Friday, October 31, 2008

McCoy should learn from Leinart

On the eve of what could very well be the highest scoring game in recent college football (Texas @ Texas Tech), let's reflect on the recent decision by Longhorns starting quarterback Colt McCoy to declare he's returning to Austin next fall for his senior season. So let's kick around the question that plagues so many collegiate junior football stars:

Stay in college or turn pro early?

Colt McCoy is currently quarterbacking the nation's top team. Texas is scoring at will against all opponents and against a porous pass defense like Texas Tech, McCoy might throw for 12 TDs this Saturday (and based on Graham Harrell's ability against Texas's similarly flawed pass defense, McCoy might need to).

And he has valiantly proclaimed he'll be back in Texas instead of in an NFL locker room next fall. Much rejoicing in Austin indeed. Much like the cheers in Los Angeles when USC's Heisman-winning quarterback decided to pass up the opportunity to be the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and returned for a his senior year.

When Leinart announced he would return to USC in January 2005, the USC fight song started playing in my head. Dreams of an unprecedented third straight national championship filled my mind. I didn't agree with Leinart's decision, but as a USC fan, I loved it.

Here we are in the middle of the 2008 NFL season, and it's clear Leinart is not better off for remaining one extra year in the college football ranks.

Had the USC QB entered the 2004 NFL Draft after guiding the Trojans to an Orange Bowl route over Oklahoma to clinch the national championship, Leinart would have most certainly been the No. 1 overall pick of the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, San Fran drafted Alex Smith, signing him to a six-year, $49 million contract which included $24 million guaranteed. One year later after losing the national championship game to Texas and Vince Young, Leinart was drafted No. 10 by the Arizona Cardinals, receiving a six-year $51 million contract with $14 million guaranteed.

Leinart was also the very last member of his draft class to finally sign his contract. Basically, he thought he was worth his 2005 value. Well, as we all know in looking at today's economy, sometimes stocks can go down.

Now, realize Leinart didn't bomb out. He still received a good contract, and he'll take over the reigns in Arizona next season as Kurt Warner will retire at the end of the year. Both Leinart and Smith have dealt with season-ending injuries and being replaced as starters in their young careers. Leinart will still more than likely be a better pro than Smith. But Leinart could have been the beginning of a great overhaul in San Francisco that restored that franchise to the top of the ranks. Instead, here we are in 2008, three years into Leinart's career.

Maybe next year Matt will contribute. And maybe while he is, Colt McCoy will be in the NFL along with him, where he belongs.

Opening with a bang, then clang

The Dallas Mavericks 2008-2009 edition debuted last night, bringing back memories of seasons past. Fast-tempo, running, high-scoring offense. Little defense. High energy through the first three quarters. And then, in a tribute to so many Mavericks teams of yore, a fourth quarter jack-'em-up-fest.

The Houston Rockets knocked off the Mavs, 112-102, at the AAC in Dallas' home opener. It's not disappointing because I was expecting this team to go 82-0, but frankly, I would have liked to see anything during the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki played amazing for three quarters, scoring 35 points before adding only one point, on a technical foul free throw no less, in the fourth quarter.

But on a festive opening night in Dallas, the Mavs' second-fiddle Josh Howard kicked off the night by scoring at will, quickly erasing the memories of a checkered offseason with a 15-point first quarter. Throughout the first three quarters, J-Ho displayed great athleticism and even dare I say decision-making (4 assists). At 8:18 in the 3rd quarter, J-Ho slashed to the basket and finished with a strong two-hand jam. At that point, I thought, "I don't know who these Mavericks are, but I like 'em!"

After that jam, Howard made one other field goal the rest of the night, his lone 4th quarter bucket to finish the night with 28 points. Another solid night for Howard: 28 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 6-9 from the free throw line in 41 minutes. Once again, it looks great from the stat sheet, but to the trained eye of an MFFL, we know when those points are being compiled. Don't get me wrong, over the course of an NBA game, someone needs to score points to get the total high enough to compete. You can't score only in the fourth. But you can't score not at all in the fourth either.

One other thing that kinda irked me. At 5:42 in the 3rd, J-Kidd swished a three-poi- what? his foot was on the line? I've liked what I've seen with Jason Kidd so far this game, but why does he always have his toe on the line when shooting a should-be three-pointer? If the NBA kept stats on toe-on-the-line two-pointers, J-Kidd would have to be the league leader.

4:38 in the 4th: J-Ho, crossover, clank. Same old, same old.

Ron Artest got a technical for his history according to announcer Reggie Miller. Artest, if he's trying to get to Yao Ming to defend him as Miller suggests, should have gone around Josh Howard and Jason Kidd instead of trying to go through them. Maybe just a harmless accident, but that's what happens when you've got Artest's history.

Dallas is an older team in a deep division and scary conference. The Spurs, Rockets, Suns, Lakers, Hornets, Nuggets, Jazz (the other playoff teams from last season) are all arguable just as good if not better. Then there's the Warriors, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder, and pretty much everyone except the Grizzlies making up ground behind them.

My bold Mavericks season prediction:
They will finish third in the Southwest Division, behind New Orleans and Houston (yes, ahead of San Antonio), and will make the playoffs as a 6th/7th seed. Once you get in the post season, anything can happen (see 2007 series versus Golden State), so let's not worry about that just yet.

Other Mavericks takes:
ESPN's Marc Stein sees a fast-paced team in Dallas this season. Let's hope their age doesn't catch up with them.

The Mavericks, according to one veteran scout, "probably play the fastest pace in the Western Conference" now that Mike D'Antoni has relocated from Phoenix to New York, with new coach Rick Carlisle installing a system heavy on ball and player movement and featuring elements of the Princeton offense Jason Kidd ran in New Jersey.

For three quarters Thursday night, Dallas definitely lived up to that rep.

The Mavericks had racked up 30 fast-break points entering the fourth quarter when the combination of Houston's improved transition D and Dallas' repeated inability to get stops left the Mavs scuffling in the half court to keep up with the surging Rockets. With Ron Artest on Josh Howard and Chuck Hayes bodying Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas' big guns managed just one basket between them in the final period after scoring a combined 61 points to that point.

"Look," Carlisle said, reminding assembled reporters that the Mavericks are still adjusting to the new system. "There's going to be a formula that's going to be the right formula for us. We're not Loyola Marymount from the late '80s and we're not Phoenix from the last four years, but we have to use Jason Kidd's abilities to generate easy baskets to the best of our ability. And at the same time we've got to do it in a way that doesn't erode our defense."

I wonder if 2008-09 is going to be another season of the world pointing out how this team, anchored around Dirk Nowitzki, just isn't "tough enough" to win a title.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: The Mavs settled for way too many jump shots and didn't get near enough stops in the fourth quarter.

That was the consensus opinion of the three All-Star-caliber players in the Dallas locker room. Different coach, same ol' late-game problems, at least in the season-opening loss to the Rockets.

The Mavs didn't play much defense the whole night, but they were able to trade buckets with the Rockets until it was winning time. The Mavs managed to make only six of 24 shots from the floor in the fourth quarter.

"We took some tough jump shots and got a little stagnant again," said Dirk Nowitzki, who had only one of his game-high 36 points in the fourth quarter. "You know, we didn't get many stops, didn't get the running game going. We just didn't have a good flow to the game."

Added Josh Howard, who had two of his 28 points in the fourth: "We just didn't execute like we should have. We should have got to the basket, I think, instead of settle for jump shots."

Jason Kidd echoed the too-many-jumpers take, but he's much more worried about the Mavs' miserable defense.

"We put up enough points," Kidd said after his seven-point, 12-assist performance, "but we didn't stop anybody."

That was Rick Carlisle's primary concern, too. After all, the best way for the Mavs to get easy baskets is to get out on the fast break, which is tough to do when you're taking the ball out of the basket to start most possessions.

