Saturday, September 29, 2007

Boys-Rams Outlook

Merry weekend, readers.
I know you're all avidly anticipating another great match this sunday. I'm here to predict the outcome before the TV coverage, to rant and rave before Madden gets a chance to.
We kept hearing about how remarkably healthy the Cowboys were last year, and for good reason. The first month of this season has definitely provided us with a glance at the other end of the spectrum. But for all our woes, the grazers in San Louie have suffered a shakeup even more drastic.
Their offensive line, once a source of pride, now consists of one mainstay and four dregs from the lowliest crevices of the depth chart. Their quarterback is playing with two cracked ribs, putting on hold a fate that would sideline him for the remainder of the season. For reference, see Hank Blalock, who sat out around two months of this season to get one rib removed. Their running back, #2 on last year's rushing yards leaderboard to the prodigious LT, (who will inexorably begin playing like LT before long) is also on sick leave.
The Rams are faced with a decision. They can play to the strength of their talented, successful wide recievers and play the sort of game they usually do against a sketchy defense. Or they can do their best to keep their quarterback alive, going with eight yard outs for the entirety of the game.
If the former is true, it will be up to the front seven to exercise the sort of dominance they've been paid and recognized to maintain. Get pressure on what will be a justifiably nervous Bulger, and everything else will fall into place.
If the Rams choose the latter poison, it will be a collective effort headed by he who has seen the burden placed on his shoulders most over the years. Roy Williams is at his best near the line of scrimmage, where he can exert his monster-back mentality, physical tools, and decision-making ability to wreak havoc through blitzes, clothlines, and well-timed sidesteps in front of Torry Holt. Of course, that depends on Roy Williams.
All that said, I'm not too worried. The Cowboys defense has played progressively better as the season has progressed, although one may chalk that up to facing progressively inferior offenses. The Rams don't look too daunting to me with all the weapons they are missing.
Offensively, the Cowboys who have shown up during the last three games would score forty on this squad without blinking. I expect much of the same: Keep their unit on the field until they are drawing on fumes for sustenance, run it down their throat and up their gut with an occasional dagger through their collective hearts. Let Tony Romo be Tony Romo. Let our terrific conglomerate of receivers do their jobs, giving Tony enough open targets for him to do his thing with the usual adeptness.

My prediction:
Cowboys: 41
Rams: 14

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Baton Changes Hands

There's a new power in the NFC, folks. Last night's fireworks show affirmed it for me.

Tony Romo is the greatest field general I've ever seen. The man makes the most incredible split-second decisions, and never EVER gets flustered. It's simply unbelievable.

Marion Barber may not be a #1 back. But good lord is he a terrific #2.

D-Ware finally shows up. It was good to see Ware and Anthony Spencer instilling fear into Rex on a regular basis, this should be a dangerous duo for quite some time.

The offensive line proves their mettle once again. Flozell drives me crazy with his inability to keep track of the game's pace, but the unit kept the CHICAGO BEARS contained. That's enormously impressive.

Anthony Henry is capitalizing on every opportunity that comes his way, and he could not have picked a better time. Terrence Newman's absence hasn't been nearly as noticeable as we all anticipated.

Roy Williams, you're enormously talented. And on the great majority of plays you're a force to be reckoned with. But for god's sake, Don't Hockey-check a tight end going over the middle! He outweighs you, he's got the momentum on you, and he's got the advantage of knowing what he's going to do. Dive at his ankles, bring the man down, and run back to the huddle. Your highlight reel does not need additional bulge.

Despite their woes on drafting contributors in day one of the draft, the Cowboys have done a splendid job of bringing in unheralded players who contribute. Marion Barber. Pat McQuistan. Keith Davis. Sam Hurd. Patrick Crayton. Jay Ratliff. Nick Folk and Mat McBriar. All put in very solid games yesterday.

Let's continue with the tangent of special teams players. Simply... wow. Besides for that blocked fieldgoal, I didn't see a single ST play I wasn't happy with. Most importantly, Devin Hester was completely stifled.

