Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Former coach says Dallas Cowboys QB must protect football and money

By TODD ARCHER / The Dallas Morning News

Before he left town last February after retiring from coaching, Bill Parcells met three times with Tony Romo to discuss the things he believed would help Romo be a successful quarterback.

When Parcells heard the news of Romo's six-year, $67.5 million contract extension, the former Dallas Cowboys coach had some more advice.

"Now Tony has two things to be careful with – the football and his money," Parcells said. "Both are equally hard to take care of and there's always someone out there trying to strip you of them. I hope he hangs on tight. The circus never stays in town forever."

From the moment the Cowboys signed Romo as an undrafted free agent in 2003 out of Eastern Illinois, Parcells saw something he liked and it was more than just physical ability. He always thought Romo could handle the bright lights of the position, but he did not want to break him in too early.

"We thought he had a chance," Parcells said. "He just needed fundamentals, discipline and an opportunity. When the opportunity came, he was ready. Hopefully it's onward and upward from here."

Wade Phillips Halloween Press Conference

Wade Phillips press conference 10/31/07 - fake kneel-down edition
by Dave Halprin (Grizz) Wed Oct 31, 2007 at 05:17:03 PM EDT

I missed the very beginning because I waited diligently for the press conference to start, but Wade was late as usual, so I stepped out of the room for a few minutes, and it started. Naturally. Apparently Wade said Anthony Henry practiced some today but it was with the scout team.

Donovan McNabb look better on the film from last week?
McNabb, by his own admission is getting better coming off the injury, he feels more comfortable. He was moving around better creating more time to throw, you could see that against Minnesota. He’s back. It’s a physical and mental thing, don’t know his exact case, but you get over it mentally and then physically, and it looks like he’s over it.

How would you use Anthony Henry if he can play?
I’d use him on defense. (laughter) Like Newman I think, if he’s to that point. We’d play him some and see if he feels comfortable. Different type of injury from Newman, it’s been four weeks and we were hoping he might be completely well and I won’t count that out yet. He went through some individual drills, he got better as the practice went along, he was a little tentative at first but got better. I was encouraged he could move around.

Practice focus today?
Good concentration, they got into the practice, a little quieter today. They might’ve been thinking more because it’s Weds. We did some stuff Monday and we put in everything but it’s still the first day to practice it. We make adjustments, look at tape and learn from that, tomorrow will be sharper.

Philly defense?
Tough, they lead the NFC in points given up, a big stat. They looked like they always do, aggressive and good against the pass, they stuff the run, great job on Peterson, only a 3.5 yard/carry average. That was impressive, they blitz, mostly on 3rd down. (Do you practice for the blitzes more this week?) We have protections set up for all our plays and hot routes, we have a blitz period every day in practice. You have to protect the QB first, can’t let him get hit. We work hard on that.

McNabb says the NFC East goes through Philly, is he right?
I think that any team that has won it before, they earn that respect, from last season and they’ve done it 5 times in 6 years, you earn that respect. But we’re going to try and change things.

How important is Andre Gurode in calling protections this game?
Our center is important in protections if we need to make changes. Sometimes, they show a blitz and we have it protected, but sometimes it needs to change. So he needs to make the calls and he’s good at it. Only 9 times in the whole season last year where didn’t make the correct call. I didn’t know a lot about him before I got here, but I’ve been impressed, he’s playing at Pro Bowl caliber.

I skipped some questions here because they weren’t very interesting and then someone asked Wade about his time coaching in Philly. Wade was answering blah, blah then all of a sudden I hear from Wade:

The fake kneel-down was the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in football. (Then he goes right back to talking about coaching, ignoring the money quote he just laid down.) They hadn’t won since Vermeil, in ‘88 we won the division and I though we were great coaches, but Andy Reid has done it 5 times. We had good players, Reggie and Co. It was a lot of fun building a team and winning.

Did you learn some things from Buddy Ryan?
Scheme-wise sure. I went there because of the 46 defense, after the Bears had won with it was the hot defense. One reason I agreed to be the DC was I wanted to learn more about it. I still use some of the ideas, but people got away from it for different reasons. I learned a lot there, I learned things from Buddy. I wanted to make it too simple, the information to the players, but he taught me you can give them more than what I thought. We gave them a tremendous amount of stuff. I also learned what not to say to the press from Buddy. (laughter)

At this point, one smart reporter went back to the fake kneel-down quote and asked him to explain it more.
I was embarrassed, we were ahead by 10 points with like 5 seconds left in the game and we run a fake kneel down? Mike Quick could have got hurt, or Cunningham. Then they called pass interference with no time left on the clock and we ran in for a TD! I don’t coach that way. (Did you tell Buddy that?) Yes I told him. I said I didn’t think it was right. He said back, (grumble noises). He didn’t care what I thought.

Philly Fans?
Good fans. They boo quicker than some fans, but when I was there they hadn’t been winning, we improved and got better and after three years won the division, so it was pretty positive from that stand point. Now we weren’t getting a lot of first downs, so they booed the offense and cheered the defense.

What do you still use from the 46 defense?
Some pressures that we run, some concepts. Most of the 46 stuff was all man-to-man. Buddy wanted to say its your fault if someone catches it, he didn’t like zone because it wasn’t anybody’s fault. He’d give the MLB the WR in man-to-man coverage then yell at him for blowing it. It was a lot of man-to-man and combination coverages. But beating protections was the thing I most learned from it.

Now that was an entertaining press conference Wade. For anybody confused about the fake kneel-down, go here.

(Disclaimer: These press conference recaps are just paraphrases of what Wade Phillips says and aren’t vetted for total accuracy on quotes. I shorten and condense things he says but try to get across the intended meaning. Occasionally, what I post loses the context of something Wade said and may appear counter-intuitive. If you have questions about something from the press conference, feel free to ask in the comments.)

Terry Glenn (knee) has been ruled out for Week 9

The bye week apparently didn't help, as he still isn't practicing. If Dallas had many injuries, Glenn may have already been placed on injured reserve.

Source: Dallas Morning News

DMN Blog: McNabb and Andy talk T.O., Rivalry with 'Boys

McNabb doesn't back down

Donovan McNabb was asked about his quote that the NFC East title goes through Philadelphia. He's sticking to it, even though the Eagles need a win to get to .500.

"If you want to be the best and be the heavyweight champion, you can beat everyone that you're fighting," McNabb said, "but ... no one will look at you as the champion unless you beat the champion.

"It's not anything that's bulletin board material or something that can motivate you. If you need that to motivate you to play this game, you don't need to play."

The Cowboys agree, at least publicly, pointing to the Eagles' run of five division titles in the last six seasons.

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 11:04 AM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (8)

Old pals sip tea and play croquet

Calvin "Lucky" Watkins gently asked Donovan McNabb if he had "kissed and made up with Mr. Owens." McNabb fired back with a smart-aleck reply.
"We've had tea and croquet," McNabb said. "We've just really been reflecting on the positive times."

McNabb continued to say that he had talked with T.O. and didn't really want to get into all that, although he understood that others would dig back into the past this week.

"It's the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night," McNabb said. "Tune in your TV if you're not going to be there. And I guess as he says, 'Getcha popcorn ready.' … And your Vitamin Water [shameless plug for product he endorses]."

Of course, we followed up with a couple more T.O. questions. T.O. has said that he regrets the way he handled some things while with the Eagles. McNabb said he had no regrets about the way he handled the situation, only that the duo didn't fulfill its potential.

"As a player, I like T.O. As a person, I mean, you know …," McNabb said. "We can't continue to harp on what happened in the past.

"As you can see, you’re seeing a different T.O. right now. You’re seeing a T.O. that's pretty much staying out of the media. He realized obviously that most of it isn't working in his favor, and he's just playing football. You can see a team right now with him that's having fun, and that's what you want to do."

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 11:20 AM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (0)

Reid loves T.O.

I wasn't here last year, but from what I'm told the hype surrounding Terrell Owens heading to Lincoln Financial Field now isn't near what it was then. And just as Donovan McNabb was complimentary of T.O., Andy Reid was quick to throw his old receiver his best.

"He’s a great player," said Reid. "He’ll go down if not the best, one of the best ever to play this game. Unbelievable football player."

Reid was then asked about the frenzy last year, and didn't seem to think it was all to do with T.O.

"I think it was (T.O.) and just it being the Dallas Cowboys," Reid said. "I think it’s developed into a great rivalry over the years, and I think the Dallas fans feel the same way the Philly fans do. When the other team comes into town, they’re excited."

The coach did say that dynamic exists all over the NFC East. But this one's a little different, because the Cowboys aren't in the Eagles' backyard, the way the Giants and Redskins are.

"The other ones are so close in proximity, but then you got the Dallas Cowboys," Reid said. "They all get a lot of hype and they’re all very exciting, from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint. This week, I’ll guarantee it’s the most exciting game of the year."

Posted by Albert Breer at 11:22 AM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (1) Big question mark in Big D

'Boys feast on woeful QBs -- can they stop real ones?
Posted: Wednesday October 31, 2007 2:25PM; Updated: Wednesday October 31, 2007 2:25PM

Here we are almost halfway through the 2007 football season, and we still have no idea what the Cowboys' defense is all about.

The Cowboys are 6-1, seemingly on the way to their first NFC East title since 1998, although the Giants continue to win and somehow remain just one game out with one more head-to-head battle looming.

We know how effective the Cowboys are on offense. The passing game is explosive with Tony Romo (who's been hanging out more lately with Britney Spears than with Marcus Spears) chucking the ball up and down the field to Patrick Crayton, Jason Witten and Terrell Owens. And Marion Barber remains one of the NFL's most underrated tailbacks.

No issue there. No mystery. They can put up points in a hurry. But what about their defense? It's stout against the run, top-5 in yards allowed and yards per-carry. But the two times it has faced a real, live, ambulatory quarterback, it got shredded.

For the most part, the Cowboys have built their 6-1 record against a series of inept, inexperienced and injured quarterbacks. They've battered backups and routed rookies. And when they've faced a quarterback with any sort of track record, they haven't been able to slow him down.