And in the Battle of the Embattled (Josh Howard vs. Ron Artest), advantage Artest.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The beauty of winning

While it pains me to say it... Congratulations to the Phillies

As much as I was rooting against them, any time I witness a team celebrate a championship, I can't help but share in their excitement. A lot of people talk about how pro athletes don't care about anything other than cashing their fat checks, but to those people I ask them to simply witness any championship celebration. Witness the joy and the emotion that overflows at that moment when the final out is made or the final seconds tick off a clock, and it's clear to see why these guys play and why people like us watch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dynamic Duo: Jones, Cuban team up

Two of the most high-profile owners in major American professional sports are teaming up to bring the NBA's 2010 All-Star game to North Texas. Mark Cuban's Mavericks will host the All-Star weekend at Jerry Jones' new Cowboys stadium in Arlington. Frankly, these are two owners that any sports fan should want running their favorite team. Each places a high priority on winning while at the same time building the franchise brand. While they both have made questionable (at best) decisions over the years, their passion is undeniable. I ask you, are there any better owners in all of sports?

UPDATE: All-Star game officially announced

VOW: Mike Singletary Press Conference

Past VOW

The Fall (anything but) Classic

What is going on with the World Series? Umpires are admittedly blowing calls, Bud Selig is changing rules and not telling anyone, and Las Vegas already declared the Phillies the Game 5 winners. Did I mention that Selig has now postponed Game 5's completion to Wednesday?

Poor Major League Baseball. Look at the other major sports championship games/series over the past year.

The NFL had 18-0 New England, vying for the first ever 19-0 perfect season against a team from nation's largest market that snuck into the Super Bowl after winning three road playoff games. Super Bowl XLII (that 42 for the Roman Numeral impaired) was a back-and-forth affair full of drama until the final game-winning drive. The helmet catch. The end of the Pats dynasty? Eli Manning winning MVP one year after Peyton. One on of the greatest championship games of recent memory.

The NHL pitted it's "New York Yankees" franchise, the Detroit Red Wings, against the face of the league in Sid the Kid and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ratings were near pre-lockout levels as a team that hockey fans love to hate faced off against a player that is truly entertaining to watch. A six-game thriller that hockey fans really got into. Detroit won it's fourth cup since 1997.

The NBA and televising partner ABC received their wet dream Finals match up when the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers renewed a coast-to-coast championship rivalry so full of history that the series needed every bit of the six games it lasted to cover all of it. Home teams won 5 of the 6 games, keeping the series close. Could Kobe win with Gasol and without Shaq? Will this be KG's year? What about Paul Pierce's injury and dramatic return? And Garnett let the world know that ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE!

What is Major League Baseball getting?

It missed out on the dream series of Manny Ramirez taking his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to its first World Series in 20 years against the defending champions and Ramirez's former team, the Boston Red Sox. Two of the nation's biggest markets. A championship grudge match to follow up the NBA's LA vs. Boston series. Joe Torre once again managing against the Red Sox in the playoffs. It never materialized.

The consolation prize?

Tampa Bay versus Philadelphia. And now, the supposed "True Baseball Fan's Series" is being so mishandled, it's starting to make the tied 2002 All Star game look like the highlight of Selig's tenure. I think I'm going to watch the rest of the series the same way that people slow down on the freeway when approaching an accident. You can't not look. It's becoming so bad that with each inning the drama builds of not who will win the game, but what could go wrong next.

And now, thanks to a 48 hour weather delay that now includes snow, we won't know until at least Wednesday. This might be one of those series that no one outside the winning city remembers who won. All anyone will remember is what a mess it's been.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Bucs stopped here: Dal 13, TB 9

Talk about a much-needed win. I guess Wade Phillips taking over the defense was more than just talk. The Cowboys gave up nine points. Nine! Bucs QB Jeff Garcia faced constant pressure. Young DBs held up against veteran receivers. On the other side of the ball, Brad Johnson did not turn the ball over despite taking big hits. WR Roy Williams nabbed his first TD as a Cowboy. And the special teams forced the game's only turnover. Stop short of calling it a "complete game" but this registers as a big win in Big D.

The Cowboys reach the halfway point of their season 5-3, third in their division. If the playoffs started today, they'd be the sixth seed. They are still without Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Terrance Newman and now Jason Witten and Anthony Spencer. Next week's opponent is the defending Super Bowl champs at their place. And yet, all that chaos, turmoil and gloom in Cowboysland has been put on hold after Sunday's 13-9 win over the Buccaneers.

Dare I bring up "Mr. Fix It"?

But it sure seems fixed after Sunday. FOX's Jay Glazer reported on the pregame show that some Dallas defensive players said that nothing had really changed this week as far as the preparation or Phillips' involvement. But the product on the field was clearly at a higher level. The defense played with a swagger this team hadn't displayed since a the win in Green Bay. 'Fire up' doesn't begin to describe it. The intensity permeated Texas Stadium.

Despite early boos directed toward a sputtering offense, Johnson did the job of a backup quarterback - take care of business in any way possible until Romo is back. It didn't have to be pretty, and lord knows it wasn't, but Johnson's conservative play resulted in a win. Period.

If Johnson wants to write a thank you letter to the Tampa Bay defense for some untimely penalties, however, it might not a horrible idea. The Bucs committed four penalties for 28 yards, including a drive-saving 15-yard personal foul for Ronde Barber's horse collar tackle of MB3 on 3rd & 12. Dallas marched on to score the game's only TD on a fade pass to Roy "Hook 'em" Williams on the final snap of the first half.

Enjoy the win, Cowboys fans. Next week's trip to East Rutherford, N.J., will serve as a true measuring stick for a team still greatly depleted across the board.

Quick hits:

+ Jerry Jones giving Wade Phillips the game ball seems somewhat emasculating for an NFL head coach. As much as I think Wade deserves the game ball to symbolize the great defensive effort the Cowboys put forth, I can't help but wonder if Wade saw this as the owner praising him in front of his team or undercutting him as the voice in the locker room.

+ I wonder how Marion Barber will hold up with Felix Jones still out. Today he ran the ball 25 times for 71 yards (2.8 yards per carry). He's definitely capable of running over and through defenders at any given moment, but I wonder how many of those moments will be late in games a la 2007? The Cowboys did not hand the ball off to anyone other than Barber on Sunday.

+ No, the defense did not force a turnover (again). But did you happen to see how three trips to the red zone for Tampa Bay ended? Zero touchdowns.

+ This one-liner about Brad Johnson, while disturbingly true, did make me laugh, so I wanted to share.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood in the middle of a jubilant locker room Sunday looking as if he'd just stepped out of a sauna -- in a blue sportcoat no less. Moments earlier, he'd awarded his embattled coach Wade Phillips the game ball.

Never mind that quarterback Brad Johnson had just set the league back 30 years with his 3.7 yards per attempt average on -- wait for it -- 33 attempts.

+ The loss of Witten is a much bigger factor while Brad Johnson remains the Cowboys QB. While it might be for only one more game, Johnson does check down more than often (the longest completion of the day: 14 yards), and having a sure-handed TE like Witten underneath the formation would be extremely helpful. The guy is also a great blocker, and it wouldn't hurt to have someone helping out in protection against the Giants defense next week.

+ Nine points! Just wanted to say it again.

+ I didn't want to say anything, but this just bothered me. Forget Bill Lumberg. Bobby Carpenter embodies everything that is soulless and wrong on this earth. Any good will he earned by recovering the fumble on the second half's opening kick off, he lost on the Cowboys kick off after Nick Folk's 3rd quarter field goal. On Bucs KR Clifton Smith's return, he tried to cut back at the 20 yard line, slipped and fell. Carpenter bellyflopped onto him then sprang up and threw his hands in the air as if he had just obliterated the guy. Seriously, Bobby Carpenter. It's on film. You didn't do anything more than touch him down. Not even the worst hit Smith experienced on the afternoon...

+ Punter Sam Paulescu didn't have a great day kicking, finishing with an average punt length of 33 yards, however the length of his kicks is not why he'll be remembered. It's one thing to be tripped up by the punter on a "oh so close" return, but it's quite another to be lit up. I leave you today with this...

Dimming Stars?

Attended my first Stars game of their 15th Anniversary season here in Dallas, and from a fan standpoint, it was a wildly entertaining game. But the vibe from Stars fans outside the AAC after the 6-5 OT loss gave off the impression the team was in shambles.

"We shoulda traded Turco last season when we had the chance!"

"Brendan Morrow is soft!"

"Brad Richards gives us nothing and we gave up our goalie of the future for a guy to take up half our cap space!"

