Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Wednesday Afternoon Monsterback

HERE WE SIT at the unofficial NFL Season Halfway Point, as good a time as any for a fan like me to take stock of himself, his team and his sport.

But who am I kidding? Ya know I gotta start off with Cowboys QB Tony Romo's brilliant night in Philly -- going 20-25 for 324 yards and 3 scores. Romo started off a symmetrical 9-9 for 99 yards and never looked back.

Playing in the most hostile venue for a Dallas player, and starting his first game since signing his first mega contract, Romo passed the latest big test with flying blue & silver hues. When you can remember all of a QB's incompletions on the night, you know he played an efficient game against the blitz-mad Eagles -- an overthrow of TE Jason Witten on a deep left seam pass, a drop by Witten where it looked like the CB grabbed one of his arms before the ball arrived, a pick by Sheldon Brown where Romo had WR Pat Crayton open but didn't lead him enough, a first half throw behind T.O., and then a missed fade route in the end zone. That's it. The rest of the game Romo made all the throws, including some amazing touch passes on the run outside the pocket to RB Marion Barber.

Writing for the New York Daily News, Gary Myers is master of the cheap shot when it comes to anything Cowboys-related. His Sunday NFL column took a shot at Romo, questioning giving a player with only 17 starts such a lucrative contract. Myers wrote that Romo has parlayed a "great personality" and a 12-5 record into a 6-year deal worth close to $70 million, while Tom Brady signed his own 6-year, $60 million contract after leading the Patriots to 3 Super Bowl wins. As usual, Myers displays his stunning lack of knowledge as well as his proclivity for lazy reporting.

Myers wrote a column lampooning Jerry Jones for hiring a "retread coach" like Wade Phillips in the first place -- never once suggesting the coach he would have gone with in his stead. I'd say Jones did okay by getting not only Phillips, who has to be in the running for Coach of the Year honors by virtue of leading Dallas to a 7-1 record, but also hiring offensive coordinator Jason Garrett at the same time.

What Myers fails to mention is that Brady signed his contract in May of 2005, almost 2 1/2 years to the day Romo signed his. Even a hack like Myers knows the market for top QBs only goes up. Romo's deal is in line with what guys like Rams QB Marc Bulger and Texans QB Matt Schaub are making. Only a sorry drag of a human being like Myers would begrudge a guy like Romo, who as an undrafted free agent signed a deal with Dallas for $10,000 in 2003, even though he could have made more with both Arizona and Denver (Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, like Romo, played QB at Division 1-AA Eastern Illinois, as did Sean Payton -- now Saints head coach but back in 2003 a Cowboys assistant coach under Bill Parcells). This is not a first-round pick who signed a huge bonus-laden contract upon entering the league or who, like the Giants Eli Manning, forced the hand of the team who drafted him (San Diego) into trading him to a team in a market he wanted to play for (New York).

Myers seems to be implying that Romo somehow hoodwinked Jones and the Cowboys into a long-term deal based on such a small sampling of games by sheer force of his "personality" -- again, as with the Phillips hire, not telling his readers what he would have done if he were Cowboys management: not sign Romo, wait until the end of the year, try to lowball Romo, franchise him?
Again, all it would have taken is a call to one of the Cowboys beat writers. That's what a real journalist might have done. But Myers is a world-class shill for the New York teams, and probably thinks cheap-shotting the Cowboys plays well with his readership. Back in the reality-based universe, all the Cowboy writers were clamoring for Jerry Jones to sign Romo months ago. They had seen enough of Romo to convince themselves that Romo was the real deal, whose price was only gonna go up the longer Jones waited.

In the same article, Myers shares his half-season awards. He is probably the only NFL writer in the nation who picks the Giants' Osi Umenyiora for Defensive MVP. Now, Umenyiora is not having a bad year, with 8 sacks, but 6 of those came in the Eagles game against a rookie backup OT, Winston Justice, who is not likely to see the field again for a long while. He has 26 tackles for the season, and has accumulated those totals against severely offensively challenged teams like the 49ers, Dolphins, Falcons, Jets and Redskins. I would select about 5 other defensive players before I even considered Umenyiora.

Sports Illustrated's Don Banks, for instance, a far superior writer than Myers in every way, goes with KC's Jared Allen (8 1/2 sacks in 6 games), then lists the Pats' Mike Vrabel, Titans' Albert Haynesworth, Umenyiora and Packers' Aaron Kampman for honorable mention.
To that list I would add Tampa Bay's LB Barrett Ruud, second in the NFL with 79 tackles, and Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware, 46 tackles and 7 sacks on the year. In fact, there are 5 players with as many or more sacks than Umenyiora: Allen, Kampman, Vrabel, Arizona's Darnell Dockett, and the Eagles DE Trent Cole, who leads with 9.

One reason you have to like the Cowboys' chances this Sunday in their NFC East showdown against the Giants is the improved play of their offensive line. Starting tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Columbo dominated against Philadelphia -- Adams holding Cole to 4 tackles and zero sacks, Columbo keeping DE Jevon Kearse completely off the stat sheet while the Cowboys accumulated 434 total yards. Holding the bookend DEs Mike Strahan and Umenyiora in check goes a long way toward nullifying one of the Giants' main strengths as a team.

A few weeks ago Peter King, also of SI, declared he was unimpressed with the Cowboys' 24-14 win over Minnesota as part of his explanation why he was dropping Dallas behind Jacksonville and San Diego in his league rankings, itself an exercise in uselessness. Dallas dominated the line of scrimmage against the Vikings, at one point holding a 250/77 advantage in yards gained, but a few fluke plays including a fumble return for a TD kept the Norsemen in the game. Dallas also held rookie sensation Adrian Peterson in check (12-63), no small feat considering this guy might be the best RB the league has seen since Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith were in their primes -- yes, he's already better than LT.