When the Cowboys beat the Dolphins, they toppled 37-year-old Trent Green. When they beat the Bears, they saw Rex Grossman at his worst, just days before he was benched. When they beat the Rams, they got a combination of a wincing Marc Bulger, playing with two painful broken ribs, and journeyman Gus Frerotte, now stinking it up for his seventh NFL team in 10 years. When they escaped the Bills, they beat rookie Trent Edwards, making his second career start. And when they beat the Vikings, all they had to overcome was a woefully overmatched Tarvaris Jackson in his sixth NFL start and maybe his last one for a long time.

They have faced two healthy, experienced quarterbacks who weren't on the brink of getting benched: Eli Manning and Tom Brady. And those two combined for 700 passing yards, completed 68 percent of their passes, threw nine touchdowns and one interception and put up 83 points. Combined passer rating: 141.0.

OK, so Brady does this to everybody, point taken. But Manning doesn't. In fact, his 300-yard, four-touchdown performance against Dallas is the only one of his career. Since completing 68 percent of his passes with four TDs and one INT against the Cowboys on opening day, Manning has thrown nine TDs and eight interceptions and completed a pedestrian 56 percent of his passes.

He was better -- far better -- against Dallas than against anybody else. In fact, his four-TD performance against the Cowboys is the only time this year he's thrown more than two touchdowns.

Brady also was better against Dallas than he's been against any other team. His 388 yards were his most in five years and the most he's ever had in a game without an interception.

Although the Cowboys do have several more games against lifeless passing offenses -- the Redskins twice, the Panthers with 71-year-old Vinny Testaverde, the Jets with whoever -- they also have the Eagles twice with long-time nemesis Donovan McNabb; the Giants again, this time at the Meadowlands; the Packers and rejuvenated Brett Favre; and the Lions, with their wide-open passing attack.

Despite facing guys like a decrepit Green, a hapless Jackson, a woeful Grossman, a raw Edwards and an injured Bulger, the Cowboys rank only 13th in the NFL against the pass. It's tough to say their pass defense is overrated, we just don't know how good it is because it's only been tested a couple times. And those didn't go too well.

Certainly Terrance Newman and Anthony Henry (when healthy) are a very good set of corners. Roy Williams is a sledgehammer hitter when he's not giving some poor receiver the Riva Ridge treatment. And Demarcus Ware and Greg Ellis are providing steady pass pressure.

But the second half of the season will show exactly what kind of defense this truly is. A division-winning defense? Maybe. A Super Bowl defense? Could be. Or just a unit that's been able to take advantage of a hapless parade of quarterbacks and is in for a long second half and disappointing postseason once the quality of opposition goes up?

We'll know soon.

"Best Defense in the NFC" - Stewart circa Aug.

We should all remember our DC suggesting before the season that we had a chance to be the best defense in the NFC. Can we actually climb to the top as a defensive unit? We actually might...

Let's take a quick rundown of a few players who should give us a extra defensive boost in the second half of the season:

Greg Ellis is according to him only playing at 75-80 percent. He seems on track to be playing closer to 90 percent going into the playoffs. Just his veteran presence on the field is a major factor in big games.

Terrance Newman is also at about 80 percent and should be back to about 90 percent for the playoffs. I still admire his run support - he's a very good tackler. As a punt returner he can also influence a game.

Jason Hatcher is coming into his own, and if making plays gets him more playing time, he'll have Spears' job by season's end. Maybe Spears hasn't worked out, but Hatcher is proving to be a pass-rushing force in his own right.

Tank Johnson will be a welcome addition to the DT rotation. He may have some initial rust, but again by season's end his play should be back to its normal level of destructiveness.

Anthony Henry is almost ready to take the field again, and though he may be limited at first, he should be ready to start again in a couple more weeks. Again, he'll be good to go just about the time the regular season ends, back to 90 percent or so hopefully.

I could add (I think I will...) that the defensive unit as a whole is mastering this new scheme with each game it plays, or that players like Spencer and Reeves are gaining valuable experience also, or that simply having a good offense makes their jobs easier. But the point is, this defense has every chance to be the best in the NFC when the rankings are all in. We should continue to get better each week...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ramiro Romo Filled With Pride On Son's Biggest Day

Nick Eatman - Email Staff Writer
October 30, 2007 7:03 PM

IRVING, Texas - Ramiro Romo could only smile.

The father of now one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL sat off to the side during Tuesday's press conference.

And as he sat there, obviously several thoughts went through his mind.

There he was, flanked by his wife Joan, watching their son Tony take center stage once again.
Romo is now the quarterback of the future for America's Team, after signing a six-year contract extension worth $67.5 million, including $11.5 million in signing bonus.

"It's not mind-boggling, but it's surreal in some respects because you're never thinking that your son is going to get to that point," Ramiro Romo said. "I think we'll be able to get used to it pretty quickly."

Tuesday's press conference should've been an inspirational moment for the Romo family, who has been battling some rough times recently. Ramiro Romo was diagnosed with prostate cancer just days after the Cowboys' Sept. 23 win over Chicago.

Ramiro Romo did not speak about his current condition on Tuesday, focusing all of his attention on his son and the rest of his children.

"This is not only for Tony but for all my kids, my daughters and Tony - that they're good people," he said when asked what makes him proudest about his son's accomplishments. "For them it's not all about money. It's about morals, character, loyalty, honor, some of the things that I've learned when I was in the Navy. They reflect a lot of that stuff, and that's what I'm most proud of."

While both Ramiro and Tony said the amount of the new contract is beyond their wildest dreams, Ramiro never really doubted his son could make it to this level. He noticed athletic ability in Tony from an early age.

"We got him a set of golf clubs when he was eight years old. He started swinging those around and he was pretty good at that," Ramiro said. "Then I would take him to play basketball with me and he was pretty good at that. It just grew from there."

Cowboys were actually looking into signing Antionio Bryant

By Felisa Cardona
The Denver Post
Article Last Updated: 10/29/2007 12:20:55 AM MDT

A former San Francisco 49ers player is challenging the National Football League's drug testing policy in U.S. District Court in Denver, the second lawsuit filed this month against the league over drug testing.

Antonio Bryant, a receiver whose NFL contract was terminated March 1, says he is being forced to submit to random drug tests even though he is no longer employed or receiving benefits from the league.

The NFL "believes that any individual who has ever played or thought about playing professional football is subject to the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse," Bryant's lawyer and agent, Peter J. Schaeffer wrote in an affidavit. "If this were true, any private company in the United States could test individuals for drugs and alcohol if that individual had worked or was thinking of working in that industry."

The lawsuit was filed in Denver because Schaeffer is based in Colorado. Bryant lives in Texas.

Last week, Denver Broncos running back Travis Henry filed a motion in a New York federal court that says the NFL violated a temporary restraining order when it tested him a second time after his first sample came back positive for a "negligible amount" of marijuana.

Henry wanted a specialist present when a "B" sample of urine was taken to test against the positive sample, the lawsuit says.

A positive test for Henry means he could be suspended from the NFL for one year.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the lawsuits are without merit.

"Both cases cannot be maintained in court because any appeals must be brought under the Program's grievance procedures," McCarthy wrote in an e-mail.

The NFL Players Association declined to comment about the lawsuits or about any other issues players may have with the drug policy.

Bryant's lawsuit says that earlier this month, the Dallas Cowboys inquired about signing him, but the $500,000-a-year offer was revoked when the NFL notified the Cowboys that Bryant would be suspended for one year once he signed a contract because he has not complied with the policy for random drug tests.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also came calling but declined to offer a contract after hearing of the dispute, the suit says.

Bryant has asked a judge for a temporary restraining order barring the NFL from administering the tests and notifying teams that he is out of compliance.

"We don't think it's right," Schaeffer said. "It's a free country. But even though he's not getting benefits from the league, they can test him all they want."

Schaeffer said that once Bryant is under contract, he has no problem submitting to random drug tests.

Bryant was suspended by the NFL for four games last November when he was arrested on suspicion of reckless and drunken driving in California.

His orange Lamborghini was seen speeding down a freeway, and he was combative with police, refusing to leave his car and eventually forcing officers to use leather restraints to keep him in a patrol car, according to published reports.

Schaeffer said Bryant is not addicted to drugs or alcohol but said that since the NFL enacted its drug testing policies, the program is not focused on helping players with substance-abuse issues.

"The pendulum on the NFL drug policy has switched from one which was originally designed to rehabilitate and get the players assistance for treating addiction problems to now where it's totally punitive against the players," Schaeffer said. "Now the main focus is on punishment, not treatment."

For fans, these Cowboys are villains worth hating

By Phil Sheridan
Inquirer Columnist

At the risk of committing football blasphemy, it must be said that it's better for Eagles fans when the Dallas Cowboys are good.

It just doesn't feel right when Chan Gailey or Dave Campo is on the sideline for some 6-10 season. If you're honest with yourself, you enjoy it a lot more when the 'Boys are riding high and the Eagles take them down. That's what rivalries are all about. The nastier the villain, the harder you root for the hero.

When the Cowboys are good, as they are going into Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field, there is no meaner villain in the eyes of Philadelphia sports fans.

This goes back to the early 1970s, when the pre-Dick Vermeil Eagles were terrible and the Tom Landry Cowboys carried themselves like the rich kids from the nicer side of town. They had their fancy stadium with the hole in the roof, their cheerleader posters, the whole America's Team conceit. It was hard not to hate them.

Fittingly, when the Eagles finally reached their first Super Bowl, they did it by beating Dallas at Veterans Stadium.

It was a mixed blessing. That NFC championship game was the high-water mark of an entire Eagles era. But if you ask Ron Jaworski or Bill Bergey or any of those Eagles, they'll tell you that beating Dallas left the team emotionally drained for the Super Bowl itself. In a roundabout way, even in defeat the Cowboys haunted the Eagles.

When Buddy Ryan got to Philadelphia in 1986, he picked up on the fans' loathing of the Cowboys and saw an opportunity. Ryan made no secret of his disdain for Landry. After his first win over the fedora-wearing legend, Ryan opened his news conference by saying that the Eagles really hadn't played all that well.

"Isn't that what Landry says?" Ryan sneered.