All in all, five gold A+ thumbs up. There can no longer be doubt about this offense, and the defense seems to be improving as they acclamate to Coach Wade's scheme.

I feel giddy!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Boys vs. Bears

Merry sunday, folks.
This game's a big one. You didn't need me to tell you that, we've known it since the day the schedule was put up there. But recent events have augmented its significance even more so.
First off, this is the first game where the evidently formidable Cowboys offensive attack will face a truly worthy adversary. The Dolphins were supposed to be a test, but that unit shows very little resemblance to the one I'd known. Chicago, however, remains a stalwart unit. Despite voluntarily losing Tank the nose tackle, the Bears have what is probably the stoutest run stuffing squad in football. I maintain what I've said for the last several years: Brian Urlacher is from another world. As far as running back banes go, he's second to none, unparalleled, unchallenged. The ursines from the windy city trot out a mean pass rush as well, and their secondary is not an exploitable region.
Offensively? A different tale altogether. We all saw Trent Green make a complete fool of himself last week; Believe me, Rex Grossman is capable of being just as pathetic. The Bears' running game is slightly more potent than the Dolphins', but I attribute that more to teams being all too eager to take advantage of Rex's inability to be mediocre.

In fact, the majority of their points come from special teams. Devin Hester is their greatest offensive weapon, and that's no exaggeration. I mentioned Urlacher as a singular player; Hester is the same way. They've also been stellar on kickoffs, punt coverage, and field goals.

Why am I telling you things you're already very aware of? Because It's telling of the way this game will go. Firstly: The Bears' run D is terrific, yes. But the Cowboys rely on the run not as a primary option, but an alternative solution. Tony Romo has torn up two bad secondaries to this point, I won't deny it. And the Bears present an entirely different animal-but if there is anywhere on the defensive end where they are vulnerable, It's the secondary. That's not to say It's a weak secondary, as I think our hometown boys would be very glad to have one of that quality. But it is not near as stout as the frontline they trot out there. I expect the Bears to gameplan for a couple of things: Eliminating the Cowboys' rushing attack, and shutting down TO and Jason Witten. The first is doable, for as I stated they have immense capabilities in that area. The second will be far more difficult to pull off effectively.
See, this is the thing. TO and Witten are two enormous weapons, and they're Tony Romo's two favorite targets. But if there's anything we've learned about Romo throughout his time here, It's that he's not discriminant. If the Bears choose to assign four people to the task of clinging to two of ours, they're going to pay the price. Patrick Crayton's no star, but he can capitalize if the ball comes his way without a defender in his longitude. My point is this: The Cowboys have depth in their receiver corps, and they're going to use it.
Another thing that intrigues me about today's matchup: Bears' D-line vs. Cowboys' O-Line. Delicious!
What happens when the Bears have the ball? They run, run, run, and throw the ball in low-risk situations. Cedric Benson has made his way in this world by running around the line, not through it. Unfortunately for the famed alum of my favored university, this is where the 3-4 defense excels. If Roy Williams played like he did last week, (or in three full years at Oklahoma and two in Dallas with Woody by his side) Jay Ratliff continues to comfortably fill the Jason Ferguson void, and the Bears coaching staff proves too inflexible to alter their plan of attack they will likely be contained without too much irritation. Rex? He's the least of our problems. I don't know if anyone takes the time and stress to worry about Mr. Grossman, because quite frankly, he hasn't warranted that kind of respect.
If there's any team out there that can contend with the Bears in situations where the center doesn't hand the ball off to his QB, you'd have to think It's our own. The Cowboys have the best punter in football, a field goal kicker who has given no one any reason to doubt him, and a return game that has been consistently solid through two games. What I think will happen on punts: Mat McBriar either gives the ball an extraordinary amount of loft or kicks it completely away from Hester-perhaps even out of bounds. Kickoffs could be problematic, but we can feel comfortable maintaining faith in our boys.