Negative much? Yes, the Stars have not played up to the hype early in the 2008-09 season, but let's at least remember it is of course early in the season. Through nine (yes, nine, out of 82) games, Dallas is 3-4-2, and their 8 points puts them in a five-way tie for eighth place in the Western Conference. Again, it's NINE games into the season. Calm down and give this team a chance to gel.

After going 2-1 on their NYC-area road trip, this home-ice loss wasn't exactly a big confidence booster, but the team did show flashes of what propelled them to the Conference Finals last season.

There's no denying this team has something special in Fabian Brunnstrom. A nifty pass from a behind-the-net Avery to Brunnstrom became a behind-the-goalie puck. Leads rookies in goals with five. Avery made a big night of it as well, notching his first goal with the Stars. New players making an impact? Check.

Offensively, the team came through. Five goals in the NHL should be enough to win. Immediately blame will fall on Marty Turco. Some of that is deservedly so. The fourth goal he gave up tonight was a direct result of a careless Turco turnover. At other times, he continued to bail out a defense that has been sloppier than Reunion Arena ice. Turco is also not corralling some of his saves, allowing for plenty of second-chance goals off of easy rebounds.

With the game tied, 4-4, in the third period, Turco stopped a hard shot from his right only to see the puck trickle off him right across the crease to a capitalizing Capital in Tyler Sloan.

And yet with the game having swung so quickly back in Washington's favor, Dallas' leaders Brenden Morrow and Mike Modano came through to team up on the game-tying goal with 56 seconds left in the third period to force overtime. Late-game goal to save a point from this game? Check.

Take 'em any way you can get 'em. The Stars won't sneak up on anyone this season like they did in the 2008 playoffs. Frankly, they wouldn't have had to if they hadn't stubbed their collective toe in several late-season games. But despite the No. 5 seeding, the team still made it all the way to hockey's final four. So while the early season happenings of the Stars have been subpar, don't consider a season with 89% still to be played already over.

Amen to these comments left on the DMN Stars blog by my good friend Taylor...

Posted by Taylor @ 10:14 PM Sat, Oct 25, 2008

I can't figure out who drives me more nuts: this team or this team's so-called "fans".

Are they playing well right now? No they're not. A team shouldn't have to score five a night to win. You really can't expect to win if you're giving up 30+ shots a night (unless you're facing the Islanders, who reeled of 60 tonight and lost).

I still think a lot of the issues have to do with defense. The young guys are having some issues (Niskanen is -6 and Fistric -2) and the forwards are not playing as defensive as they could (Bruunstom is a good example of this. His goal scoring prowess is obvious, but he's not defending as well as he could). We've got young players who are still learning the game and having "sophmore slumps" (even Ovechkin had one, if you count 42 goals a "slump"). And we have others (Ribeiro, Morrow, Richards, Avery) who are startin to come around and play better.

Has Turco been part of the problem? He has and I think he'll be the first to tell you that. He's had two puck handling issues that have led to goals for the opposition and hasn't stopped shots he probably should have. But he'll be the first to tell you that. If anything, Marty admits he's responsible for his actions and says the right things. He does need to start "doing" instead of just "talking". Which I think he will and the good ship Dallas Stars will turn around. Am I against Tobias Stephen playing a full game? Not at all (I don't want Marty playing 65 this year) and we need to see what he has.

I still think he's taking too much blame here. The entire team isn't playing as well as they could and I think they know that. Are Lehtinen and Zubov the answer? Maybe. Zubov's a good tutor and Lehtinen is, well, Lehtinen.

Guys and gals just a reminder: it's JUST. TEN. GAMES. It's an 82 game season. So can we wait a month in before calling this a disaster?


The Stars may not be shining brightly, but they certainly haven't burned out. Plenty of hockey to play. Plenty.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Midseason records

With Cowboys fans worldwide panicking about the teams slipping playoff chances, I decided to break down some numbers and see which teams with that records at the half-way point make the playoffs. I broke NFL teams into three midseason categories: those with a 6-2 record or better, teams with a 5-3 or 4-4 record (where Dallas will be at midseason), and teams that were 3-5 or worse. From there, I wanted to see how many of those teams from each category made the postseason, the emphasis being on the 5-3/4-4 category as that's where the Cowboys will be after the Tampa Bay game this Sunday.

Over the past 10 NFL seasons, 112 teams have reached midseason at 5-3 or 4-4, and of those 112, 55 have made the playoffs, just under 50%. Most interesting stat I found from this is just how many teams that reached 6-2 or better failed to make the playoffs (11 out of 75). Anyway, enjoy these numbers.

Total Breakdown 1998-2007
6-2 or better teams: 75
Made playoffs: 64
Missed playoffs: 11

Final record breakdown:
16-0 (1)
15-1 (2)
14-2 (8)
13-3 (15)
12-4 (12)
11-5 (11)
10-6 (11)
9-7 (7)
8-8 (7)
7-9 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 112
Made playoffs: 55
Missed playoffs: 57

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (7)
11-5 (12)
10-5-1 (1)
10-6 (23)
9-6-1 (1)
9-7 (20)
8-8 (17)
7-9 (15)
6-10 (10)
5-11 (3)
4-12 (2)
3-5 or worse: 128
Made playoffs: 1 ('02 NYJ, AFC East champs at 9-7)
Missed playoffs: 127

2007 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 8
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
16-0 (1)
13-3 (3)
10-6 (3)
7-9 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 11
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 6

Final record breakdown:
11-5 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (2)
7-9 (3)
5-11 (1)
4-12 (1)
3-5 or worse: 13
All 13 missed post-season
2007 Regular Season
team ... midseason ... final record (*playoff team)
DAL ... 7-1 ... 13-3*
NYG ... 6-2 ... 10-6*
WAS ... 5-3 ... 9-7*
PHI ... 3-5 ... 8-8

GB ... 7-1 ... 13-3*
MIN ... 3-5 ... 8-8
DET ... 6-2 ... 7-9
CHI ... 3-5 ... 7-9

TB ... 4-4 ... 9-7*
CAR ... 4-4 ... 7-9
NO ... 4-4 ... 7-9

ATL ... 2-6 ... 4-12

SEA ... 4-4 ... 10-6*
ARI ... 3-5 ... 8-8
SF ... 2-6 ... 5-11
STL ... 0-8 ... 3-13

NE ... 8-0 ... 16-0*
BUF ... 4-4 ... 7-9
NYJ ... 1-7 ... 4-12
MIA ... 0-8 ... 1-5

PIT ... 6-2 ... 10-6*
CLE ... 5-3 ... 10-6
CIN ... 2-6 ... 7-9
BAL ... 4-4 ... 5-11

IND ... 7-1 ... 13-3*
JAX ... 5-3 ... 11-5*
TEN ... 6-2 ... 10-6*
HOU ... 3-5 ... 8-8

SD ... 4-4 ... 11-5*
DEN ... 3-5 ... 7-9
OAK ... 2-6 ... 4-12
KC ... 4-4 ... 4-12

***if requested, I can post the regular seasons records like this for each of the past 10 seasons. Didn't have time to do it all this morning, so if it's something yall want to look over, let me know, and I'll post it.***

2006 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 8
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
14-2 (1)
13-3 (2)
12-4 (2)
10-6 (1)
9-7 (1)
8-8 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 11
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 6

Final record breakdown:
10-6 (2)
9-7 (3)
8-8 (4)
7-9 (1)
6-10 (1)
3-5 or worse: 13
All 13 missed post-season

2006 Regular Season
team ... midseason ... final record (*playoff team)

PHI ... 4-4 ... 10-6*
DAL ... 4-4 ... 9-7 *
NYG ... 6-2 ... 8-8 * -- just barely
WAS ... 3-5 ... 5-11

CHI ... 7-1 ... 13-3 *
GB ... 3-5 ... 8-8
MIN ... 4-4 ... 6-10
DET ... 2-6 ... 3-13

NO ... 6-2 ... 10-6 *
CAR ... 4-4 ... 8-8
ATL ... 5-3 ... 7-9
TB ... 2-6 ... 4-12

SEA ... 5-3 ... 9-7 *
STL ... 4-4 ... 8-8
SF ... 3-5 ... 7-9
ARI ... 1-7 ... 5-11

NE ... 6-2 ... 12-4 *
NYJ ... 4-4 ... 10-6 *
BUF ... 3-5 ... 7-9
MIA ... 2-6 ... 6-10

BAL ... 6-2 ... 13-3 *
PIT ... 2-6 ... 8-8
CIN ... 4-4 ... 8-8
CLE ... 2-6 ... 4-12

IND ... 8-0 ... 12-4 *
JAX ... 5-3 ... 8-8
TEN ... 2-6 ... 8-8
HOU ... 2-6 ... 6-10

SD ... 6-2 ... 14-2 *
KC ... 5-3 ... 9-7 *
DEN ... 6-2 ... 9-7
OAK ... 2-6 ... 2-14

2005 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 8

Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
14-2 (1)
13-3 (2)
11-5 (4)
8-8 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 10
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 5