Well, King is sort of like the anti-Nostradamus. AFC "powerhouse" San Diego (14-2 in 2006) travels to Minny and gets stomped 35-17 by the Vikings. The Vikings outgained the Chargers by 299 total yards (528-229), and were absolutely "posterized" for an NFL record 296 yards rushing by Peterson.

Jacksonville had a road game against 3-4 New Orleans, who are slowly starting to right their ship after an 0-4 start. How did the Jags defense stack up against QB Drew Brees, RB Reggie Bush and the rest of the Saints offense? Let's put it this way: not very well. Jacksonville gave up a franchise-worst 538 yards in the 41-24 beating, allowing Brees to shred them for a mind-boggling 445 yards through the air. Everyone keeps saying the AFC is a far better conference than the NFC, but how can you explain games like these two "nolo contenderes" as well as the Packers' road blowout of Kansas City and Detroit's demolishing of Denver?
Fox sideline reporter Tony Siragusa appeared to be serious when he came up with this most novel defense of Bill Belichick against criticism that he needlessly ran up the score in the Patriots' 52-7 win over Washington a few weeks ago: Belichick did not want to look foolish if the Patriots were to let up, since it was still technically possible for the Redskins to come back from, say, the 45-0 deficit early in the 4th quarter if they were to recover 6 straight onside kicks. That's what Siragusa -- a poor man's Art Donovan and blustery loudmouth who looks like an extra from The Sopranos -- said to a host on WFAN-Radio the other day, and nobody called him on such foolishness. Surely we're not the only ones who believe that Siragusa is not even remotely amusing, but that his brand of smug dumbness (or dumb smugness) ruins whatever games he appears in.

Howie Long, usually a voice of reason on the often-lame Fox studio show who comes across as intelligent, prepared and dignified -- everything Siragusa is not -- has a son playing major college football. Chris Long, a senior Virginia DE, is making a name for himself with 12 sacks on the year, along with 16 tackles for a loss. And younger son Kyle, a mere 6-7 and 280, is a high school senior lineman weighing offers from both major college football and baseball programs. Pretty good genes there.

In his last two games, Saints QB Drew Brees is sizzling: 66/88 for 781 yards, 7 TDs and no INTs. That could be bad news for the rest of the NFC contenders.

Dallas manhandled a pretty good Eagles defense according to the numbers. Before the Cowboys rang up 5 TDs against them Sunday night, Philly had given up only 8 TDs total on 77 possessions in the previous 7 games.

At least some of Tony Romo's storybook ascension from raw, unproven practice squad player to successful starter has to go to QB coach Wade Wilson, a 17-year veteran of the NFL. And it seems like a long time ago now, but QB Rex Grossman had his best season in 2006 while Wilson held the same position with the Bears. If Wilson can work such a miracle with the beleaguered Grossman, who is actually a half-year younger than the flourishing Romo, then that says a lot about his coaching acumen.
Tommy Tighe works in studio for Westwood One's Sunday NFL Radio broadcasts and is known as a master pun maker who incorporates clever wordplay while delivering the day's scores and highlights. He had a good one last week on the Green Bay-Kansas City game: "Sorry about that, Chiefs. Packers get smart and 86 Kansas City," quipped Tighe, in a nice homage to Get Smart, the great 1960s sitcom created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. It's amazing how witty Tighe gets with just about every game, considering he's doing it on the fly and often delivering these lines just minutes after the scores are in.


Serge A. Storms said...

A) Myers looks like he's just about due for a special guest spot on "To Catch A Predator."

B) Good call on the Defensive choices. And I'm not just saying that because you included Ruud-boy.

C) As guilty as I feel afterwards, I always find my self laughing at a good pun. That Tighe one has me feeling like I should go to confession.

D) Philly is the most hostile venue for ANY player, including Philly. Still, hell of a game.

Wardens World said...

Myers is just a terrible football writer with no imagination or real talent. The Daily News is just a horrible publication at this point. But I buy it on Sunday because it's a buck, while the Sunday New York Times goes for FOUR BUCKS on Sunday. How insane is that?

Knew I'd get you interested with a Bucs guy! I was just on ESPN, and perhaps their best NFL writer, Len Pasquarelli, picked his all-defensive team for the midway point. No mention of Umenyiora, or Ware for that matter. But he does have Ruud as his starting MLB, which says something. I always liked Joey Galloway, who we swapped with you guys for Keyshawn. Keyshawn was okay for us, but the fact that Galloway is still playing at a high level means TB got the best of that deal by a long shot. You can't coach speed, as they say, and it's also hard to coach against.

Tommy Tighe just comes up with those puns, and they're not the real obvious ones. He's on the radio Sunday nights after the 4:00 games are over and before the Sunday night game starts.

And as bad as Philly is now, when they played at Veterans Stadium it was even worse for opponents. But the Eagles fans can still be low class thugs, who can be counted on to pelt the other team's bus with eggs and who knows what else, make life a living hell for the families of any opposing player foolish enough to attend the game, and in general go over the line when it comes to rooting. Good to see the place nearly empty out completely after Cowboys went up 35-10. Now if we can duplicate that in the Meadowlands this weekend, I think we could really establish something this year. But it's tough to win back to back road games with the other team coming off a bye.

If possible, I actually hate the Giants more than the Eagles or Redskins. That would make a win this week that much sweeter. Nothing better than being a fan of an NFL team that's competitive and winning games. I know you feel the same way about the Bucs after last year's disaster. Best sport ever created by mankind.