Dallas is coming into a tough environment, playing a tough team, and may again be without four of their seasoned regulars. But they match up favorably with Chicago in enough ways for me to predict:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tank Johnson to Join Cowboys

Rumors of this potential transaction have been circulating for some time, but things are ramping up-Johnson has confirmed that he expects to become a Cowboy, and reports of the agreement have come from sources as credible as Fox Sports and the Cowboys' own site.
Analysis to come later, but at this moment: God, I hope Johnson is a changed man. Because this team doesn't look like it needs a new Nose Tackle badly enough to sign a criminal of this caliber.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cowboys Train Dolphins to Turn Over

That Dad Joke has been brought to you courtesy of the Norm Hitzges show. We're off to a roaring start, aren't we?

The last time a Cowboys team scored 35 points consecutively? The Landry years.

Tony Romo didn't really stand out statistically, But he did the important stuff.Let's give credit where credit is due, Jason Garret called a good game. But I believe Romo improvised for a large portion of the match.
I wasn't very impressed with either halfback, to be entirely honest. Neither came close to breaking a long run until the Miami defense unit was dead on its feet, and I saw a lot of 'Put on the Blindfold and charge recklessly in one direction'.
Big, big props to the offensive line. If Miami is stout in any area, It's their front seven. But last year's Defensive Player of the Year was equalized, and the rest of his squad followed in line. Colombo, Adams, and Davis especially deserve kudos.
Where oh where has D-Ware gone; where oh where can he be? 3 defensive starters are missing due to injuries, yet the most notable of the invisibles to this point has been perfectly healthy. It's too early to panic, but DeMarcus needs to step up.
Trent Green is simply awful. I used to think of him as the ultimate bus driver, but that injury he suffered last year may have changed him. Four picks? It's a credit to the Cowboys' banged-up secondary, but one need only take a very abstract look at the highlights to note the piss-poor quality of those passes.
I avoided tangentiality on the last point, but here we go. Congrats, Anthony Henry. A pat on the back for Roy Williams. Ken Hamlin, I was just kidding. You weren't a mistake! It was like stealing candy from a baby, but this Cowboys defense had some doubting its ability to perform a task as simplistic as that. You stepped up, secondary.
On the subject of Roy... props to Wade Phillips for using Roy like he should be used. The run defense was stellar yesterday, largely in part to Roy showing us why he was so highly-regarded at Oklahoma.
And also due to Jay Ratliff. I don't know whether he's big enough to grind with the Centers on a weekly basis, but I like what I've seen to this point.
Marcus Spears...
I'm pretty sure Bobby Carpenter's now on a different solar system from the rest of us, too. He's not even being talked about... what makes a top 20 pick who was considered 'safe' into a bench-warmer after a full year in the NFL? Damn, this list of transparent Cowboys first rounders is swelling to a truly unhealthy size.
On the subject of once-touted busts, what the hell is up with Ronnie Brown? The #2 pick in a draft should be better than borderline mediocre.
Anthony Spencer and Bradie James impressed me. The Phillips 3-4 isn't yet putting up gaudy numbers, but the explosiveness and volatility is there.
Joey Porter looks old. He's human, it happens. It goes to show you-stay away from old players, especially in free agency. If a team's willing to let their long-time veteran regulars leave without a fuss, something's up.

Passing to T.O. on 4th and 4? Ballsy. Capitalizing on a dazed and confused Dolphins D? Beautiful. T.O.'s TD celebration? Priceless.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Injuries Aplenty, and the Bovines bask in the Dome of the Dolphins

As if the operating rooms in Texas Stadium weren't already booked to capacity...

Terry Glenn? He went for the option most conducive to a super bowl run this season , opting for surgery that will keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks with possible long-term detriments rather than a microfracture operation that would have kept him out of action for the season's entirety.

Greg Ellis? He's finally practicing, which elicits optimism-but temper your thoughts of sunshine and rainbows, for It'll take a while to polish off a buildup of rust as considerable as that one.

T-New? Game-time decision, but if I had to guess now I'd wager on his continued absence. Miami isn't exactly trotting out a receiving corp comparable to the Colts', and Wade Phillips should elect to keep his star on the road to recovery, rather than hinder his return.