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (1)
11-5 (2)
10-6 (3)
9-7 (2)
6-10 (2)
3-5 or worse: 14
All 14 missed post-season

2004 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 5
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 0

Final record breakdown:
15-1 (1)
14-2 (1)
13-3 (1)
11-5 (1)
10-6 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 12
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 5

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (3)
8-8 (2)
7-9 (1)
6-10 (2)
3-5 or worse: 15
All 15 missed post-season

2003 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 8
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
14-2 (1)
13-3 (1)
12-4 (2)
11-5 (1)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 9
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 4

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (2)
10-6 (4)
7-9 (1)
6-10 (1)
4-12 (1)
3-5 or worse: 15
All 15 missed post-season

2002 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 7
Made playoffs: 4
Missed playoffs: 3

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (3)
10-6 (1)
9-7 (2)
8-8 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 13
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 6

Final record breakdown:
11-5 (2)
10-5-1 (1)
10-6 (2)
9-6-1 (1)
9-7 (3)
8-8 (2)
7-9 (1)
5-11 (1)
3-5 or worse: 12
Made playoffs: 1
(NYJ went from 3-5 to 9-7 to win the AFC East, beating out NE and MIA which also finished 9-7)

Missed playoffs: 11

2001 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 7
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 0

Final record breakdown:
14-2 (1)
13-3 (2)
12-4 (2)
11-5 (1)
10-6 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 14
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 9

Final record breakdown:
11-5 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (2)
8-8 (1)
7-9 (4)
6-10 (2)
5-11 (1)
3-5 or worse: 10
All 10 missed post-season

2000 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 9
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 2

Final record breakdown:
13-3 (1)
12-4 (2)
11-5 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (1)
8-8 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 9
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 4

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (1)
11-5 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (2)
8-8 (1)
7-9 (1)
3-5 or worse: 13
All 13 missed post-season

1999 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 8
Made playoffs: 7
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
14-2 (1)
13-3 (3)
9-7 (2)
8-8 (2)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 11
Made playoffs: 5
Missed playoffs: 6

Final record breakdown:
11-5 (2)
10-6 (2)
9-7 (1)
8-8 (4)
7-9 (1)
6-10 (1)
3-5 or worse: 12
All 12 missed post-season

1998 Breakdown
6-2 or better teams: 7
Made playoffs: 6
Missed playoffs: 1

Final record breakdown:
15-1 (1)
14-2 (2)
12-4 (1)
11-5 (2)
8-8 (1)
5-3 or 4-4 teams: 12
Made playoffs: 6
Missed playoffs: 6

Final record breakdown:
12-4 (1)
10-6 (3)
9-7 (2)
8-8 (3)
7-9 (2)
6-10 (1)
3-5 or worse: 15
All 15 missed post-season

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playoff possibilities

The 4-3 Cowboys didn't hit a speed bump in recent weeks. More like a brick wall. And now with the original diagnosis of Tony Romo missing 3-4 weeks settling in and optimism about an early return dying down, it's time to take a look at what the Cowboys legitimate chances are for the playoffs.

With Monte Kiffin and the original Tampa 2 defense coming to Texas Stadium this Sunday, Dallas won't have many opportunities to take deep shots down the field, which is perfectly fine considering Brad Johnson's arm strength has about as much power as Shawn Bradley driving to the hoop. Dinking and dunking with substantial yards after the catch will be the key to the Cowboys passing game, assuming that Johnson is allowed to remain upright (don't get me started).

So just for fun, I decided to look at the last 40 Super Bowl participants to see what if any struggles they encountered during their Super-seasons. Obviously there were teams that blew away the competition (2007 Patriots, 1999 Rams, 1989 49ers). On the other hand, some teams that made the big game seemed lost at times during the regular season:
+ The 2007 Giants went 1-2 in November, including an embarrassing home loss to MIN
+ The 2006 Bear has QB concerns all season long. Rex is our quarterback.
+ The 2006 Colts went 2-4 during a stretch.
+ The 2005 Steelers started 7-2 then lost three straight
+ The 2003 Panthers lost to the Texans. Also had three straight late-season defeats.
+ The 2002 Raiders were 4-0 before losing their next four games. + The 2001 Patriots started 1-3
+ The 2000 Ravens started 5-1 before dropping three straight games and going to Trent freaking Dilfer.
+ The 2000 Giants were 7-4 until Jim Fassel's guarantee. (I wish Wade Phillips would have a press conference like that JUST ONCE!)
+ The 1996 Patriots were 3-3.
+ The 1995 Steelers started 2-0 but fell to 3-4 after Week 7.
+ The 1994 Chargers started 6-0 but fell to 9-5.
+ The 1993 Bills lost 3 of 4 in late November / early December.
+ The 1991 Bills had a +2 turnover margin for the season.
+ The 1989 Broncos ended the regular season losing 3 of 4.
Looking at all these teams, the midway point of the season is when championship-caliber teams discover within themselves if they are legitimate contenders. From the point of being 5-3, 4-4, 3-5, that's pretty much the breaking point. After Sunday, Dallas will be either 5-3 or 4-4, still well within the reach of the playoffs. And like Bill Parcells used to say, once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.

Here's a look at the regular season records of teams that have made the Super Bowl, and their records in the game itself:
Since 1978 (16 game schedules - not including strike-shortened seasons)
16-0: 1 SB, 0-1
15-1: 2 SB, 2-0
14-2: 11 SB, 7-4
13-3: 13 SB, 6-7
12-4: 14 SB, 8-6
11-5: 12 SB, 3-9
10-6: 2 SB, 2-0
9-7: 1 SB, 0-1

Last 20 Super Bowl Champions

2007 NYG
Went 1-2 in November, including a 41-17 home loss to Minnesota to drop to 7-4. Also dropped two regular-season games to division-rival Cowboys before facing the team again in the playoffs (and we know how that turned out). Three road playoff wins en route to SB XLII title.

2006 IND
After a 9-0 start, hit a 2-4 late-season skid. But Peyton Manning on offense and Bob Sanders on defense provided leadership to bring Colts their first title since the days of Don Shula coaching in Baltimore.

2005 PIT
Squandered 7-2 start by losing three straight to Ravens, Colts, Bengals to fall to 7-5. Finished with eight straight wins (four regular season, four post season) including three road playoffs wins (two against Colts, Bengals) en route to SB XL title.
2004 NE
14-2 team didn't have many concerns as they plowed their way to a third title in four years.

2003 NE
Started 2-2 before winning 15 straight games.

2002 TB
Beat the teams they were supposed to beat in Jon Gruden's first season with the Bucs. Great defense gave up just 12.3 ppg in the playoffs.

2001 NE
Started 1-3 and remained a .500 team beyond halfway through the season before winning final six regular season games to go 11-5 as Tom Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe. Won tuck rule game en route to upsetting 14-point favorite "Greatest Show on Turf" in SB XXXVI. Also started the new trend of choosing to be introduced as a team at Super Bowls. Emphasis on team rather than individual throughout the season.

2000 BAL
Started 5-1 before dropping three straight games as the offense failed to score a touchdown in October. Replaced QB Tony Banks with Trent Dilfer and Ray Lewis-led defense shut down opposition as the team did not lose again. Emerged from wild card round to win SB XXXV.

1999 STL
Greatest Show on Turf and MVP Kurt Warner dropped consecutive games after 6-0 start to SB runner up Tennessee and 8-8 finisher Detroit. Responded with seven-game winning streak. Defense held up under pressure until the final play of the season (Mike Jones & Kevin Dyson).

1998 DEN
No messing around as Broncos went 14-2 during regular season in Elway's final year. Crushed Falcons in Super Bowl, 34-19.