During the 1987 players strike, Landry's team - most of his regulars - trounced Ryan's very irregular replacement squad at Texas Stadium. Two weeks later, with the strike over, the real Eagles were beating the Cowboys, 30-20, as time was running out.

Randall Cunningham took a snap, started to kneel to run out the clock, then heaved a pass downfield to Mike Quick. Dallas was called for a pass-interference penalty, and the Eagles punched the ball into the end zone for a grudge score. As Ryan ran up the tunnel toward the locker room, laughing, he shouted something unprintable about Landry.

Dallas week was like some kind of festival in those years. Linebacker Seth Joyner would stand at his locker and talk with real passion about wanting to beat the Cowboys. For guys like Joyner, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters, there was something personal about the rivalry that you just don't see in the current players.

Ryan's time in Philadelphia coincided with Landry's decline, and the Eagles beat them nine times in 10 tries through 1992. By then, Rich Kotite was coaching against Jimmy Johnson and a budding young team with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.

That year, the Cowboys zoomed past the Eagles again. Another era ended with Reggie White's final game as an Eagle, a 34-10 playoff loss at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys won the first of their three Super Bowls in the '90s. The Eagles lost White, then Joyner and Keith Jackson and Clyde Simmons.

The rivalry lost some luster, but there were still some memorable games: stuffing Emmitt Smith twice on fourth and 1, the botched chip-shot field goal that cost the Eagles one win, James Willis' end-zone interception off Aikman and lateral to Troy Vincent for a combined 104-yard touchdown return.

If the '90s belonged to the Cowboys, this decade has been all Eagles. In 2000, Andy Reid's team declared itself with that 41-14 opening-day victory in triple-digit heat, then went on to win five of six NFC East titles.

And maybe this is why the Cowboys continue to loom so large in these parts. When the Cowboys have been on top, they've won Super Bowls. When the Eagles have had the upper hand, they've fallen short.

Now the Cowboys appear to be surging again. In Tony Romo, they have a quarterback worthy of your most irrational dislike. He seems like a good guy. He dates singers and actresses. He was seen hanging out with Britney Spears in L.A. last week.

There's Roy Williams, the safety whose penchant for injuring opponents forced the NFL to outlaw the horse-collar tackle. There's DeMarcus Ware, the playmaking outside pass rusher. There's that wide receiver who played briefly in Philadelphia - what's his name again?

The Cowboys are 6-1. Dallas week feels like a big deal, so an Eagles win would feel that much better. That's all you can ask for from any rivalry.

DMN Blog: Smell a big game coming for Spencer

(We interrupt all the Tony Romo contract talk to discuss the minor matter of this week's game against hated division rival Philadelphia.)

You know Donovan McNabb's mobility is a problem when a 4-yard run by him is headline news, and the snap didn't even sail over his head.

McNabb, who wasn't near the running threat he used to be even before tearing up his knee last season, claims that he has his burst back. Wade Phillips claims to believe him, but the fact is McNabb has a much better chance to beat the Cowboys if he's sitting comfortably in the pocket than if they make him move.

DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis are one of the NFL's most productive pass-rush tandems. You figure they'll present all sorts of problems for the Eagles, especially since RT Jon Runyan is toughing it out with a broken tailbone.

But the prediction here is that rookie OLB Anthony Spencer makes McNabb's Sunday miserable. This is partially because I think Spencer is developing into a fine player, but primarily because of my worst-case scenario theory for McNabb.

You see, the Cowboys swapped picks with Philly to select Spencer. McNabb was rather perturbed that the Eagles traded down to draft Kevin Kolb, the kid that could replace him as soon as next season. Just imagine how mad McNabb will be when Spencer drives him into the turf a few times.

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 10:18 AM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Week 9 Matchup: Cowboys at Eagles

Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC ), Lincoln Financial Field

War Room scouts break down every NFL game. Here is a excerpt of their Cowboys-Eagles matchup:

Quarterback: Advantage Eagles
Running backs: Advantage Eagles
Receivers: Advantage Cowboys
Offensive line: Advantage Cowboys
Defensive line: Advantage Eagles
Linebackers: Advantage Cowboys
Secondary: Advantage Cowboys
Pass rushers: Advantage Cowboys
Special teams: Advantage Cowboys
Depth: Advantage Eagles
Coaching: Advantage Eagles

Prediction Cowboys 25 Eagles 23

Cowboys Keys For Success

1. Use cutback runs. With an extra week of practice, expect the Cowboys to look for more ways to put the ball in the hands of Marion Barber III, a powerful inside runner averaging 5.7 yards a carry. The Eagles play an attacking style of defense and often attack the line of scrimmage rather than read the play and react. Barber must wait for the Eagles to over-pursue and locate the cutback lane. If able to find daylight, Barber is tough to tackle.

2. Assign a defensive back to cover Brian Westbrook. Westbrook has made a career out of abusing defensive coordinators for sticking with base personnel and assigning a linebacker to cover him on passing downs. Dallas coach Wade Phillips must not make the same mistake and should deploy a safety, Ken Hamlin or Roy Williams, to come up and defend Westbrook when he motions out to the slot. Williams, however, is a liability in coverage and would struggle to stick with Westbrook in the open field.

3. Attack the Eagles' linebackers. Outside linebackers Takeo Spikes and Chris Gocong struggle in coverage, but middle linebacker Omar Gaither is solid. Spikes and Gocong are much better playing straight ahead rather than playing backwards, so Dallas tight end Jason Witten should take advantage. Look for Witten to run vertical routes in the middle of the field, stretching out Spikes and Gocong and looking to get behind them for a big play before the safeties have time to help.

Eagles Keys For Success

1. Move the pocket. The Eagles do not want Donovan McNabb to stay stationary in the pocket and allow the Cowboys to unload on him with their 3-4 zone-blitz scheme. Therefore, expect to see a lot of rollout passes and bootlegs to keep McNabb on the move and force defenders to constantly change angles of pursuit. McNabb is moving better of late, and this plan would allow him to extend plays with his legs and give his receivers more time to get open.

2. Drop seven into coverage. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves to blitz on obvious passing downs, but the Cowboys have too many weapons for that plan to work. Instead, Johnson should drop seven defenders into coverage and run a version of a three-deep scheme to keep all potential big plays in front of them. This would put the burden on the defensive line to pressure Tony Romo without blitz help.

3. Throw more screen passes. The Eagles have one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league in Westbrook and must utilize him to neutralize the Cowboys' pass rush. Look for McNabb to throw Westbrook screen passes from various formations with the hope of sucking the Cowboys upfield and leaving Westbrook with a lot of running room.

NFL Point Spreads For Week 9 - Week Nine NFL Football Spread - NFL Game Spreads 11/4 - 11/5, 2007

Week Nine NFL Football Spread

Date & Time Favorite Spread Underdog
11/4 1:00 ET Washington -3.5 At NY Jets
11/4 1:00 ET At Kansas City -2.5 Green Bay
11/4 1:00 ET At Tampa Bay -3.5 Arizona
11/4 1:00 ET At Tennessee -4 Carolina
11/4 1:00 ET At Atlanta -3 San Francisco
11/4 1:00 ET At New Orleans -3.5 Jacksonville
11/4 1:00 ET At Detroit -3 Denver
11/4 1:00 ET At Buffalo -1.5 Cincinnati
11/4 1:00 ET San Diego -7.5 At Minnesota
11/4 4:05 ET At Cleveland -1 Seattle
11/4 4:15 ET New England -5.5 At Indianapolis
11/4 4:15 ET At Oakland -3 Houston
11/4 8:15 ET Dallas -3 At Philadelphia

Monday Night Football Point Spread

11/5 8:30 ET At Pittsburgh -9 Baltimore

Tony Romo's bye weekend with Britney Spears ^ | 10:53 AM CDT on Monday, October 29, 2007
Posted on 10/29/2007 11:44:16 AM PDT by Perdogg

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo partied with Britney Spears and pals in Los Angeles on Friday, according to

After a long court hearing in her custody battle, Ms. Spears hit the town with longtime friend Alli Sims. The pop star, dressed in a masquerade ball mask, and Ms. Sims, first made a quick stop at the restaurant Ketchup where Mr. Romo was having dinner.

Dallas Cowboys chat: Road can be rough in Philly

Cowboys beat writer Todd Archer answered questions about the team on Monday, Oct. 29.

Todd Archer: Finally got some sleep after the Red Sox won the World Series. Three years is way too long to wait between championships, don't you think? Anyway, on to the Cowboys questions ...

• • •

CowFan07: There has already been some talk about the Cowboys-Giants rematch in two weeks. But I'm worried about this game at Philadelphia, especially with people sort of writing the Eagles off already. Will Dallas have trouble at the Linc?

Todd Archer: Cowfan07 kicks it off with a good one. Of course the Cowboys will have trouble at the Linc. Philly has rarely been kind to the Cowboys. They have won twice there since 1998 and the '05 win came on Roy Williams' interception return for a touchdown. You can't write off the Eagles. Too prideful of a team.

• • •

From e-mail: Considering how dominant New England has been so far this year, was it actually an accomplishment for the Cowboys to be leading the Pats in the third quarter and for the game to be very competitive until early in the fourth quarter? Does it bode well that the Cowboys at least looked like they belonged on the same field with a true juggernaut like the Pats?


Todd Archer: The best I can give you is a maybe. Each game is different, but that score wasn't indicative of how close the game really was, in my opinion. I'm sure Albert will disagree, but ... the Cowboys have come the closest to the Patriots and truly believe if they don't get called for a hold on that fourth-down play, they're in the game. But I don't think the Patriots ever felt threatened when the Cowboys took a 24-21 lead either.

• • •

Star in WV: Wondering what your thoughts are about how the Cowboys' offensive line of today stacks up against the best Dallas OL in the 1990s. If they are just as good, why aren't we seeing better production out of our running game?

Todd Archer: Star from the Mountaineer state checks in. Nice win for WVU against Rutgers over the weekend. You can't compare the lines of then and now. That line had the NFL's all-time leading rusher running the ball and a Hall of Fame quarterback getting rid of the ball. That line had Pro Bowlers at almost every spot. This line has just two right now. The running game has been good but not great this year. They haven't consistently run it from the first quarter to the last yet. Is that solely the line? Possibly. I think they would agree they need to do a better job. Not to steal from Tim Cowlishaw, but why not start Marion Barber? Keep the carries the same if you want, but give Barber the first try with the ball. Just a thought.

