-8, 318), a three-year starter, is fundamentally sound but also highly susceptible to speed.
Romo (6-2, 224) made the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons starting and is off to another terrific start. He's nimble in the pocket, sets up well, stands tall and gets the ball out quickly. His arm is good, not great. He's extremely accurate, shows nice touch and is able to ad-lib. Plus, he can run. Yet, with just 28 starts under his belt, he still will panic, can be loose with the ball and forces the ball at times. Brad Johnson (6-4½, 235) took 42 snaps in '07 as Romo's backup. At 40, he doesn't have much arm left.
Merely the 10th RB drafted in '05, Marion Barber (5-11½, 225) has emerged as the best. His good but not great speed (4.51) is the only thing separating him from the NFL's top two or three backs. Barber runs angry. He smashes over and through tacklers, dishes out almost as much punishment as he absorbs and usually falls forward. He's also skilled enough to catch passes on routes other than just check-downs. Rookie dynamo Felix Jones (5-10, 212), the 22nd pick, has 4.45 speed and instant acceleration, fights for every inch and is an outstanding receiver. FB Deon Anderson (5-10½, 245) is smart (27 on the Wonderlic) and catches well but isn't a heavy-duty blocker.
Phillips guides this unit but allows coordinator Brian Stewart to make the calls. Phillips' version of the 3-4 really is a 5-2 because the OLBs rush more than drop. The Cowboys play a one-gap system, seldom send more than five and employ "quarters" as their primary coverage.
NT Jay Ratliff (6-3½, 302), a seventh-round pick in '05, is strong enough to hold the point and quick enough to be disruptive. He also has far more pass rush than most interior players. His backup, Tank Johnson (6-2½, 305), has ability but gets shoved around too much. LE Marcus Spears (6-4, 315) is more disruptive than RE Chris Canty (6-7, 304) but isn't as consistent. Spears has exceptional quickness for his size and can be a special player but doesn't do it all the time. Canty is a good athlete and can get up the field, but isn't overly stout. Backup DEs Jason Hatcher (6-6, 304) and Stephen Bowen (6-5, 304) are threats. Each registered emphatic first-half knockdowns against Green Bay's Daryn Colledge in the '07 meeting.
WOLB DeMarcus Ware (6-4, 262) and SOLB Greg Ellis (6-5, 262) focus on rushing. Ware flies off the edge, using his 4.55 speed, long arms, 38½-inch vertical jump and smarts (20 on the Wonderlic) to cause havoc. Ellis, 33, has lost some of his 4.82 speed but is cagey and uses his hands very well. Anthony Spencer (6-2½, 255), the 26th pick in '07, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 20 but returned Monday night and relieved Ellis. An exceptional talent, Spencer will soon become a major player. ILB Bradie James (6-2½, 245), a four-year starter, stuffs lead blocks, is physical against the run and moves well. ILB Zach Thomas (5-10½, 242) signed a one-year, $2 million deal Feb. 23 after being cut by Miami. Thomas, 35, isn't what he was even a few years ago but makes plays because of his brain. Speedy Kevin Burnett (6-2½, 242), a second-round pick in '05, enters in nickel and upgrades the underneath coverage.
Replacing injured SS Roy Williams, a five-time Pro Bowl player, will be Patrick Watkins (6-4½, 215), a fifth-round pick in '06 who did start nine games as a rookie. Watkins has great straight-line speed (4.42) but isn't a heavy or dependable hitter. The Cowboys also will play three cornerbacks and one safety, with RC Anthony Henry (6-0½, 207) going inside. Henry probably is more physical than Watkins. Both Henry and nickel back Adam "Pacman" Jones (5-9½, 186) squat on routes and can be beaten on double moves. Henry has marginal speed (4.60) but fine ball skills. Jones, the sixth pick in '05, is fast, physical and quick. LC Terence Newman (5-10½, 190) returned from a groin injury to play 34 snaps against Philadelphia. He tackles well but isn't an elite player. The dime back is rookie CB Mike Jenkins (5-10, 190), the 25th pick who is shaping up after a dismal start. Talented FS Ken Hamlin (6-2½, 208) is a heady six-year veteran who ties it all together. He directs traffic from deep center field, finds the ball and is a jarring hitter.