1997 DEN
Terrell Davis emerges as unstoppable runner Elway yearned for since '83. 12-4 regular season. This one's for John!

1996 GB
Brett Favre guides Pack to 13-3 regular season, defeats Bill Parcell's Patriots in SB XXXI.

1995 DAL
Two late-season losses put 49ers in NFC Driver's Seat, but bounced back to gain home field when Atlanta upset Niners in week 17. Team faced tremendous pressure as owner Jerry Jones declared he could find 500 men who could coach team to SB title.

1994 SF
Steve Young escapes Joe Montana's shadow, making SF "first to five" in a season that included two big wins over two-time defending champion Cowboys in Week 11 and NFC Championship game.

1993 DAL
Began season 0-2 during Emmitt Smith hold out. Dropped consecutive games Thanksgiving week, including Leon Lett blocked field goal incident, to fall to 7-4 before winning eight straight for consecutive SB titles.

1992 DAL
New kids on the block went 13-3 in regular season, upset mighty San Francisco in NFC Championship game before blowing out Buffalo in SB XXVII. Not much adversity as Jimmy Johnson reigned with terror. Machiavelli did say it's better to be feared than loved. It seems he was right.

1991 WAS
Cruised to 14-2 regular season record en route to Joe Gibb's third SB win. What adversity?

1990 NYG
No. 1 defense and +20 turnover ratio shed insight on Bill Parcell's second SB title for the G-men. Did start 10-0 before a 1-3 skid in Nov/Dec. Won NFC Championship game (15-13) and Super Bowl (20-19) by three points combined. Wide right!

1989 SF
Went 14-2 in regular season as Joe Montana won another title by the Bay in George Seifert's first year coaching SanFran.

1988 SF
Only 10-6 regular season, including 2-4 stretch in Oct/Nov that dropped the team to 6-5. Rebounded to win Super Bowl in Bill Walsh's final season with 49ers.
Last 20 Super Bowl runners-up

2007 NE
Okay, so going undefeated isn't the answer.

2006 CHI
Did go 13-3, but who can forget the questioning week after week about QB situation. We're 10-2 with Rex as our quarterback. Rex is our quarterback. Rex is our quarterback.

2005 SEA
Clearly the class of a weak NFC. Started season 2-2 before winning 11 straight. Still bitter about officiating in SB XL - the worst Super Bowl in recent memory.

2004 PHI
Eagles finally reach SB after losing three straight conference championship games. Lost Terrell Owens in Week 15 win in Dallas and dropped final two regular season games (PHI had already clinched #1 seed). McNabb gets tired in SB XXXIX and Patriots win third in four years.

2003 CAR
Cardiac Cats start season with a win on game's final play vs. JAX. Lost in early Nov to the Texans and suffered three straight defeats in Nov/Dec for 8-5 record. A kickoff out of bounds might be the reason NE won the SB.

2002 OAK
Not smooth sailing in Bill Callahan's first year as coach. Started 4-0 before dropping four-straight. No. 1 offense propels team to SB XXXVII after being eliminated one year earlier in Tuck Rule game.

2001 STL
Greatest Show on Turf goes 14-2 but fall to budding Patriots dynasty.

2000 NYG
Coach Jim Fassel guarantees his 7-4 team will go to the playoffs after losing to *gulp* the Lions. Giants respond by winning seven straight to reach first Super Bowl since Parcell's era.

1999 TEN
The +18 turnover ratio a big reason this team only lost three regular season games. Came up one yard short in SB XXXIV.

1998 ATL
Dirty Birds went 14-2 but were no match for Elway, Davis and Co. in the Super Bowl.

1997 GB
Defending champs went 13-3 with no real signs of struggle in regular season.

1996 NE
Lost first two games of '96, stumbling to a 3-3 record early on. Finished 11-5. Dominated AFC in playoffs but no match for the Pack in SB XXXI.

1995 PIT
After 2-0 start, dropped to 3-4 before rebounding for 11-5 record and first-round bye. Advanced to SB XXX after failed Colts Hail Mary in conference title game.

1994 SD
Burst out with 6-0 record only to fall to 9-5 by Week 15. Exposed in SF route in SB XXIX.

1993 BUF
A 7-1 team lost 3 of 4 in Nov/Dec to fall to 8-4. Won six straight to make record fourth-straight Super Bowl appearance.

1992 BUF
Lost consecutive games twice en route to 11-5 record. Showed heart of champions in greatest comeback in NFL playoff history against Oilers in Wild Card game.

1991 BUF
Offensive juggernaut but defensively shaky with 13-3 regular season record. Only +2 in turnover margin all year. Never lost consecutive games.

1990 BUF
13-3 with No. 1 offense and No. 6 defense. Shoulda coulda woulda, except for wide right!

1989 DEN
This 11-5 team finished regular season losing 3 of 4 -- with all three losses coming on the road. Elway reached third SB in four years only to suffer worst defeat in SB history.

1988 CIN
After 6-0 start, lost 3 of 5 games. Recovered to finish 12-4. Montana leads game-winning drive against NFL's 16th defense as Bengal's No. 1 offense sit powerless on the sideline.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why Wade must stay

Speculation of Wade Phillips' future as the Cowboys head coach continues to build this week. Losing three of four, including a blowout by the Rams, dude, will do that to a coach. And while many Cowboys fans feel a knee-jerk firing is necessary, making a mid-season move would be irresponsible and counter-productive.

Some want a change of coach, others want a change of coaching philosophy.  Either way, the storm of public outcry is no longer brewing on the horizon.  The preliminary rain is falling hard and the heavier stuff isn't far off at this point.

If Wade Phillips were to be fired, a decision owner/GM Jerry Jones says will absolutely not happen, someone on the Cowboys coaching staff would have to be elevated to interim head coach - most likely Jason Garrett. Garrett, the NFL's highest paid assistant and last off-season's hottest coordinator, has seen his offense crumble in recent weeks. They scored 14 against the Rams, dude.

His unit turns the ball over at an alarming rate. Cowboys quarterbacks have thrown 8 INTs this season, tied for 3rd most in the NFL. To be fair, they've also thrown for 15 TDs, 2nd most in the league. They've also lost 5 fumbles of the 15 they've put on the ground, meaning it's only a matter of time before opposing defenses start getting the bounces to recover even more of these fumbles. Dallas is -6 in turnovers, 29th in the NFL. Garrett went a week without giving Felix Jones the ball. Terrell Owens is under-utilized. And now the offense has been turned over to a 40-year-old statue.

Someone call Drew Bledsoe and see if he's busy Sunday.

If Phillips is not the answer, what has Jason Garrett shown this season to prove he is capable of taking over? Nothing. And while the assistant head coach might be the most popular guy on the coaching staff the way a backup quarterback is the favorite player, that only lasts so long as they are an untested commodity. Once that seal is broken and the freshness fades, then where will the Cowboys be left?

If a move is made, Garrett would probably get the nod as a result of the off-season contract he signed. But just for fun, let's look at who else could take over. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is out as Wade is officially taking over the reigns of the defense.

The rest of the Cowboys coaching staff? Un-promotable.

Only one coach other than Phillips on the Cowboys staff has been a head coach in the NFL. Dave Campo. Remember Dave Campo's tenure in Dallas, or have you blocked it out as well? As bad as things are now, reverting to the Campo era would be not just a step back, it would be more embarrassing than the loss to the Rams, dude. Three 5-11 seasons that saw starting quarterbacks named Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson and even Ryan Leaf.

Dallas must move forward with Wade Phillips as the head coach. Call him the Stay Puft marshmallow man. Call him Barry Switzer II. Call him clueless. Call him Jerry's latest puppet. But whatever you call him, make sure you're calling him the head coach of the Cowboys if they're going to turn it around in 2008. To replace him with what's on tap would be giving up.

That's where I stand, but what do yall think?  Should Wade stay or should he go?  And if he goes, who takes over?

Tomorrow's Cowboys post takes a look at the teams that have been to the Super Bowl, their records, their struggles, and the Cowboys chances to 1. make the post season, and 2. make the big game in February.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ramming speed: DAL 14, STL 34

Newly acquired Cowboys receiver Roy Williams described this loss the best while talking to Brad Sham after the game.