• • •

NoMoreTuna: The Cowboys seemed to play better in the first four weeks than they did in the last three. Do you think the bye week will help them get back to playing at a higher level?

Todd Archer: It can't hurt, but that won't be the reason the team plays at a high level again. They needed some rest and relaxation to refresh. The next three weeks will go a long way in shaping the season and they need to be at their best.

• • •

Rob1108: I watched some of the Eagles game yesterday. Their line had problems and it looks like Donovan McNabb is still having issues throwing on the run. Thoughts?

Todd Archer: McNabb threw for 333 yards, right? I don't know how much of an issue it could have been. But I will give you this: He doesn't look as smooth as he did before the knee injury. I don't think we see another 15-second run around like we did in '04 against the Cowboys. The way to beat the Eagles is to contain Brian Westbrook, in my opinion.

• • •

TonyTonyTonyRomos: Was Julius Jones' rookie year a fluke? As I recall, he was explosive when running off of draws and delays. Why have we not seen more of these types of plays run for him? We rarely run toss plays anymore. It feels like every play is up the gut with the RB having the option of cutting it outside.

Todd Archer: A fluke? I wouldn't say that. But Jones was fresher than everybody else that year having missed seven games. The Cowboys ran him out of a lot of three-wide sets, which opened the field for him. You're right, he hasn't been able to use his speed to the edge as much as you'd expect. Why? Can't say. I don't think Jones has been as bad as people think. He's had a couple of runs called back because of penalties. He's running hard. He's a threat out of the backfield.

• • •

Jason L: Do you think the Cowboys will consider letting Flozell Adams walk as a free agent at the end of this season and turn the left tackle position over to Doug Free? How risky of a move would that be?

Todd Archer: Yes and yes. I believe the Cowboys would like to keep Adams but at the right price. He is 32 and has some issues with his knees. He's played well the last two years. He will frustrate with false-start penalties, but left tackles don't grow on trees. Adams is one of the better tackles in the NFC. If he wants major, major money, I don't think he comes back. They like Free's athleticism a lot. He was doing well in the preseason before a knee injury. Sure it would be a risky move, but you can't keep everybody.

• • •

Rob1108: How's Anthony Henry looking?

Todd Archer: We don't get to see a lot of practice, but Henry's words mean more to me. He said he is playing against the Eagles. His return would put the defense back in order and it could free up Roy Williams some, too.

• • •

JerryWorld09: The Cowboys have collapsed the last couple of Decembers. Do you see anything that makes you think that won't happen this year, or is it too early to tell?

Todd Archer: Can we get through November first? It's too early to tell, but Wade Phillips' approach has been to save his players' legs during the year. Nobody will believe this, but Bill Parcells did the same thing last year and that didn't work.

• • •

sonvolt10: Do you have a reasonable guesstimate on when Terry Glenn will return?

Todd Archer: I'd put it at Thanksgiving at the earliest. Last week, Wade Phillips said Glenn would need a couple of weeks to build up strength in his quad, so that rules out the Eagles and Giants in my mind. Then he'd need to practice for at least two weeks. But if you're holding your breath on Glenn's return, you might be looking at setting a world record.

• • •

Evilinc: What's the feeling on why the Cowboys seem to struggle running the ball early in games? Much of Barber's great numbers have come in the fourth quarter, which while certainly excellent, somewhat obscures that he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with his touches in the first half. Are teams simply loading the box and backing out once Romo makes them pay?

Todd Archer: Teams are loading up early in games, but you would think after Romo has lit it up the first seven games, they'd back off some. It's a mystery as to why they are not running better early in games, but I think it speaks well of Jason Garrett that he is not beating his head against the wall in sticking with the run. Barber has picked up 48 yards on 12 first-quarter carries; Julius Jones has 76 yards on 27 carries.

• • •

lmgtrm1: Now that you are allowed to talk to the other coaches on the team, how would you rate the Cowboys' coaching staff at this point in the season?

Todd Archer: Let's clear up a myth: we could always talk to the coaches, we just couldn't quote them. The coaching staff deserves a ton of kudos and Wade Phillips deserves credit for that. Because he was hired late, not a lot of assistants were available. I'd say the holdover coaches Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles, Paul Pasqualoni and Kacy Rogers have done an excellent job of filling in with the new guys. One name we always keep out of that list is Joe Juraszek, the strength coach, and we shouldn't. He is as good as there is.

• • •

sonvolt10: Brian Westbrook has been a beast for Philly and its offense. How does Wade plan on slowing him down?

Todd Archer: Two more questons. We've got to get out to practice. We'll start with another won from Sonvolt (are we fans of the band?) Not sure if Phillips has any better plan than any other coach, but it's important to get defenders to the ball and be sound tacklers. Where he is most dangerous is in the passing game because he is a mismatch for a safety or linebacker. I wonder if the Cowboys use more nickel defense against the Eagles this week in regular situations.

• • •

Jason L: We all know Roy Williams gets scrutinized very closely by the fans and the media, but how has the other safety, Ken Hamlin, played this season? Are the Cowboys happy with Hamlin's performance so far?

Todd Archer: And here's the ender. I know Jerry Jones is happy with Hamlin. He struggled against the Giants and Patriots, like every other defender. I think Hamlin has been fine and his contributions are mostly unnoticed because he is responsible for lining everybody up. Can he be better? Sure, but I don't think the Cowboys are disappointed at all.

DMN BloG; Henry thinks he'll play

CB Anthony Henry -- present at practice again today -- thinks he's ready for game action after nearly a month of rehabilitation and work to strength the high ankle sprain he suffered in his right leg on Sept. 30 against St. Louis. He said that the determining factor on whether he plays Sunday in Philadelphia will be the effect his playing will have on the team.

That means if he can add something to the mix, he'll play. If he'll hurt the team by being out there, he won't.

"That's the most important thing, besides just being healthy," Henry said. "I don't want to go out there and give up plays that are going to put us in a bad situation. That's why I look at the team situation first, then myself."

Coach Wade Phillips said "I don't know that (Henry) is there yet." Phillips added that he knows Henry can move fine forward and back, but is unsure that he's regained the lateral movement to play.

Even if he is healthy, chances are Henry will be eased back in a bit by the coaches. One of the big upshots figures to be that if Henry does return this week, it'll allow the Cowboys to move Terence Newman to move down to the slot in the nickel and cover Kevin Curtis.

"I probably won't start, they'll probably put me in there sparingly," said Henry. "I'm probably a little out of game shape right now. But they'll put me in a situation where I'll be effective.

Posted by Albert Breer at 1:55 PM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (5)

Mort on ESPN - Romo gets new deal! 6 yrs $69M

Report: Romo agrees to six-year extension

ESPN reports that Tony Romo has agreed to a six-year, $69 million extension with $31 million guaranteed. More to come.

Posted by Tim MacMahon at 5:27 PM (E-mail this entry) Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Young Hatcher's Play Starting To Draw Attention

Jana Wallis - Email Staff Writer
October 26, 2007 5:03 PM

IRVING, Texas - Some of the Cowboys' recent games have more closely represented circus acts than professional football, with unbelievable comebacks and downright bizarre plays, like, say, a 298-pound defensive end scoring a touchdown.

In the Cowboys' 48-27 loss to New England in Week 6, there was second-year backup defensive end Jason Hatcher recovering a fumble by Tom Brady and going 29 yards for a touchdown. And then the very next week in a 24-14 victory over Minnesota, Hatcher forced Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson to fumble, which helped set up a Nick Folk field goal.

That's called playmaking in the NFL.

Hatcher, who plays backup to Marcus Spears at left defensive end and to Greg Ellis on the nickel defense, was the Cowboys' third-round pick in the 2006 draft, the club envisioning a gifted pass rusher from inside and out. They just realized he was going to be more of a developmental player coming from Division I-AA Grambling State.

Well, that maturation seems to be taking place.

"He's always rushed the passer real well, but now he's learning to be more physical in the run game," Cowboys inside linebacker Bradie James said of Hatcher's development. "When he comes in with that second line, we expect not to have a letdown, and at times we've even gotten more.

"Now he's stepping up, and hope he continues to do what he's been doing. We substitute in waves, and they have that freshness going when they come in."

Hatcher got off to a nice start to his rookie season last year, working his way into the rotation at defensive end in the standard defense and onto the nickel defense some as an inside pass rusher on the four-man line. In his first five games, Hatcher totaled three tackles, a half-sack and three quarterback pressures.

Hatcher suffered a problematic sprained ankle in that fifth game, though, and would miss the next two games and would play sparingly in the two after that. Then the Cowboys lost starting outside linebacker and nickel defensive end Greg Ellis for the season with his torn Achilles.

So much for Hatcher's developmental process. He was thrown out there at the left defensive end spot on the nickel's four-man line, having to learn on the run. The rookie would finish his first season with 2½ sacks, 13 tackles and seven quarterback pressures, seemingly laying some serious groundwork for 2007.

Then of all things, early in training camp Hatcher tore a hamstring and basically missed nearly all of the preseason, but got back in time for the start of the regular season. In seven games, Hatcher has 13 tackles, two tackles for losses, one sack and three quarterback pressures backing up Spears and being inserted on some of the nickel packages.

Not to mention his touchdown.

"We have a good combination there," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said of the Hatcher-Spears duo at left defensive end. "You don't always see some of the other things that happen. Sometimes on the pass one of them does a better job. Sometimes on the run one of the other ones does a better job. Can't always tell. Both of them play screens well."

That's basically in response to those who have seen Hatcher's playmaking ability and think he should start ahead of Spears, one of the team's two first-round picks in 2005. But as Phillips will tell anyone who listens, the defense with the current rotation ranks seventh in the league and seventh against the run, giving up just 87 yards a game rushing.

"I need to get some more opportunities to rush the passer," Hatcher said of the strides he still needs to make. "Greg Ellis came back and he's doing a great job. He took my spot when he came back but he's a great player so he deserves it.