K Nick Folk made the all-rookie team over Green Bay's Mason Crosby. Scouts admire Folk's toughness in the clutch, and his seven kickoffs Monday night had averages of 65.9 yards and 3.99 seconds of hang time. Mat McBriar, the Pro Bowl punter in '06, has a huge leg and hangs them high. On Monday, Felix Jones returned six kickoffs for 247 yards (41.2), including a 98-yard TD. Adam Jones returned three punts for TDs in '06 for Tennessee. Burnett leads strong cover units.
Cowboys have yet to find success at Lambeau …
Valley Ranch was largely quiet Tuesday.
The players were off, but Roy Williams had surgery on his fractured right forearm, and tight end Jason Witten had an MRI on his slightly separated right shoulder.
Williams is expected to miss 3-4 weeks; Witten is expected to practice today.
The coaches, most of them with little or no sleep, were in the office early Tuesday morning thinking ahead – not behind – to Green Bay, Sunday's opponent.
"It's hard to go back to [Monday's] game," Phillips said.
That's the nature of the NFL. The wins can't be enjoyed as long as you want, and the losses can't be agonized over for long, either.
Hours earlier at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys pulled out a 41-37 thriller against Philadelphia. Inside the joyous locker room as Monday night closed in on Tuesday morning, owner and general manager Jerry Jones leaned against a wall and said, "We've got a better team than we had last year."
But, he cautioned, much more work needs to be done.
Ten feet away, linebacker Zach Thomas talked about the defense bouncing back after giving up 23 first-half points but only seven in the second half. "But it's fun when you have an offense that's on a roll like ours is right now."
Across the hall, moments after Tony Romo had 13 stitches removed from his chin, the quarterback was happy but lamented two mistakes that led to two Eagles touchdowns.
"You just try and let those go," Romo said, "and come right back and try and score the next time."
It was mature talk from a team that Romo says, "wants to enjoy the process," and not get caught up in the wins and losses.
"I think it's a team atmosphere," coach Wade Phillips said. "It's not an offense-defense atmosphere. They believe in each other. They all thought we were going to win that game.
"When we were nine points behind, there wasn't any panic," Phillips said. "We've got to do things right. We've got to correct mistakes, and we've got to overcome mistakes. That's what you do in football."
So there was no basking in the glow of Terrell Owens' two touchdown grabs that moved him into second place in NFL history behind Jerry Rice or the second-half defensive performance against the Eagles.
The attention was on the 2-0 Packers.
Last November these teams, both 10-1 at the time, met at Texas Stadium with the top seed in the NFC on the line. The Cowboys won, 37-27.
This time, it's a Week 3 meeting at Lambeau Field, where the Cowboys have never won in five visits.
The Cowboys have a 15-12 lead in the all-time series against the Packers. But the Cowboys have lost all five games at Lambeau Field.
Nov. 13, 1960: Packers 41, Cowboys 7
Green Bay greats Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Ray Nitschke didn't have many problems on a 51-degree day.
Dec. 31, 1967: Packers 21, Cowboys 17
In the 1967 NFC Championship Game – otherwise known as the Ice Bowl – Jethro Pugh and Willie Townes couldn't stop Bart Starr from scoring on a 6-inch quarterback keeper with 13 seconds remaining.
Oct. 8, 1989: Packers 31, Cowboys 13
Rookie Troy Aikman missed the game with a broken finger, and Steve Walsh made his first NFL start. Walsh was 18-for-29 passing for 193 yards in a forgettable outing.
Nov. 23, 1997: Packers 45, Cowboys 17
Brett Favre threw four touchdown passes, and Dorsey Levens had what was then a team-record 190 rushing yards as a 10-10 game turned into a rout.