"I'm used to this. ... Really nothing new to me," said Williams, who spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions until this week's trade made him a Cowboy. That should put this loss into perspective. As (hopefully former cornerback) Pacman Jones would point out, they played the Rams, dude. And it wasn't close.

Had you told me 21-7 after the first quarter, I would have 100% believed you. I just would have been wrong as to which team held the lead. Dallas dominated the first 5:18 of the game, marching down the field for an early 7-0 lead. Unfortunately for Dallas, football games don't last 5:18, and the remaining 54:42 turned into a St. Louis showcase. Greatest Show on Turf 2.0? No, but Dallas sure helped the Rams make their case.

There is no singular reason for this loss. Everything stunk. Dallas couldn't pass protect or run block, leaving the offense about as mobile as a tree stump - or Brad Johnson. The defense got burned for deep balls and failed to wrap up when tackling, leading to big plays on the ground. And I'm starting to think the special teams is special in the way that "Mommy told us we were special." I'm talking to you, Bobby Carpenter. Then there was the lack of discipline, the coaching, the kicking, the punting, the lack of energy, lack of urgency, and - in the end - lack of dignity.

The Cowboys drop to 4-3 after a 34-14 butt-kicking that wasn't as close as the final score indicated ... and they lost by 20! Dallas hasn't hit the bottom of the division because Philadelphia sat idle on their bye at 3-3, but they looked every bit of the part of a last-place team.

I don't know if Romo will go next week against Tampa Bay back in Irving, Texas. Dallas suffered more injuries today - Roy Williams (SS, not WR) might be out for the season. And while the head coach won't - and shouldn't be - fired after this loss, the temperature is rising on the hot seat.

Some notes from a game I wish I hadn't attended:

+ Let's start with something positive - the only positive I could find. DeMarcus Ware once again brought down an opposing QB behind the line of scrimmage for the 10th straight week. He finished the games with 3.0 sacks, giving him nine so far this season. At least he played with some fire.

+ Another brighter spot in this game was #84. So much for Patrick Crayton taking a backseat role with the addition of Roy Williams #11. True Williams is only three days into his Cowboys career and won't be 100 percent functional in the offense until after the bye week (Nov. 9). On the Cowboys first possession of the second half, Crayton jump-started things with a 33-yard punt return (Adam "Pacman" who?), and Dallas was able to move the ball effectively for the first time since the game-opening drive. Crayton finished with 3 catches for 30 yards and a carry for 11 yards.

+ Penalties killed the Cowboys today. Dallas surrendered 8 penalties for 56 yards. On the afforementioned second-half drive, the Cowboys moved to the St. Louis 33 yard line with 3rd and 1. Two false start penalties later (Flozell Adams and Martellus Bennett), Dallas settled for sending in the field goal unit. Folk missed the 46-yard attempt.

+ For the second straight week, special teams troubled Dallas. It wasn't the fact that Sam Paulescu's punts only averaged 32.0 yards or that he had to punt five times. Paulescu actually had a nice directional punt that sailed out of bounds on the Rams 13 yard line. Folk's kickoffs routinely fell short of the goal line. Fortunately, Dallas wasn't kicking off too often. Kick and punt coverage seemed a little more under control. One Paulescu punt in the second quarter hit at the 10 yard line and began rolling toward the end zone with plenty of time for the coverage team to down the ball inside the five. Instead, Dallas misplayed the ball: Touchback.

+ Three Cowboys offensive linemen made the Pro Bowl last year? Really?

+ Mike Jenkins lucked out on a near-fingertip catch when he got turned around the wrong way leaving receiver Donnie Avery wide open. The ball probably could have been caught. Jenkins may be a rookie, but his blown coverage on Avery probably should have cost the Cowboys more than it actually did.

+ As much as the secondary struggled today, Pacman's permanent absence from this team would not bother me.

+ The Cowboys starting field positions from today's game: Dal 26, Dal 22, Dal 20, Dal 20, Dal 44, Dal 42, Dal 40, StL 44, Dal 22, Dal 21, Dal 13, Dal 10. Average starting position: Dallas 28 yard line. Their best starting field position came from a missed 54-yard field goal attempt, forcing a Rams three-and-out when they were pinned deep, a kickoff out of bounds, and Crayton's long punt return.

+ The Rams starting field positions: StL 38, Dal 44, Dal 17, Dal 34, StL 13, StL 20, StL 20, StL 19, StL 37, StL 27, StL 35, StL 49, StL 22. Average starting position: StL 37 yard line.

+ Brad Johnson: three interceptions. One deflected off Jason Witten's hand, but the others were throws into crowded parts of the field. There were plenty of other shoulda coulda woulda interceptions the Rams missed out on.

+ April 2004 NFL Draft. Dallas trades the No. 22 pick to Buffalo, moving out of the first round. Two picks later, the Rams select RB Steven Jackson out of Oregon State. Dallas took RB Julius Jones 19 picks later. Today, Jackson ran 25 times for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns. Julius Jones no longer resides in the Cowboys backfield. Enough said.

+ As if the Cowboys injury situation heading into today's blowout loss was not already trouble, the Cowboys defense became even more banged up. Roy Williams #38 might be out of the season with another fracture in his arm. Bradie James hyperextended his elbow, but it shouldn't cause him to miss any games. Keith Davis found himself writhing around on the turf after a big head to head hit on Crayton's long punt return. While he also probably won't miss any time, the Cowboys are already thin in the secondary and cannot afford to lose any more DBs.

The road ahead gets bumpy as Dallas will match up against first-place Tampa Bay in Irving followed by a division showdown in East Rutherford against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Dallas could very well be looked at 4-5 going into their bye. Wade Phillips needs to instill some discipline in his football team. Jason Garrett needs to remind the offensive line that it's hard to do anything productive if they don't block. The faster Romo can get back under center, the better, but what will he be coming back to?

And for a team thought to be a Super Bowl contender on opening day, three losses in four games have humbled and embarrassed this proud franchise. The last time Dallas looked this lost, coach Bill Parcells decided enough is enough and installed Tony Romo as the starter, and the 3-3 Cowboys took off to finish 2006. The Cowboys better hope Romo's return from injury has a similar effect.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dr. Jerry's prescription

A few final thoughts on the Cowboys quarterback situation entering this weekend's game in St. Louis against the (formerly?) Sacrificial Rams.

This is not the high risk / high reward situation it's being made out to be.  Putting Tony Romo under center is instead a high risk / low reward opportunity for Dallas.  This is not Emmitt Smith playing with a separated shoulder versus the Giants in the final regular season game in '93 to give Dallas home field throughout the playoffs.  It's Week 7 for a 4-2 team.

If the Cowboys play Romo, he better be able to receive the ball from under center as well as properly execute hand offs, two things which apparently did not happen at practice this week.  I get the feeling that the Cowboys don't want to tip their hand as to who will start, but Jerry Jones makes that difficult for his head coach when he goes on the radio and says it's likely Romo will play.

Wade Phillips has already said he's differing to "Dr. Jerry" but he needs to realize that the future of his season depends on Romo's health. Just because Romo can play doesn't necessarily mean he should. While Brad Johnson has not played meaningful time since being a starter in Minnesota in 2006, the general consensus is he can more than handle starting for the Cowboys at the age of 40.

Cowboys fans were amenable to the idea of Johnson under center for the initial 3-game prognosis until Romo faced peer pressure from ironman Brett Favre. Thanks a ton, Brett. NOT! If it was so easy to have a 258-games started streak, Favre wouldn't be the only QB to accomplish that, so for Romo to continue his 32 games started streak seems not to be worth it.

Now for all the "ifs." Obviously winning cures everything.  If Romo plays and the Cowboys win and he does not worsen his injury, Cowboys fans should say a prayer and thank their lucky blue stars.  If Romo plays, he could potentially extend the healing time on his pinkie finger and really cost the team long term. If the Cowboys lose with Romo under center but his pinkie looks okay, it may at least show he's capable of leading this team with his injury despite the losing effort. However if Dallas loses - with either Romo or Johnson under center - the Cowboys will be 4-3 potentially two games back in a fierce division. More importantly, if they think they are facing tremendous pressure now after going 1-2 the last three weeks, drop a game to St. Louis and see what the reaction is.