"I just want to get more opportunities in the pass rush."

Hatcher, from Jena, La., speaks of Ellis taking his spot on the four-man nickel defensive line, where he was rotating at the left defensive end spot with first-round draft choice Anthony Spencer. Now there is somewhat of a logjam there with Ellis returning, though the Cowboys are starting to use Spencer on both ends, also backing up DeMarcus Ware on the right side.

That should create a few more opportunities for Hatcher, who might just be creating opportunities for himself with his play.

"Jason Hatcher has been doing a great job," said defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, who came to the Cowboys from San Diego with Phillips. "When I first came in . . . I thought he was a very good player, and was a very good young player and that we could do some things to utilize him being such a good athlete.

"He's been able to make plays when he's been in, and I'm not surprised. Maybe we need to play him a little bit more."

Which is usually what happens with playmakers.

First and goal to go

At 6-1 and atop the NFC East, Cowboys aim for a super second half

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Although the Cowboys didn't necessarily expect to be 6-1 through the first seven games of the season, they did expect to among the league's best teams.

Owner Jerry Jones built the Cowboys in the off-season to make a Super Bowl run in 2007. And they are seemingly well on their way at the midpoint. But as good as they feel about how they have started, the Cowboys say finishing strong over the second half of the season is important.

"At the end of the day, some teams are going to rise up here these next six, seven weeks, and some are going to fall off," quarterback Tony Romo said. "You just have to keep stacking the wins together and go forward as a team and get better each week, and, eventually, put yourself in position to be a good football team in December, January and hopefully February. That's all we are trying to do."

Here's a look at the Cowboys at the bye:

Best comeback

Cowboys 25, Bills 24 On a Monday night in Buffalo, the Cowboys played their worst game of the season. Tony Romo was intercepted five times and lost one fumble, and two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns. The Cowboys had a minus-5 turnover margin in the game. They trailed 24-16 but scored nine points in the final 20 seconds to win.

Best play

Tony Romo's 4-yard run vs. Rams With the score tied 7-7 and the Cowboys facing a third-and-3 from midfield late in the second quarter, center Andre Gurode's snap to Romo sailed over his head, and Romo was unable to retrieve the ball until he was at his own 17-yard line. He grabbed it, turned around and ran up the left sideline for a first down. Unofficially, Romo ran 70 yards for an official 4-yard gain. The play ignited the Texas Stadium crowd, and the Cowboys won 35-7.

Best performance

Tony Romo vs. Giants In his first game since the 2006 playoff loss in Seattle, Romo completed 15 of 24 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a score.

Best clutch performance

Nick Folk vs. Bills The rookie kicker had already made two field goals, including a career-long 47-yarder, when he lined up for the game-winning attempt with 2 seconds remaining. On his first try from 53 yards, the kick was good. But the Bills had called a timeout, thus negating the kick. On the second attempt Folk was good again to give the Cowboys the win.

Worst performance

The Cowboys' defense against the Patriots Other than a fumble return for a touchdown, the Cowboys' defense looked as porous as the rest of the defenses Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has faced. The Patriots scored 48 points, were 11-for-17 on third downs, and Brady passed for 388 yards and five touchdowns.

Craziest play

Marion Barber's near-safety against the Patriots The Cowboys had the ball on their own 10-yard line in the third quarter. Barber took a handoff and tried to run to his right, but began heading backward and almost was tackled several times in the end zone before he reversed his field and ran to his right for the most-exciting 2-yard gain in recent memory.

Biggest surprise

Cornerback Jacque Reeves. There was a lot of consternation when the Cowboys released cornerback Aaron Glenn just before the season. Terence Newman was hobbled with a heel injury and there was no proven player to step in. Reeves hasn't been a shutdown cornerback, but he hasn't been a major liability, either. He has been solid. More important, he has been the team's only constant at cornerback since Anthony Henry went down with an ankle injury as Newman was set to return.

TV appeal

In the 1970s and early 1980s and for much of the 1990s , television networks had one universal adage -- when in doubt, go with the Cowboys. The draw of America's Team seems to be returning in 2007. The Cowboys-New England Patriots game on CBS was the most-watched NFL Sunday game since 1996. What's more is the Cowboys have had the highest-rated games this season on Fox, ESPN and NBC.

Where are you ...

Defensive end Marcus Spears. No one was a bigger critic of former coach Bill Parcells when he left than Spears. Not even Terrell Owens. Spears blamed Parcells' conservative schemes for his lack of impact plays. The former first-round pick had 2.5 sacks his first two seasons and predicted big numbers in Wade Phillips' aggressive scheme. Through seven games, Spears has a half-sack and is getting pushed for playing time by Jason Hatcher, who has a sack, a forced fumble and a 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Upcoming story lines

Tank eligible to play Nov. 11: Tank Johnson will be eligible to make his debut against the New York Giants on Nov. 11. Don't expect a Pro Bowl performance from Johnson, but do expect a fresh and motivated body the Cowboys can put into the nose tackle rotation with Jay Ratliff. His role and snaps should increase as the season goes on, alleviating wear and tear on Ratliff, a converted defensive end.

Favre comes to the Metroplex: Brett Favre comes to town and could be making his final appearance at Texas Stadium on Nov. 29. It might be the final time to see one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks in the area. Add in the fact that the Packers are on the Cowboys' heels for the best record in the NFC, and this could be Thursday-night must-see TV.

Will Terry Glenn return? Glenn, who has had two arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee, said he wants to come back this season, and he is doing everything he can to get back. The Cowboys are holding a roster spot open for him. The offense could be downright scary if Glenn returns to join Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton as weapons for Romo. But Crayton's emergence as a legitimate No. 2 receiver means the Cowboys can still realize their Super Bowl dream if Glenn doesn't return.

Will Tony Romo get a contract extension? It's a matter of "when," not "if" regarding Romo and a new contract with the Cowboys. You probably can also add in "how much." Negotiations are progressing, but at this point, it probably makes more sense for the Cowboys to wait until after the season. Regardless, Romo will be a very rich man soon. He is already in line for the richest contract in Cowboys history. And if he leads the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, the money would be unfathomable for a player who was unknown and undrafted in 2003.

What about a deal for Marion Barber? The other side of the pancake on Barber's breakout season is that he is in the final year of his rookie contract. He will be a restricted free agent, and he has retained the services of agent Drew Rosenhaus and will be looking for a lucrative deal. The Cowboys could put a first-round tender on Barber, which would guarantee him a $1.85 million salary. If a team were to sign him, it would owe the Cowboys a first-round draft pick. Or the Cowboys could put a first- and third-round tender on Barber, which would guarantee him a $2.35 million salary.

Midseason Grades

B Rush Offense The offensive line has been as good as advertised, and so has free-agent signee guard Leonard Davis. He has combined with center Andre Gurode to give the Cowboys a formidable force up the middle. The Cowboys are 10th in the league on the ground (130.4 yards per game), led by backup running back Marion Barber, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

A Pass Offense What more can you ask of Tony Romo? He has been better than expected, even with the six-turnover game against Buffalo. He leads the league's fourth-rated pass offense. He makes plays with his legs and his arm. Tight end Jason Witten has emerged as Romo's go-to receiver, but the Cowboys have an embarrassment of riches with Terrell Owens leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns and Patrick Crayton's rise as a viable no. 2 receiver.

A Rush Defense Wade Phillips came to the Cowboys with a reputation as a sack-hungry defensive coach. But he has always placed an emphasis on stopping the run first. And the Cowboys have been stout against the run, allowing more than 100 yards in a game only once. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Chris Canty have been anchors up front while linebacker Bradie James has cleaned up in the middle. He leads the team in tackles.

C Pass Defense The Cowboys had issues in the secondary with starting cornerbacks Anthony Henry and Terence Newman missing games because of injuries. Jacques Reeves has been solid filling in, but lacks star quality. Safeties Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin have also given up some big plays. But the return of linebacker Greg Ellis has helped the pass rush. He has 4.5 sacks in the past four games.

B Special Teams There are concerns about the Cowboys' kick and punt coverage teams after they gave up touchdowns on returns against St. Louis and Buffalo. There are also questions about the Cowboys' kickoff return unit. Tyson Thompson has struggled on returns for much of the year. There are no questions about rookie kicker Nick Folk, who has missed only two field-goal attempts, one of which was blocked, or punter Mat McBriar, who is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Add in a blocked field goal by Chris Canty that led to a 68-yard return for a touchdown by Pat Watkins, and the special teams have made major contributions.

A Coaching Wade Phillips might not have the stature of a Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson or a Tom Landry, but so far he has proven to be the right man for the job. His laid-back style was just what the team and organization needed. He has also followed up his promise to put his best players in position to succeed. Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Marion Barber, DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis have had a huge impact on the season.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cowboys can savor NFC-best 6-1 mark on their bye weekend

By JAIME ARON AP Sports Writer
Article Launched: 10/27/2007 10:23:22 AM MDT

IRVING, Texas—Tony Romo was weighing the guilty pleasure of being a couch potato this weekend against the chance to make a quick road trip. Either way, he figured, he couldn't lose.
After winning six of their first seven games, Romo and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys deserve to enjoy their bye weekend any way they want.

Besides, they're going to need the rest.

The Cowboys will jump into the remainder of their season with a stretch that should show whether they're really as good as their NFC-best record indicates. Their next three games are on the road against the Philadelphia and the New York Giants, then home against the Washington Redskins, a rare back-to-back-to-back swing through the division.

"We're excited, and we should be, to be in this situation," tight end Jason Witten said. "But I don't think this team is satisfied by any means. We know the challenge that's ahead of us."

The concern among Cowboys fans is the team's downward trend.

Dallas opened with four straight wins, the margin widening each time—from 10 to 17, then 24 to 28. It nearly came crashing down with an ugly performance in Buffalo, yet Romo overcame six turnovers (all his) to pull out a victory as time expired, getting the Cowboys to 5-0 for the first time since 1983.

Then they were stomped by New England, but New England stomps everyone. There was some solace in having put the Patriots behind in the third quarter for the first time all year, but not much considering Dallas was pretty lifeless in the first and fourth quarters.