Ferg? Out for the season. It's a bit hit, as the Mantain (You figure it out... if Manster's a viable term, so is Mantain) clogged up the run in a way nobody else on this line could do.

This one hurts the most, because there's no obvious candidate to fill in. Newman's absence bites, because Jacque Reeves is more raw than a frozen steak. Glenn's blows, because he's Terry Glenn. Ellis not being there is a pain in the ass, because this team is lacking in experienced pass rushers. But Ferguson's the most notable absence-not only because his injury writes off his season, but because he fills a rather unique role. I hate to quote myself, but... Mantain.

The question is this. Do we buy into Jay Ratliff's glorious team-exclusive last week, and proclaim him a mean, lean, wrongly positioned QB-terrorizing machine- or was that play the full extent of his 15 seconds of fame? Can Akin's brother Remi Ayodele provide quality play when necessary, or will he show us all why he was cut in the preseason?

Here's what to expect today.
The Dolphins will try a balanced attack offensively. The Cowboys are hurting both in pass and run defense, and Miami isn't especially strong in either. Expect ugly, ugly, ugly. Lots of dropped passes and dropped coverages, fumbles and missed tackles aplenty. What's a route, and what is this term 'Being in position to make a play'?
Conversely, the Cowboys' offense has been nothing if not stellar throughout their one game this year, and the Amphibious Mammals look to be a very stout defensive unit. We'll see some excitement when the Cowboys have possession of the ball, as Jason Garret will likely call a similar game to last week's: Mix it up. Get Witten involved down the middle, Throw a few deep ones to T O, Crayton, and Hurd, and hand the ball off to JJ and MB3 on second down. Don't ask me why, but it seemed to work. The differences begin here: Miami has the tools in place to stop this attack. Their pass rush is fearsome, their run stuffers even moreso. This will be a great litmus test for the offensive line in particular, as they get the chance to square off against a very good unit.

Good Guys: 20
Bad Guys: 17

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Under the Radar

How does one make enormous military aircraft undetectable? Producing it in accordance with a design through which radar can't catch it. Apparently, Jerry Jones has succeeded in his quest to perform such an operation on the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.

The best team in baseball over the past two weeks? Not the Yankees, not the Mets, not the D-Backs or Angels or Indians. Your lovable, hapless, red-shoed Rangers.
The same Rangers who were projected for the #1 draft selection earlier this year. The same Rangers who didn't have a starting pitcher with an ERA under five and a half. The same Rangers who didn't have a 20-HR hitter until a few days ago, when the greatly underrated Brad Wilkerson smashed one (Yeah,that's a tease. More on Whiffy to come later).

Many things have gone into the resurgence that momentarily lifted them out of 4th place. The returns of Hammering Hank and Ace Edinson. Salty, Ian my religious brother, Frankie the Cat, and Wilk hitting like they're supposed to. Wes Litleton, Joaquin Benoit, and CJ Wilson proving their collective mettle.

All of these have contributed to the one thing that matters: Wins.
Some will say that they saw it coming early in the year; the inevitable Rangers rally late in the year, the same one that elicited so much promise and optimism for next year despite the overall record and divisional standing. But I can honestly say that not since the glorious 89-win spectacular in 2004 have I been this pleased with the Rangers as an organization.

The farm system is loaded. I truly mean this. There are few throughout all of baseball who can match it in depth, and while the top-end talent isn't quite Clayton Kershaw or Jay Bruce; it does include enough to keep me happy. the team is young at most positions; If one would project a lineup for two, three, or even four years down the road every replacement could theoretically be transplanted from somewhere in the organization. That's both a testament to the aforementioned minor league talent depth and to the appearance of franchise cornerstones on the major league level.

I don't know if the Rangers are a playoff team next year. I could be buying into late-season BS again. But I don't think so. And I'm freaking elated to see my team playing their hearts out in the only position they can hope to fill at this point of the year, with a goal in mind that I would have deemed inconcievable for the majority of the year.
Finishing with a record better than last year's.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Heavenly Bovine

I know I didn't anticipate an outburst like that. From either side. Quick Notes:

Terrence Newman needs to get healthy. Fast.