Dallas cannot afford to lose this game. As cliche as it is, they absolutely must beat the teams they are supposed to beat. St. Louis has already proven they won't roll over and die under Jim Haslett, so they will make Dallas earn a victory on Sunday. Whoever is under center (my choice would be Johnson, but then again I was against installing Romo for Bledsoe in '06, so what do I know) will enjoy the newly acquire offensive weapon in Roy Williams (of Texas). If Romo dresses, he better start or be the emergency #3 QB. If he's not well enough to start, he shouldn't be playing at all.

Hopefully Wade Phillips makes that call on behalf of his team's future success. If Dr. Jerry is calling the shots, that's a prescription for trouble.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tommy Lasorda speaks

Video I took from last night's NLCS Game 5 after the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to advance to the World Series. Former Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda took the mic and reminded fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers saying, "wait til next year." After an emotionally charged series (not just on the field), a good number of Dodgers fans stayed to thank their team and their second-half MVP Manny Ramirez for a great 2008.

Cowboys midweek: To play or not to play

Midweek reports suggest it's possible for Tony Romo to play in the Cowboys/Rams game in St. Louis this week. Romo has received calls from Brett Favre, has sports writers suggesting he heed advice from Drew Bledsoe, and he's telling Dallas coaches he wants to play.

There is no assurance he can protect the ball, take a snap or deliver the ball accurately under game conditions.

The Cowboys' biggest concern is that Romo gets hit again, causing him to miss more time than initially anticipated and possibly require surgery.

While it would be great to see the Cowboys leader and franchise QB take the field to give his team an emotional lift, I hardly think the St. Louis Rams game is the time to make this sort of statement.

St. Louis could play like the firecracker that ignited last week in Washington. Or perhaps that win opened the shaken-up coke can, and all the fizz is now gone. Whatever the case, the Cowboys cannot take this game lightly. Because the Rams did finally get their first win of the season, it's plausible that they will either return to the Sacrificial Rams after the pressure of getting in the win column if off their shoulders, or that the Redskins win has given them added confidence and now they want to win in front of their own fans. Whichever side you'd like to believe, the Cowboys will not have a cakewalk in St. Louis.

That being said, I think Romo should sit this one out. If he plays and Dallas wins and his finger isn't banged up any worse, that's great. At the same time, I don't think it's worth the risk. Brad Johnson is a capable quarterback and the offense around him is filled with weapons. Jerry Jones says the final decision on Romo will be made by Romo and Wade Phillips. If Romo is intent on playing, give him the first quarter, let him see how it feels, and if there are any signs of him struggling or favoring his finger, don't wait for the quarterback to bring it up. Sit him on the bench and protect your organization's future rather than jeopardizing it against St. Louis.

In other Cowboys news, hearing Warren Sapp weigh in on why Brad Johnson will be able to work well with Terrell Owens brought a smile to my face. I've heard T.O. referred to as a lot of things, but choirboy is definitely new to the list.

Retired DT Warren Sapp, who won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson in Tampa Bay, was asked what the veteran QB could bring to the Cowboys.

"An accurate quarterback, a championship, someone that knows the ropes and how to distribute the ball," Sapp said on Showtime's Inside the NFL, per Barry Horn's sports media blog. "He's played with worse malcontents than T.O. He played with Keyshawn (Johnson, Tampa Bay). Keyshawn was kicked off the team, away from us.

"Terrell Owens is a choirboy compared to Keyshawn. He'll get the ball and distribute it and they'll be fine."

As T.O. has pointed out a time or 200, he's also a heck of a lot better receiver than Keyshawn.

Just a reminder, the Cowboys moved Keyshawn when they brought in Terrell Owens. Keyshawn Johnson played one more year (Carolina) before the Panthers released him after drafting fellow USC WR Dwayne Jarrett. So if KJ isn't TO's bff, you know why.

Officially Game Over? Eh, not quite, but all the signs are there that Adam "we've gotta be able to call him Pacman in light of his most recent suspension" Jones will not be returning to the Cowboys. GOOD! As I said yesterday, the Cowboys need to move on without him, and it sounds like Wade Phillips is ready and willing to do that.

While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seemed to suggest there is a small possibility of welcoming suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones back to the team if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should reinstate him this year, head coach Wade Phillips said he's operating under the assumption he's not returning to the team.

"It's like losing a player to injury. He's gone so we have to move forward," Phillips said after Wednesday's practice.

And when pressed on the issue, Phillips said, "We don't have him, that's where we are, so I can't count on him . . . I mean he's gone, that's what it looks like to me. I'm not saying what's going to happen in the future, because I don't know what's going to happen in the future or what is or isn't going to be done there, but I can't go there. I've got to coach the players I have."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trade + suspension = another Tuesday in Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys aren't a roller coaster. They're a bungee cord.

With so many ups and downs in just the past week, it's been hard to keep up. And just when things seemed to be coming unraveled with the announcement of Adam (can we now call him "Pacman" again) Jones being suspended, Jerry Jones pulls the trigger for WR Roy Williams.

There's a lot of skeptics who think that adding another big receiver will frustrate Terrell Owens and throw off the Cowboys offensive chemistry. First of all, offensive chemistry gets screwed up when you change quarterbacks ... especially when you switch from the improv-stylings of Tony Romo to the game-managing of Brad Johnson. But in considering how Roy Williams (WR not SS) will fit in with this team, just look at some of his initial comments after the trade.

+ Williams talked about how he's looking forward to working with and learning from one of the game's best receivers in Owens, much like how Owens worked with and learned from the game's greatest receiver Jerry Rice while in San Francisco.

+ Williams talked about how he's just looking forward to all the things that comes along with playing for the Cowboys - or any successful franchise. This is a guy who has not only never played a playoff game, but he's never played on Monday Night Football (the Cowboys will play five prime time games this season and have yet to not to be the #1 game for either FOX or CBS).

+ Williams pointed out how he just went from 0-5 to 4-2. Talk about eye-opening. After the Arizona loss, 4-2 seemed like some sort of curse. To Roy Williams, it's a gift from the heavens.

With Brad Johnson now under center, adding another Pro Bowl caliber WR will help Johnson avoid pressure. Defenses must now plan for Owens, Williams and Pro Bowl TE Jason Witten, not to mention Marion the Barbarian who showed what's possible on his big catch-and-run play late in the desert. As a result, defenses will have to be more cautious about when they bitz. Also, think back to the playoff loss to the Giants when Witten did not run a rout on the Cowboys final play because he was needed to stay in and pass block. At the time, it left the Cowboys' second-best receiving option out of the play. Now if Witten must stay in to block, whoever is under center will have two Pro Bowl WR options to look for.

This trade revitalizes the Cowboys just hours after Pacman Jones earned another suspension. With any luck, this will be the last we hear from Pacman until the Cowboys wise up and release him. Realize a mistake has been made and cut your losses. If we was really worth all this trouble, we would have been able to discern that after six weeks of football. I've seen every Cowboys game this season and haven't viewed any reason for him to justify his return to Valley Ranch at the end of his "indefinite four-week suspension." Even the very person who drafted him in Tennessee is saying "game over."

As banged up as the Cowboys secondary is, and despite the fact that Pacman Jones leads the team in passes defended, what's the point of putting him back there if you can't count on him to be available each week, especially as the season progresses and each game becomes more crucial as the playoffs near.

Jerry Jones isn't great at admitting where he's messed up, but listening to him talk about Pacman Jones yesterday sounded as if he was speaking about him in the past tense. While the Cowboys have not yet cut ties with the cornerback, they need to. Soon. Now.

I guess that bungee cord yanked Pacman right back to where he was a year ago. Out of football.

Dodging Abuse - Part 2

I figured out that the reason so many pro-Phillies people voiced their opinions on my report from Game 3 at Dodger Stadium was because it got picked up on, a Philadelphia-centric site that almost serves as group therapy for fans who haven't won a championship in 25 years -- not making fun, just stating facts. It also showed up as the top story on

Back to the Cowboys:

Injuries piling up at Valley Ranch

For several years the Cowboys have been blessed on the injury front. This season appears as if the inevitable is catching up to them.

As if losing the starting quarterback and their first-round draft choice for several weeks wasn't enough, the crowning blow came late Monday afternoon when the Cowboys learned they are losing their punter for the season.

Yes, after word on the severity of Tony Romo's finger injury broke Monday, it seemed just a matter of time before the other shoe would drop. That shoe belonged to Mat McBriar, one of most important and productive special teams players on the club.