The Cowboys had a chance to go into the bye with a confidence-restoring game against Minnesota. While Dallas was clearly the better team, the Vikings were a play away from leading during the fourth quarter.

So, which club are they, the powerhouse of the first four weeks or the creaky team of the last three? Are they good enough to beat the Buffalos and Minnesotas of the NFL, but not yet ready to beat the elite? After all, the defense played its two worst games against the two best quarterbacks it faced, Tom Brady and Eli Manning.

Here's another tidbit to consider: Dallas has faced only one team with a winning record at the time, and lost. Six of the remaining nine games are against teams that currently have winning records.

And, remember, the Cowboys come out of the bye with games against all three division foes, the teams with the most to gain from beating them.

"I think it'll be good for us," receiver Terrell Owens said. "We're going to have to bring our A game."

The best news for Dallas is that help is on the way.

Terry Glenn has been on the roster all season despite two knee surgeries. There's no timetable for his return, but in a text message he sent T.O. a few days ago he used the phrase "when I get back."

The club is willing to wait for Glenn to get healthy because the deep threat he can provide is the one thing the offense is missing. Even without him, the Cowboys are on pace for the most points in team history.

The outlook is even better on defense. Pick a spot, any spot, and the rotation is getting better.

On the line, newcomer Tank Johnson has to sit out one more game because of a suspension, then can make his Dallas debut. He'll help ease the load at nose tackle that Jay Ratliff has been handling since Jason Ferguson went down in the opener.

The secondary should be back to its projected lineup as soon as next week.

Dallas opened the year without its top cornerback, Terence Newman, because of foot and knee injuries. Then in the game he was being eased back, fellow starter Anthony Henry left with a high ankle sprain. Henry was leading the NFL with four interceptions at the time.

Once both are healthy and coach Wade Phillips can expect reliable man-to-man coverage, he'll start getting serious about blitzing. He has the linebackers to do it with, too.

Greg Ellis returned from a torn left Achilles' tendon a few weeks ago, then this past week he replaced rookie Anthony Spencer in the starting lineup. Ellis has 4 1/2 sacks in four games, and DeMarcus Ware's numbers have gone up since Ellis took over on the opposite side.

Phillips already has begun tinkering with Ware, Ellis and Spencer being on the field together. He could deploy them more often with his secondary intact and Johnson clogging the middle.

"It's real promising," Ellis said. "When you look at it on paper, it's supposed to work out real good. But, still, you've got to go out there and get it done. If we can continue to do like we have done thus far, with the exception of the New England game, then we should have something to talk about at the end of this year."

Ah, yes, the end of the year.

Regardless of how the Cowboys come out of their November stretch, December is their ultimate proving ground after collapsing in the final month the last two seasons.Owner Jerry Jones even brought it up at a news conference the day before the start of training camp.

Owens believes this team is better suited to finish strong than those run by Bill Parcells. He noted the relaxed atmosphere Phillips has created, the resilience they've already shown (four wins when trailing in the second half) and the impact players soon joining the lineup.

"I think if everybody just does what they're supposed to do and plays hard, there's not any reason why we shouldn't finish strong," Owens said. "I told Tank, 'You don't have to come in and do anything extra special. Just jump on the train and go for the ride.'"

Parcells for Wade Change: So Far, So Good

James Joyner | Friday, October 26, 2007

The Dallas Cowboys took a 6-1 record into their bye week, their best start since 1995, their last Super Bowl season. They give much of the credit to their new head coach.

Dallas Cowboys players are starting to admit what outsiders have suspected all along: Going from the tight grip of Bill Parcells to the soft hand of Wade Phillips was a refreshing change.

“I can’t say enough about what this coaching atmosphere has brought to this locker room,” receiver Terrell Owens said. “I think every guy can share a little bit about what these coaches mean to them.” So the 6-1 start is a reflection of their leadership? “There’s not any question,” Owens said.

Phillips is big on giving out game balls. Asked whether Phillips deserves one right now, T.O. gushed that “all the coaches need a game ball.” “I can’t say enough about Ray Sherman and the job that he’s done with us as receivers,” Owens said. “You know, just communication — that’s what it’s all about. Just the philosophy and Wade and him coming in and treating us as men is very much appreciated in this locker room.”

Across the locker room and from the other side of the ball, linebacker Greg Ellis echoed many of those sentiments. “The chemistry here is good,” Ellis said. “The way Wade has chosen to run this team right now, it’s working real well.”

Ellis also brought up communication, a word that players have used a lot since training camp, always in a positive way. The inference is that it was lacking under Parcells. Nope. It was practically outlawed, according to Ellis. “Some coaches like to create that barrier between coach and player and never have that line crossed,” Ellis said. “Some coaches say, ‘OK, we’re all in this boat together. We want to win. You win, coaches win, the whole organization wins.’ We’re now in that kind of system where the coaches and players are more willing to work with each other.”

Ellis brought up an example from the New England game. He noticed that Tom Brady was coming to the line of scrimmage, looking for Ellis and yelling out which side he was on, prompting linemen to shift their protection to his side. “Not only did I go up and tell our defensive coaches what they were doing, DeMarcus Ware told them, Bradie James told them,” Ellis said.

He made it clear that players aren’t telling coaches what they should do. They are just relaying information they’ve gathered on the field and making suggestions based on that. “There’s still that respect — he’s the coach, I’m the player — but it’s safe to say, ‘Coach, we can do this right here. This is open for me to do in the field,’” Ellis said. “It’s an open street. It’s a respected street, understand that, but it’s an open one.”

Phillips was asked Thursday how good of a job he thinks he’s done. “I don’t really evaluate myself,” he said. “I just try to get this team going forward and getting them to play as hard as they can play. The assistant coaches deserve an A-plus, I can tell you that.”

The big guy gets at least an A thus far. The defense isn’t as dominating or as consistent as one would expect given Phillips’ reputation and the amount of high draft picks spent on that side of the ball in recent years. Then again, Phillips wasn’t the one shopping for the groceries in those days.

Tony Romo and the offense have really come alive. If they get some more discipline and stop making boneheaded penalties, the team should be in strong position for making a run in “the tournament.”

Cowboys Sack Numbers Not Whole Story

James Joyner | Saturday, October 27, 2007

When Wade Phillips was brought in as head coach, Dallas Cowboys fans thought all the investment in high draft picks on defensive linemen and linebackers would finally pay off in the form of massive quarterback sack totals. That hasn’t happened. DMN’s Albert Breer argues that this is misleading.

Seven games into Phillips’ tenure, the numbers fail to show a quantum leap. The Cowboys have 18 sacks, projecting to 41 for a season, which would be a modest improvement from last year’s total of 34. Dallas ranks 12th in sacks per pass play, another decent but not huge jump from last year’s finish of 19th in the category.

But to look at the numbers alone would be missing the point. The simple threat a Phillips defense presents, especially when armed with an elite edge rusher like DeMarcus Ware, has worked to handcuff offenses.

“I’m encouraged about our pass rush,” Phillips said. “We’re seeing more max-protect – it’s what we saw [coaching] in San Diego. They keep everybody in, and therefore you can cover better.”

Never was that more evident than last weekend against the Vikings, a game in which the Cowboys didn’t register a sack until the midway point of the fourth quarter, yet held quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to 72 yards passing and a 32 percent completion rate.

By an unofficial count, Phillips and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart sent just four rushers on 18 of Jackson’s 25 pass drops. They sent five men to pressure seven times, and never more than that. But, as Phillips said, that didn’t stop the Vikings from keeping tight ends and backs in to block. More often than not, six blockers were kept in to handle four rushers, and seven were there to block five. In some instances, Minnesota even had seven in protection blocking four, and that’s with a line starting two players who have nine Pro Bowl berths between them.

“When you get that situation, although you’d like to say the speed and the intensity of the pressure will get there … they’ve got a chance to block it,” Stewart said. “So what you want to do is play coverage. You can double guys and drop more guys, and you get coverage sacks, not just the blitz sacks.”

It becomes a blitz economy. In the situations in which Minnesota kept a back and a tight end in with the tackles, guards and center, only three receivers were releasing. In the cases where Dallas rushed four, seven dropped into coverage. Meaning in that circumstance, seven guys are covering three receivers.

So for a secondary that’s been besieged by injury – most prominently to starting corners Terence Newman and Anthony Henry – the pass rush’s impact has been a godsend. It’s meant less to put on Jacques Reeves and Nate Jones as they’ve inherited more extensive roles. “It helps them because they know where their help is; they might have inside help here or short help there,” Stewart said. “But they still have to know what they’re doing.”

The scary thing is that, as time passes in the new regime’s first season, the guys up front still can know what they’re doing better. That will allow more liberal play-calling.

It starts with Ware, who Stewart agreed has a similar impact as the Chargers’ Shawne Merriman in the way he stresses an offense, be it forcing a double team from a tight end, a chip from a back or a slide in protection. And now with Greg Ellis returning to full speed and Anthony Spencer having six starts under his belt, the coaches have three solid edge rushers at their disposal to go with a fleet of linemen capable of pressuring inside.

So perhaps, at this point, the real effect of the aggressive nature of Phillips’ defense has yet to be felt. “I think the coaches have confidence in us, from when they first got here, that we can get the job done,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “It’s just they’re kind of learning us a little more and we’re feeling situations out a little better in the game, and that’s what you’re starting to see.”

The problem with this analysis is that it hasn’t translated into strong performances against good teams. Yes, the D dominated the sorry Vikings and Buffalo Bills. But Tom Brady and the Patriots torched them for a ridiculous 38 points. Yes, the Pats are killing everybody right now. But the Cowboys have too much of the salary cap tied up in the defense to allow that to happen.

Beast of the East?

Original posted by fan62 from a sports forum:

Who are they? Well, it's pretty hard to tell. The Cowboys have the best record, the Giants are the hottest team, and the Redskins have probably faced the toughest schedule week-to-week (though they have had four home games and a bye.)
The picture will come clearer in November, with the NFC East schedule heating up. But for now, here's a statistical look at how the teams in the division compare, with overall league rankings in parantheses.