I love the way Jason Garret's offense cut through the pathetic Giants retaliatory force.

MB3 is beastly. But let's not get ahead of ourselves and declare him superstar material yet... the Brandon Jacobs showing was a perfect example of what can happen when a situational back takes over a lead role.

Anthony Spencer's shown in one game more than Bobby Carpenter and and Marcus Spears did all of last year.

Roy Williams is still a liability. A changed man? Say it all you want, but I'll retain my empiricist stance on the theory.

The synergy between Tony Romo and Jason Witten is flawless. A thing of beauty.

I don't know if T.O. makes a single one of those catches last season. Now, there's a changed animal. Did he get superglue artificially grafted to his hands with that surgery?

The Offensive line, Leonard Davis in particular, looked really solid. It may have been feasting on a depleted Giants D core, but for the time being I'll compliment them on a job well done.

Jacque Reeves has some potential. That interception, for one, was the result of a great decision to hang in the dead zone. However, he looked utterly helpless on most plays. With some polish, the man could become a contributor.

Sam Hurd also has some potential-but we knew that. We just didn't realize how much of the rust had been removed.

Anthony Henry looks like a #2 corner. Ken Hamlin looks like the first competent FS since Woody.

NFL Predictions

Merry sunday, readers. I hope you're enjoying your opening NFL weekend as much as I am mine.
On that same note, this seemed like a good time to set myself up for ridicule by announcing the results of my forays into the hazy realm of divination.
Disclaimer: These aren't your typical safe, predictable predictions . What I've done here is go against the grain and pick a possible darkhorse that few are looking at right now, but may draw attention down the line.

NFC MVP: Donovan McNabb. McNabb's ability has never been questioned. He's a top five quarterback if he stays healthy. If the Eagles' quarterback stays on the field long enough, I believe he can put out another season as good as 2004-and if that is the case, he'd be a definite nomination.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Gore, Matt Leinart, Steve Smith.

NFC Defensive Player of the Year: Demarcus Ware. The Phillips 3-4 will benefit many players, Ware most of all. The phenomenal pass rusher was held back too often in the leather-helmet Parcells scheme, and if Ware plays like another Phillips product*- minus the roids, of course- things could get ugly for opposing quarterbacks.
Honorable Mentions: Jevon Kearse, AJ Hawk, Julius Peppers.

AFC MVP: Jay Cutler. It's an enormous longshot, I know. But the one thing I can't get out of my head is the collective voice of draft scouts, who never once stopped lauding the abilities of the Vanderbilt junior. The possibility for a breakout year is definitely there.
Honorable Mentions: Phillip Rivers.

AFC Defensive Player of the Year: Asante Samuel. The franchise tag may not last forever. Samuel's playing for his payday- such motivation, when paired with his undeniable skill, could propell him into the Champ Bailey tier.
Honorable Mentions: Bob Sanders.
NFL Rookie of the Year: LaRon Landry. If the Ed Reed comparisons are accurate, the Redskins will have the most fearsome pair of safeties I've ever seen.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Spencer, Greg Olsen.

Another order of business: You'll note the NFL power rankings on the sidebar to your right. I'll be updating these on a weekly basis.

*I'm not of the school of thought who believes that Ware is guranteed to be a Merriman, now that he's got Phillips' scheme. In my opinion, people make too much out of their similar draft positions. They're different players-both terrific, but very likely different. I'm simply stating that there's a possibility that Ware breaks out, given the opportunity to do so.