More on Cowboys injuries

Tony Romo is out three to four weeks.
Terence Newman is out four weeks.
Sam Hurd is out for the rest of the season.
Felix Jones likely is out at least two weeks.
Mat McBriar is out for the rest of the season.
Kyle Kosier might be out at least another week.
Roy Williams might be out another week.
Who knows about Anthony Spencer?
Who knows about Pat Watkins?
Who knows about Flozell Adams?

Breaking down the blocked punt

It appears Morey, who came off the right edge, should have been picked up by tight end Tony Curtis. The Cardinals were in a return formation, not selling out for the block, but Curtis let Morey have the inside penetration untouched, making a beeline for the ball.

For a team so wont to talk about the importance of accountability to each other, it appears Curtis' failure to do his job cost McBriar his season. After a look at the tape, Wade Phillips saw no reason the block should not have been made.

"The punt block was just inexplicable to me," Phillips said Monday. "You always block the same guy every time. There is basically no way you can block our punt with the get-off time that we have if you just get in the way of anybody. The guy that picked up the ball that scored the touchdown (linebacker Monty Beisel), we jammed him a little bit and he had no chance of blocking the punt. The guy that blocked it went straight to the punter without being touched. That can't happen, but it did."

Esiason disses Aikman's broadcasting

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

VOW: Corso sign

Lee Corso is a WHAT?

Past VOW

Those ghosts have caught up

Okay, Adam Jones is no longer worth the trouble.  Despite the Cowboys secondary - not the mention the entire team - being banged up, this guy is proving he just can't stay out of trouble.  I'll have more on this tomorrow, but here's the latest details:

Pacman suspected minimum 4 games

FL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones indefinitely without pay, for a minimum of four games, on Tuesday for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy.

Jones will miss at least the next four games. Goodell will determine the final length of the suspension following the Cowboys' Week 11 game against Washington on Nov. 16. The decision on whether Jones can return to play will be based on his strict compliance with his NFL and Dallas Cowboys treatment plans as well as on evaluations of his progress that will be provided to Goodell by clinical experts retained by the NFL.

Jones was involved in an alcohol-related physical altercation at a Dallas hotel on Oct. 8 that resulted in hotel employees calling the police. Goodell in today's letter to Jones called it a continuation of "a disturbing pattern of behavior and clearly inconsistent with the conditions I set for your continued participation in the NFL."

Jones was suspended for the entire 2007 season for multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy. In reinstating Jones on Aug. 28, Goodell said that the player's participation in the NFL depends on demonstrating that he can conduct himself in a socially responsible manner, avoiding any other conduct that brings disrespect to himself, his team, or the NFL.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dodging abuse

Decided to take in an NLCS game Sunday evening.  Thought I'd see a great battle between two worthy opponents.  Instead I saw a one-sided onslaught that sent the losers running for cover.

And I'm not talking about the game on the field.  The anger, violence and hatred that permeated the stands cast a despicable shadow over anything for which Dodgers fans might feel pride.  If it was my team, I'd be embarrassed.

I wore a blue hat and blue shirt to the game though I didn't have much rooting interest for either side.  [[Disclaimer: if I had to pick a side, I'd like to see the Dodgers win because I've got family that used to live in Brooklyn in the Brooklyn Dodgers days, so why not.]]  I figured the blue would allow me to blend in.  I didn't really factor in the fact that the friend I went with was wearing his Phillies gear.  I figured it'd be no big deal though.  Sure, the Dodgers fans would probably boo him or taunt him, but how bad could it really get?

Little did I know.

Other than the "F*** the Phillies" chants that echoed in Chavez Ravine, things really got ugly when a Dodgers fan across the aisle started to run his mouth to the Phillies fan to my left.  The Phillies fan, to his credit, ignored the guy and just stared straight ahead, which only made the guy more intent to get a reaction out of him.  He started taking his rally towel and flicking it at him and threatening to pour his beer on the guy.  The Phillies fan got up, found an usher, and asked the usher to get the guy to stop.

When the usher confronted the fan, he became an angelic boy scout, cordially shaking the usher's hand and trying to explain how it was "all a misunderstanding."  The usher allowed the Dodgers fan to remain in his seat, and once the usher left the section, things really escalated.  The taunts of "help I need an usher" began to pick up.  Each time a Phillies fan walked up the aisle to the concourse, they were bored and forced to dodge an onslaught of peanuts catapulted toward them.

The Dodgers fan next to me, a nice guy who himself was repulsed by the actions of his fellow Dodgers fans, told us, "That guy does not represent Dodgers fans.  That guy represents drunk ass assholes.  Do not get the two confused."

If only the assholes weren't an overwhelming majority.

The boiling point occurred late in the game when two young ladies wearing red Phillies shirts tried to get their picture taken at Dodger Stadium.  While one fan held the camera, the girls positioned themselves against the rail in the front row, posing for a great snapshot with historic Dodger Stadium as the backdrop.  Dodgers fans decided booing would not suffice and a few men stood up and blocked the photographer from taking the picture.  The girls at first laughed it off, assuming the men would eventually let them get their photo.  No luck.

Dodgers fans began cursing out the women for apparently trying to show them for by taking a picture of themselves wearing Phillies gear in Dodger Stadium - yeah, it makes perfect sense.  *rolling eyes*

The photo incident erupted into a shouting match between rows of inebriated Dodgers fans and two petite women wearing red.  After cries of "Why doesn't somebody do something?" from the family sitting near us, ushers eventually came in to eject the offending Dodgers fans.

At first, the masses assumed the Phillies fans would be ejected and began chanting "na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."  When they realized that fellow Dodgers fans were being kicked out, they began booing.  You'll even see in this video at the end of the clip one Dodger fan shares some choice words with the ushers and gets himself ejected for mouthing off.

When the seventh inning stretch hit, the nice guy next to me told me not to worry as most of the fans would be leaving soon.  He said that the fans stay to sing and leave.  "There's a whole generation of kids that think the game ends when you sing.  They don't find out til they're ten.  Like 'What? Baseball goes nine innings?'"

We stood for the seventh inning stretch and a singer took the field to sing God Bless America.  Just before she started to sing, the Dodgers fans around us once again started a "F*** the Phillies" chant which bled into the first verse of God Bless America.  Maybe it's because these specific fans behind us don't feel as close to this country because they didn't appear to be from here, and that's their prerogative, but don't start chating "F*** the Phillies" during God Bless America.  I had had enough and turned around to tell these fans to shut up for this song.  

While a few Dodgers fans next to me gave me looks of approval and thanks for attempting to put a stop to the foul-mouth chants during the song, the fans who had been yelling "F*** the Phillies" glared at me as if I'd told them the Dodger Dog tasted like crap.  It's not like they were chanting this during Take Me Out To The Ball Game.  It was God Bless America.  Can the bitching and taunting not wait 30 seconds?

To cap the night off, as we exited the stadium, a local TV reporter interviewed my friend the Phillies fan, during which time some Dodgers fans stole his hat and doused it with beer.  It's all on tape too.  Should make for exciting B-roll for KCAL 9.  

Walking through the parking lot after the game, Dodgers fans jeered my friend for the beating that LA put on Philadelphia in the game.  My friend said nothing more than, "we're still up, 2-1," and this pack of fans became irate, threatening to "throw down" with us if we didn't get moving.

I've been to Dodger Stadium before.  I've had fun there before.  But that night has left a severe scar on how I view Dodger Stadium and Dodgers fans.  You always hear about Raiders fans at the black hole, or Philadelphia fans booing Santa, or college football rivalries that provide tense moments.  But I could have enjoyed my life as a sports fan blissfully unaware of how utterly classless, thoughtless, and gutless some of the Dodgers fans act.

My optimistic side would love to believe that I was merely seeing the exception, not the rule.  Sadly, the majority of fans on Sunday were exceptionally unruly.

If you're a Dodgers fan and saw any of this behavior, please tell me I'm wrong that this is the majority.  I do want to believe that, but there was no evidence supporting that claim on Sunday.  I'd like to believe fans - not just Dodgers fans, but sports fans in general - are capable of a mutual respect to grant fans of opposing teams.  When you can't feel safe wearing your teams colors in an opposing stadium, something has got to change.

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