1. Dallas (3) 402.0 yds./game
2. Philadelphia (9) 349.3 yds./game
3. Giants (10) 347.7 yds./game
4. Washington (25) 304.5 yds./game

1. Dallas (4) 271.6 yds./game
2. Philadelphia (14) 219.7 yds./game
3. Giants (16) 217.3 yds./game
4. Washington (24) 189.8 yds./game

1-t. Dallas (10-t) 130.4 yds./game
1-t. Giants (10-t) 130.4 yds./game
3. Philadelphia (12) 129.7 yds./game
4. Washington (16) 114.7 yds./game

1. Washington (4) 276.8 yds./game
2. Dallas (7) 295.9 yds./game
3. Giants 303.4 (8) yds./game
4. Philadelphia (12) 308.2 yds./game

1. Washington (8) 196.2 yds./game
2. Giants (13) 206.0 yds./game
3. Dallas (16) 208.9 yds./game
4. Philadelphia (18) 220.2 yds./game

1. Washington (5) 80.7 yds./game
2. Dallas (7) 87.0 yds./game
3. Philadelphia (8) 88.0 yds./game
4. Giants (11) 97.4 yds./game

1. Washington (12-t) 11 takeaways/9 turnovers -- plus-2
2-t. Dallas (16-t) 14/13 -- plus-1
2-t. Philadelphia (16-t) 8/7 -- plus-1
4. Giants (19-t) 13/13 -- 0

Cowboys Insider: Romo, James have emerged as leaders

Tom Orsborn
San Antonio Express-News

Before the start of the season, I wrote that a lack of leadership would contribute to the Cowboys’ failure to become a championship team.

Seven games into the season, it’s unclear whether Dallas is as good as its NFC-best 6-1 record suggests. But this much is certain: The Cowboys may still fall short of the Super Bowl, but a lack of leadership won’t be the reason.

Tony Romo and Bradie James both deserve midseason grades of A for the leadership they’ve shown during Dallas’ surprising start.

Elected team captains before the start of the season along with Jason Witten and Keith Davis, Romo and James have emerged as the most vocal of the four.

Romo, in particular, doesn’t hesitate to speak out during games. Players who continually make mental mistakes are sure to hear a word or two from the quarterback.

“You have to be vocal with everybody,” Romo said. “When I say vocal, I don’t mean lean on them or be mean-spirited. I think you just talk to them, tell them what you are thinking.”

And like any good leader, Romo understands when to back off. He’s especially patient with the guys who protect him.

“I know (guard) Kyle (Kosier) got beat on a play (against Minnesota), and he looked back with a the-guy-is-pretty-good kind of look,” Romo said. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry. I will get the ball out.’ It puts them at ease a little bit.”

Romo said the secret to being a good leader is knowing when to chew a teammate out and when to use a kinder, gentler approach.

“When anyone struggles, you do two things,” he said. “One is say, ‘Hey, we can’t continue to do this.’ You do that if it’s a mental mistake. If it’s physical, I think that is part of the game. With (an offensive lineman), if a guy beat him once or something, I know he doesn’t want him to, so getting in his face isn’t going to do a lot about it.

“At the end of the day, you just want to stay positive and say, ‘Hey, keep fighting. I’ll get the ball out.’ ”

It also helps that Romo has the moral authority to speak out. That’s because he makes plays. Just being a quarterback doesn’t make you a leader. Do you think the Vikings listen to Tarvaris Jackson like the Cowboys do Romo?

“From the first you could see he was a hard worker, and you could see he made plays in practice,” coach Wade Phillips said of Romo. “But, again, a lot of guys can’t carry those (traits) over to a game, and he’s been able to do that pretty consistently. It’s one thing to just play quarterback, and even be a leader, but to be able to make plays that most people can’t make, or most quarterbacks can’t make…”

James, who calls the defensive signals, has also made his share of plays this season. The inside linebacker leads the team in tackles with 47 and has two sacks.

“Bradie James has played outstanding,” Phillips said. “He’s a leader. He’s really smart. He can make adjustments during the game. He can make audibles and things like that. I’ve had guys who couldn’t do that. We had to call everything for them and do everything for them. Bradie’s not that way. We are trying to utilize him more and more that way because he can put us in the right defense in a lot of cases.”

Phillips said Witten and Davis also deserve praise.

“Our captains have certainly played well,” Phillips said. “Our resident superstar has played well too. I guess I will call him by name – Terrell (Owens).”

Because of his age, Owens’ time with the Cowboys is probably limited. But Romo and James are 27 and 26, respectively, so expect them to be the team’s leaders for years to come.

Not bad for a team that some people thought didn’t have much leadership entering the season.

Don't expect new spin on Dallas Cowboys' RB rotation

By CALVIN WATKINS / The Dallas Morning News

IRVING – Talk show hosts and fans are clamoring for Cowboys running back Marion Barber.
They want Barber to move from backup to starter and end this silly rotation of running backs.
Barber has an exciting style of a punishing rusher who uses a stiff arm like a boxer snaps a jab.

Julius Jones, the starter, coming off a 1,000 yard season, is a sleek back with deceptive speed that moves through holes like a jazz band during a set: gracefully.

Despite the calls to sports talk radio stations and fans having their daily debates on blogs, in sports bars, phone conversations and in Texas Stadium, the Cowboys rotation isn't changing.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with it according to the people who make these decisions.

"I don't think that would make a difference in our game overall," coach Wade Phillips said.
The two running backs with the different styles have similar numbers.

Although Jones has fewer carries and yards this year than at this same time last year, he remains in the top 15 in the NFC in rushing yards and yards per carry in the second half.

Barber's numbers are impressive with more carries and yards. He's first in the NFC in yards per carry in the second half and third in the conference in yards per carry on first-and-10.

He has numbers of a player who is asking to be the primary back.

"No, I don't think like that at all," Barber said. "I look at the opportunity and you have to take advantage of it. It's all about winning the game, whether it's a three-back system. It's whatever."

The impact of both runners is seen on the scoreboard.

Dallas has the second best offense in the NFL and tied for 10th in rushing.

Of the 24 total offensive touchdowns, 13 came with Jones on the field and 11 with Barber.
When Dallas made 12 field goal attempts, Barber has been part of seven scoring drives and Jones five.

"There's personal goals, but we're winning, so everything else gets put aside," Jones said. "It's working out right now. We're fresher when it gets down to the fourth quarter. It's working out well for the team."

In some ways, Barber is the closer while Jones is the starter.

Barber's rushed 54 times for 364 yards with three touchdowns in the second half of games.

"He's a powerful inside runner," Phillips said. "You want to hammer it inside late in the ball game as much as you can. You don't want to run sideways trying to run outside."

The running backs publicly said they have no problems with the rotation. And they shouldn't because it could end following the season.

Jones is an unrestricted free agent, and he's always wondered if the Cowboys want him around.
Barber is a restricted free agent and the team could retain him by offering him a first-round tender or reaching a deal for a three-to-five year contract.

If Dallas lets Jones go, it could provide No. 3 back Tyson Thompson with a chance to join a new rotation. Also, Dallas, with two first-round picks in 2008, has the option of drafting a running back.

For now, the rotation of Jones and Barber or Barber and Jones stays.

And whomever has the hot hand gets the carries.

"I see everybody's point that Marion's doing some great things for us," Phillips said a few weeks ago. "And that's that what we hoped he'll do. But the other guy is doing some good thing for us, too."

FWST: Cowboy uses bye week to roll for charity

Star-Telegram staff writer

DALLAS -- Cowboys safety Roy Williams held his third annual "Bowling with the Boys" tournament at the 3000 Bowl in Dallas on Thursday night.

The celebrity bowling event is the top fundraiser for the Roy Williams foundation, which raises money to help support single mothers.

Linebackers Bradie James, Kevin Burnett and Akin Ayodele, center Andre Gurode, safety Keith Davis, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Jacques Reeves and secondary coach Todd Bowles were among the Cowboys who participated in the event before many left town to enjoy the off week.

"This is important to me," said Williams, who chose single mothers as his cause because of the way he saw his sister struggle with raising a child alone.

"It's close to my heart. It's exciting because it has grown every year. We are like a gardener watching his flowers mature. We are blossoming into a beautiful rose that won't ever wither."

Williams said he's more hands-on with the organization than ever.

For now, Williams plans to use the bye-week break to get away from football. He said his body needs to relax. He's also going to use the opportunity to go back to his roots, James Logan High School in Union City, Calif., to talk to school officials about making a donation to the athletic department or to the school's stadium.

"I would like to get my name on the stadium," Williams said.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cowboys Insider: Romo, James have emerged as leaders

Tom Orsborn
San Antonio Express-News

Before the start of the season, I wrote that a lack of leadership would contribute to the Cowboys’ failure to become a championship team.

Seven games into the season, it’s unclear whether Dallas is as good as its NFC-best 6-1 record suggests. But this much is certain: The Cowboys may still fall short of the Super Bowl, but a lack of leadership won’t be the reason.

Tony Romo and Bradie James both deserve midseason grades of A for the leadership they’ve shown during Dallas’ surprising start.

Elected team captains before the start of the season along with Jason Witten and Keith Davis, Romo and James have emerged as the most vocal of the four.

Romo, in particular, doesn’t hesitate to speak out during games. Players who continually make mental mistakes are sure to hear a word or two from the quarterback.

“You have to be vocal with everybody,” Romo said. “When I say vocal, I don’t mean lean on them or be mean-spirited. I think you just talk to them, tell them what you are thinking.”

And like any good leader, Romo understands when to back off. He’s especially patient with the guys who protect him.

“I know (guard) Kyle (Kosier) got beat on a play (against Minnesota), and he looked back with a the-guy-is-pretty-good kind of look,” Romo said. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry. I will get the ball out.’ It puts them at ease a little bit.”

Romo said the secret to being a good leader is knowing when to chew a teammate out and when to use a kinder, gentler approach.

“When anyone struggles, you do two things,” he said. “One is say, ‘Hey, we can’t continue to do this.’ You do that if it’s a mental mistake. If it’s physical, I think that is part of the game. With (an offensive lineman), if a guy beat him once or something, I know he doesn’t want him to, so getting in his face isn’t going to do a lot about it.