Oct. 24, 2004: Packers 41, Cowboys 20
Favre completed 23 of 29 passes for 258 yards. Ahman Green had a 90-yard touchdown run, the longest by an opponent in Cowboys history.
Peter King on the Eagles …
Donovan McNabb played one of the best games I've ever seen him play. When McNabb went left and juked and tried to fight his way through two Cowboys on the sideline, I thought, "This is a confident quarterback.'' I mean, no longer must McNabb be thinking in the back of his mind that he needs to stay in the pocket and show everyone he can be the ultimate pocket passer. Sometimes the situation requires you to run for 10 yards, as he did on this particular scramble, and McNabb showed he's out there doing whatever it takes to win.
The command he had of the offense, the extreme confidence he showed ... I can't grade him down at all except for his bout of first-half wildness, when he threw the ball into the ground three or four times. We say it every year, but if McNabb plays 16 games, the Eagles are going to be really, really good.
Brian Westbrook. I don't care about his stats; don't even tell me what they were. The great thing about this guy is he can get splattered like a squirrel in the road by a Hummer on one play, then he's back to make a play the next. What must he feel like the day after a game? Remember Larry Brown, the old Redskins running back? You couldn't believe the abuse Brown took on Sundays, and then he'd be back, fresh, the next week, running over somebody.
Now that LaDainian Tomlinson is getting nicked, Westbrook, right now, is the best all-around back in football for my money. He's what Tiki Barber was for the Giants for the last three years of his career -- an indefatigable runner and receiver you could build an offense around.
The Eagles lost this game because they couldn't get pressure on Tony Romo. Period. They've got the terminally underrated Trent Cole and Chris Clemons to fix that, and it must be better. But I wouldn't worry. Cole's not going to be as invisible as he was last night.
One final point about the incredible NFC East: This division just might have the best three teams in football right now, with the Cowboys (still number one), Giants and Eagles. The only team through two weeks that I'd put in the middle of them is Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, in a story that is amazingly disappointing given the summer we have experienced with this guy, Josh Howard is proving he wants to be disliked …
Josh Howard's decision-making has again come into question after he was filmed disrespecting the national anthem.
And the Mavericks are taking steps to help Howard and their other players avoid controversy in the future.
In a video posted on YouTube, the swingman is shown at Allen Iverson's charity flag football game in July. When the national anthem is being sung, various participants are shown mugging for the camera. When the camera gets to Howard, he says: " 'The Star-Spangled Banner' is going on. I don't celebrate this [expletive]. I'm black."
Howard goes on to make a difficult-to-discern comment that includes a reference to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The video comes on the heels of his July arrest for a late-night street race in North Carolina and last season's admission that he is an occasional marijuana user. He also had a birthday bash for himself after the Mavericks lost Game 4 of their playoff series against New Orleans, even though coach Avery Johnson had asked the players to keep extracurricular activities to a minimum during the playoffs.
Owner Mark Cuban said the Mavericks dealt with Howard's flag football episode after it happened in July.
"That said, we will be going through some advanced communication-skill sessions together this training camp," Cuban said Tuesday. "I have explained to him that cellphone cameras are not your friend and that what you think you said on camera is never what people will hear when it shows up on YouTube or TV.
"There is only one universal response that works: 'Both teams played hard.' "
This is not the first time Howard has been cast in an un-American light. He rejected an offer to join the U.S. Olympic team when he said the initial training camp in 2006 conflicted with his summer camps.
Howard's agent, Mark Schwartz, did not return phone messages.
The Mavericks received numerous off-season trade offers for Howard, but almost all were from teams who presumed a low-ball offer might prompt a deal. Team officials have said repeatedly they're not interested in trading Howard.
"Josh really is a good guy with a great heart," Cuban said. "He just doesn't do a good job of showing that side of himself publicly. We will work on that."