And on a final note... I don't think we'll see a very pretty game tonight. The Cowboys are banged up, the Giants are just bad. But ultimately I think the Cowboys will triumph... 24-20.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The return of Volqueso

The standard’s not high for pitching in Arlington. It never has been.
The franchise has sought to change it in every way possible; drafting high schoolers and calling them up during the very same year, paying veterans without an established track record of success the big bucks; There was even an incident in which the organization tried out much-maligned outfielder and steroid lightning rod Jose Canseco on the mound.
History has come to show, though, that a decision maker must disregard all that he has seen in the past and hold true to this truism. Pitching is manufactured, not bought.
The tales and travels of Edinson Volquez are many for a young hurler. Once seen as the great bastion of hope for a franchise starved for arms, Volquez got a major league callup during a time when he was undoubtedly unprepared. Talented as he unquestionably is, Edison, as he was known at the time, lacked in development both on and off the field. He relied too much on his terrific heater and change of pace, neglecting the breaking pitch and not having control in any of the three. He was a thrower, not a pitcher. Rare back and watch them gape. Unfortunately, that stratagem doesn’t work quite as well in the bigs. Neither did his mentality. Volquez, ever confident in his golden right arm, was not one to bother with pitching coaches or lineup cards. The catcher’s pitch calling was a formality, to be ignored, and game film held the same level of appeal as Raymond reruns.
Needless to say, the major league whackers feasted on his deliveries with great eagerness, and Volquez threw progressively worse. Things were looking dim for the young fireballer, and a drastic measure was agreed upon by those in a position of authority.
Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor, formerly an employee of the Blue Jays in Toronto, had a plan in mind. Once upon a time, a talented pitcher by the name of Roy Halladay came under Connors’ tutelage. After Halladay struggled on the major league level, with the problems cited being a lack of control and maturity, Connor decided to hit the reset button. Halladay was sent to throw with the dregs and the toddlers: That mysterious bunch of performers who labor in A-Ball.
In retrospect, the move panned out. Halladay has 2 Cy Young awards to his name and consistently gets lauded for his preparation regimen.
Seeing little recourse, Connor decided that he had a new test subject for the Time Machine Plan, and Edinson Volquez was shipped from Spring training in Surprise to A-Ball in Bakersfield.

The rangers have called up yet another hurler. He’s one of the countless many who have made their way to the mound in the first inning of a game, the latest arrival in a varied and motley assortment. But somehow, fans get the feeling that this one is different.
He’s come a long way to be here. His forays began with some very low-profile struggles in a low-profile league. He was called up to pitch in the city of Frisco after seven starts, establishing a standard of success there. The pitcher then went on to embarrass AAA hitters for the Oklahoma City Redhawks.
The prodigal son had finally returned.
There was no fanfare heralding this game. The right-hander’s big-league debut had been covered extensively in newspapers, scrutinized ad nauseum on the air. This time around, it didn’t merit coverage anywhere near that level. The Rangers faithful had grown weary of the circus that this player had become. Untrusting of any who threw from the mound for their club, they treated the callup with disdain-a desperate measure from a club lacking major league throwers. And if the skeptics are amongst my loyal fan base, allow me this disclaimer- I don’t blame you.

Nevertheless, Volquez had evoked in me a certain degree of confidence for his abilities. Ask me, then, skeptics, why?
Because the man has evolved. He’s no longer the foolishly cocky youngster who drew back and fired with disdain to location or batter mentality and preference. No longer the na├»ve fool who believed that such an approach would work.
One may look at Volquez’s start today and deem it unsatisfactory. But I ask you this: Did you expect this?
Edinson Volquez wasn’t spectacular. He wasn’t dominant. And he wasn’t the Edinson Volquez that we’ll see in the future. Of that I am certain.
He threw well on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff. His fastball didn’t have its usual scorch, his changeup was mostly straight. But he overcame those limitations and Pitched-a concept most would have deemed beyond his vocabulary. He threw with intelligence and with knowledge, threw with purpose, and mustered up enough of his nastiness to escape the big inning. All against one of the better hitting teams in baseball, a team that has owned the Rangers since the arrival of Vlad the Destroyer.
I believe that Edinson Volquez benefited greatly from Mark Connors’ decision earlier this year. The team has retained a pivotal puzzle piece, one that most thought lose forever.
Embrace Edinson. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my belief that he is here to stay.