“At the end of the day, you just want to stay positive and say, ‘Hey, keep fighting. I’ll get the ball out.’ ”

It also helps that Romo has the moral authority to speak out. That’s because he makes plays. Just being a quarterback doesn’t make you a leader. Do you think the Vikings listen to Tarvaris Jackson like the Cowboys do Romo?

“From the first you could see he was a hard worker, and you could see he made plays in practice,” coach Wade Phillips said of Romo. “But, again, a lot of guys can’t carry those (traits) over to a game, and he’s been able to do that pretty consistently. It’s one thing to just play quarterback, and even be a leader, but to be able to make plays that most people can’t make, or most quarterbacks can’t make…”

James, who calls the defensive signals, has also made his share of plays this season. The inside linebacker leads the team in tackles with 47 and has two sacks.

“Bradie James has played outstanding,” Phillips said. “He’s a leader. He’s really smart. He can make adjustments during the game. He can make audibles and things like that. I’ve had guys who couldn’t do that. We had to call everything for them and do everything for them. Bradie’s not that way. We are trying to utilize him more and more that way because he can put us in the right defense in a lot of cases.”

Phillips said Witten and Davis also deserve praise.

“Our captains have certainly played well,” Phillips said. “Our resident superstar has played well too. I guess I will call him by name – Terrell (Owens).”

Because of his age, Owens’ time with the Cowboys is probably limited. But Romo and James are 27 and 26, respectively, so expect them to be the team’s leaders for years to come.

Not bad for a team that some people thought didn’t have much leadership entering the season.

Witten enjoying banner season with Cowboys Dallas tight end will be honored prior to Tennessee-SC contest

By Wes Holtsclaw

When New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick compliments you, it means something.

Usually reserved when lauding opposing players, Belichick was the latest National Football League coach to rave about Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

Why wouldn't he? The Elizabethton native has quietly inserted himself among the National Football League's elite.

Even with three consecutive Pro Bowl trips in his first four professional seasons, the 25-year-old Witten has yet to reach his pinnacle on the field, where he's become an all-around threat.

"(Witten's) a great player, probably the best all-around tight end that I've seen in quite a while," Belichick said two weeks ago.

This fall, Witten's on pace for a career year -- playing a key role in the Cowboys' 6-1 start.

"So far, it's been good," Witten said Thursday night. "(Especially) going into a bye week, being 6-1 makes you confident right now. We're really excited with where we're at. Hopefully we can get into the playoffs and take it further."

Winning's something the tight end and his teammates want to continue after taking this weekend off with their bye week, but first Witten has some important business to tend to Saturday night.

Prior to Tennessee's home game with Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks, Witten will be honored as the Volunteers' 'Legend of the Game.'

After working in Dallas Thursday, the Elizabethton alumnus caught a flight into the area and caught the second half of his alma mater's gridiron battle at Sullivan South before making his way to Knoxville.

"I'm excited," Witten said. "It's special for me and it's special to my family. I appreciate what they're doing for me. I never thought I'd be a 'Legend of the Game.' I'm just trying to play football and enjoy a dream I've had. It's neat to look back on my career and see the success I've had."

Witten had his share of highlight moments in an orange uniform.

In 2002, after starting three games as a sophomore, he played a key role with a touchdown and over 100 yards receiving in the Vols' Citrus Bowl victory over Michigan.

During the fall of that year, his junior season, Witten closed out his collegiate career by setting school records for receptions (39) and receiving yards (493) in a season by tight ends earning consensus All-SEC honors.

The highlight likely featured Saturday is Witten's winning touchdown grab in the Vols' six overtime thriller against Arkansas from that campaign.

As special as his collegiate career was, nothing compares to the success he's had on the professional field.

Thus far, in his short professional career, Witten has caught 294 passes for 3,378 yards and 18 scores for the Cowboys. His name has been alongside the likes of San Diego's Antonio Gates and Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez among the best tight ends in football throughout his career.

This season, his fifth, Witten ranks second behind Gates in receptions (42) and yardage (540), is tied for third in touchdowns (4) and has the best average among tight ends with over 40 catches this season (12.9). He leads each of those categories in the NFC.

Witten broke out the first game of the season with 116 yards on six grabs with a score against the Giants. He caught nine passes for 103 yards and a score against Buffalo, and had big outings in wins over Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota.

To many, Witten's currently the best tight end in the NFC. And when you figure his overall package including his blocking, as Belichick suggested, he's right there at the very top in the league as a whole -- not only as a tight end, but an efficient offensive weapon.

Witten's proud of his individual success and was honored to be acknowledged by someone as highly regarded in league circles as Belichick, but like any team player, he remains focused on his team and his team's goals.

"That was special," Witten said. "I got to speak with (Belichick) after the game and that meant a lot for him to tell me that because he's seen a lot of great tight ends in his lifetime and has been very successful as a coach.

"That was a tremendous honor to get that from him (and others), but I'm not caught up in it right now. I'm still worried about week to week and helping my team win."

Under new head coach Wade Phillips and talented young offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, with Tony Romo at center, Dallas' offense is reaching new heights and producing wins on a regular basis.

"It's been great. Wade Phillips has done a great job," Jason said. "The team's bought into his philosophy. Jason Garrett's a great coordinator and it's been really good for us. "Tony's doing a good job at quarterback and really leading us. It's exciting to be a part of."

Dallas' offense has many weapons, other than Witten, such as wide receivers Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton, along with tailbacks Julius Jones and Marion Barber. But instead of focusing on guys like Owens, opposing coaches are keying in on Witten.

"He's one of the best weapons in football," St. Louis Rams coach Scott Linehan said earlier this season. "They're moving him around, putting him in the backfield, putting him in spots where he has a match-up advantage."

Witten's worked to get where he is, earning advantages on the field, by spending countless hours in a rigorous training program during the offseason, working hard on the practice field and in the film room.

Another key to Witten's more recent success is his relationship with quarterback Tony Romo, his closest friend on the team and longtime road roommate.

Since Romo took over behind center, Witten's numbers have improved on the field. When either Romo or Witten struggles or needs words of encouragement, the other is there.

Their bond has paid off for the squad and helped each other on and off the field.

"When you play with somebody so long, it falls over (to the field)," Witten said. "We're great friends, but just on the field, we enjoy playing together."

It's easy to have the success Witten and the Cowboys have had when you look at the attitude of the team. Not getting ahead of itself after a great start, the team is keeping things in perspective -- even if the Dallas-Ft. Worth area is on cloud nine.

"I think the attitude's great (on the team)," Jason added. "We're excited and happy with where we're at. It's still not satisfying because we've got some big division games coming up and that's going to be tough for us.

"There's a lot of confidence and a lot of excitement. Dallas hasn't won a lot in a really long time -- especially as far as going deep in the playoffs so there's a lot of energy in Dallas-Fort Worth."
It's the same old story in Tampa Bay: a solid defense and an offense that can't score.

NFC Contenders & Pretenders

The Guru breaks down the NFC's top teams
Sports Illustrated For Kids

Man, time flies fast. Believe it or not, we're already at the halfway point of the NFL season. It might be too early for the players and coaches to start thinking about the playoffs, but not for the Guru. I'm going to break down the "Pretenders" and the "Contenders" in the race to win Super Bowl XLII. In the AFC, it's easy. There are only two contenders, the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. The 14 other teams in the conference are all pretenders. That being the case, I've decided to focus on the NFC. Let's start with the contenders.

Dallas Cowboys (6-1, First Place NFC East)

The Cowboys got off to a blistering start, going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents by 16 points per game. But those five opponents have a combined record of 10-25, including the NFL's only two winless teams, the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.

When a team with a winning record finally tested the Cowboys, they were blown out by 21 points. Okay, the team the blew them out was the Patriots, but still. The Cowboys do have the NFC's best offense though, led by quarterback Tony Romo. But their very bad secondary could stop them from reaching the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers (5-1, First Place NFC North)

The Pack is back thanks to a stingy defense that is third in the NFC in scoring (17.8 points allowed per game). Quarterback Brett Favre has limited those "D'oh" interceptions that doomed the Packers the last few seasons. He's currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards and is completing 64.8 percent of his passes, the second-highest percentage of his 17-season career. Green Bay also has a favorable schedule the rest of the season, including games against the lowly Rams, Raiders, and Vikings. If Favre keeps his interception total down, they Packers will be all right.

New York Giants (5-2, Second Place NFC East)

It looked like another lost season for the Jints after their defense allowed 80 total points in their first two games. But since being embarrassed at home by Green Bay on September 16, New York has won five straight games. The defense, led by defensive end Osi Umenyiora (8 sacks), has stiffened up and is allowing just 13.8 points per game. On offense, Plaxico Burress (8 TDs) is the best wide receiver in the NFC. Eli Manning is completing 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his 4-season career and finally seems to be turning into a franchise quarterback. But the Giants will be judged on what they do in the second half of the season. Since Tom Coughlin became New York's head coach in 2004, the Giants have gone 17-7 in the season's first eight games, and 8-16 in the second half of the season. If they can prevent a second-half slide, the Giants could contend deep in the playoffs.

Washington Redskins (4-2, Third Place NFC East)

A strong defense will keep Washington in the hunt.

Carolina Panthers (4-2, First Place NFC South)

It's amazing that the Panthers even have a winning record. Starting quarterback Jake Delhomme is lost for the season with an elbow injury. Backup David Carr has missed playing time due to back and knee injuries. And fossilized 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde actually led Carolina them to a victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

So how are the Panthers 4-2? Their defense is ranked 19th overall, 18th against the run, and 21st against the pass. But it has clamped down when it counts, allowing just 18.3 points per game. A soft early season schedule is the main reason for Carolina's winning record, but the schedule gets tougher from here on out. The Panthers play the Colts, Packers, Cowboys, Titans, and Buccaneers in their next 10 games.

Detroit Lions (4-2, Second Place NFC South)

The Lions have only beaten one team with a winning record.

Seattle Seahawks (4-3, First Place NFC West)

Seattle is average at best on both offense and defense, and Shaun Alexander has been too inconsistent.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3, Second Place NFC South)

It's the same old story in Tampa Bay: a solid defense and an offense that can't score.