On to hockey, where the Stars are about to open training camp. They have two kids you need to know all about, one who is paid (Brunnstrom) but the other is the one I am excited about – 21 year old James Neal …he is going to be good…
When James Neal arrived at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament last year, he thought he was ready for the NHL.
This year, he understands just how tough that jump will be.
Neal scored two third-period goals Sunday night and helped the Stars prospects take a 5-4 come-from-behind victory against prospects from the Columbus Blue Jackets to go 2-0-0 in the tournament.
It's clear he's a much better player who's much more prepared for his shot at the NHL.
"I think last year was a real learning experience for James, and you can see that on the ice," said Stars co-general manager Les Jackson. "Now, he understands just how hard it is, and how much work it takes."
At 21, Neal still has a battle on his hands. Cornell grad Ray Sawada, 23, is hoping
to earn a spot on the roster. B.J. Crombeen, a 23-year-old who played eight games with the Stars last season, also is in the mix. Veteran Chris Conner, who played 22 games with Dallas, believes he can still help the Stars.
So Neal says he is taking things one day at a time.
"I want to enjoy my time here," he said. "This is a good tournament, and I think we have a chance to win it, so that's what I'm concentrating on. It's been fun."
Neal is a talented winger who still is trying to find the game he will need to play in the NHL.
He can grind on the fourth line like he did for Team Canada at the World Juniors two years ago, but he also has the credentials to be a scorer, like he was for Plymouth in helping them to the Ontario Hockey League championship two years ago. Last year, after recovering from a knee injury, he scored 13 goals in 28 games for Iowa.
So his two-goal performance Sunday wasn't a surprise.
"He has a lot of talent, and he just turned 21, so there is a process involved," said Stars coach Dave Tippett. "But he has the hunger right now, and we've seen other players step up at this age, so it's going to be very interesting to watch him in camp."
Brunnstrom trying to get comfortable …
Fabian Brunnstrom is expected to get plenty of leash this year.
Like $2.25 million worth.
Brunnstrom is quite possibly the Dallas Stars' most interesting player heading into training camp next week. The 23-year-old is a late bloomer who was undrafted and went on a whirlwind NHL recruiting tour last spring in which more than 20 teams inquired about his services. He finally chose the Stars, saying he would get his best chance for success in Dallas.
It's a good fit," he said.
Now, though, the Stars say they need to give that fit a chance to evolve. Brunnstrom, who is participating this week with the Stars' prospects at an eight-team NHL tournament here, is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster. In fact, he would have to struggle immensely to be sent to the minors at any point this season. His contract is incentive laden, but it is a max contract for his experience level. He can make $2.25 million if he fulfills all incentives, and the Stars don't expect to pay him less than $1.5 million.
"It is a significant investment, but we're not looking at it that way," said Stars co-general manager Les Jackson. "We're looking at it as he's a talented prospect who is 23 years old and who is ready to make this move. He'll be treated like any other prospect who has his ability."
Brunnstrom struggled early Saturday in a 4-3 victory over St. Louis in the prospects' tournament in his first game in a Stars uniform.
"I really felt bad," Brunnstrom said. "I wanted to do so much better. But, the second period was not as bad, and the third period was better."
Brunnstrom is seen as a top-10 draft pick as far as talent goes. He is listed at 6-2, 203 pounds and is considered a magnificent skater and fantastic passer. He was not good enough to play at the elite level in Sweden until last season and also was not selected for the World Junior roster in Sweden. However, he had 79 points (38 goals, 41 assists) in 49 games for Boras at the lower level in Sweden two seasons ago. That pushed him up to Farjestads, where he had a respectable 37 points (nine goals, 28 assists) in 54 games, ranking 17th in the Swedish Elite league.
"I think that season gave him a lot of confidence," Jackson said.
But how do the Stars get the most out of Brunnstrom? They believe he needs plenty of time to ease into the job.
"We'll have patience, that's for sure," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We know it's a big step for him, and we've seen with Loui [Eriksson] that it takes some time."
DeSean Jackson’s goof
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