We're going back to 1960 this Sunday, a time when Dallas had an NFL and an AFL franchise. The Cowboys will don their blue and white inaugural year unis and the Chiefs will remind folks that they were the original professional football Texans, as they wear the same uniforms and helmets that Len Dawson, E.J. Holub and Abner Haynes wore. No word on whether Todd Haley will sport a Hank Stram-esque fedora.
The Chiefs look like an expansion team, starting 0-4 under new coach Haley. To hear many Cowboys partisans, they're also playing like their '60 relatives, losing two games in the final moments. I'm expecting a game with a lot of energy, though the execution could evoke memories of the preseason -- if the Chiefs have anything to say about it.
When the Chiefs Have the Ball
Haley was hired to replace the slow-ball coaching, nap-inducing Herman Edwards, whose game plans featured 28 weekly carries by Larry Johnson, lots of punts and 17-13 Chiefs wins when they worked, which happened less and less as his tenure progressed.
Haley coordinated Arizona's pass first attack last season, and I do mean pass first. His Cardinals had a 66 to 34 percent pass-to-run ratio. His Chiefs are not quite as extreme, but Haley isn't putting any governors on his game plans. Haley obtained veteran Matt Cassell in an offseason trade and he's attacking down the field. Kansas City spreads the field just like the Cardinals did under Kurt Warner last year.
The main difference is that Haley lacks the overall talent he coached at Arizona. He has Dwayne Bowe at one wide receiver spot and he has Larry Johnson in his backfield, but K.C.'s other skill position players are place holders. Haley has recruited a lot of former players from his prior NFL stops. Bobby Wade, who played for Haley at Chicago, plays WR opposite Bowe. Terence Copper, whom Haley coached at Dallas, backs up. Sean Ryan, another former Cowboy from the Parcells days, starts at tight end.
I think you get the picture. The Chiefs are gutty and they're aggressive, but they're not a crisp team. The receivers run bad routes. They drop passes. The offensive line has two young, inexperienced tackles,and Haley gives them little assistance, because he's not going to call a conservative game.
This should suit a Cowboys defense which has found its pass rush after two empty weeks to start the season. Dallas has six sacks the last two weeks and had a seventh nullified by a facemask penalty. The Cowboys broke down a very good Denver line several times last week and should get after Cassell, who is not the most mobile quarterback in the world. The most encouraging sign from Denver was the pressure generated by the left side, where Marcus Spears, Anthony Spencer and Stephen Bowen played some very effective games from three and four man fronts. They're matching up against Mike Goff and Ryan O'Callahan this week and we might see Spencer finally get on the stat sheet. It was his penalty which denied him and Demarcus Ware their first bagged QB last Sunday.
Johnson still has some zip in his legs, but he's a changeup in Haley's attack. The Cowboys have been good at stopping running attacks the last three weeks and Haley would go against tendency if he hammered Johnson at the Cowboys the way Edwards used to. This matchup will come down to K.C.'s protection versus Dallas' rush, and Dallas appears on track to win this. New York caused a lot of problems with their blitz packages last week, though I don't think Wade Phillips will dial up that many this week.
He's been relying on four man rushes a lot more this year and Wade has a compelling reason to lean on them more this week. Starting SS Gerald Sensabaugh will likely miss the game after surgery to repair a broken thumb. The Cowboys played Pat Watkins at the strong, and he'll likely return there this week, unless Wade decides to slide Ken Hamlin to the strong and play Alan Ball in the deep middle.
If Watkins does start, watch his matchup with Ryan. The former Cowboy racked up a lot of second half yards against the Giants last week. Denver didn't pick on Watkins much in their second half, but did make some yards splitting TE Tony Sheffler wide and matching up on Watkins in space. Haley doesn't have many favorable matchups and might make this a focal point of his plan. I think you'll see more zone to keep Watkins out of trouble.
In these cases, watch Demarcus Ware against Chiefs LT Brandon Albert. Albert was a very high pick in '08 but has struggled a bit to get his bearings on the edge. Ware hasn't posted a sack yet and could take advantage of Haley's go for it nature.
The Cowboys have to be prepared for anything. Haley told his team in week one that they'll have to win ugly games if they hope to win at all. They onside kick at any time. They opened the second half last week with one, despite being more than two touchdowns behind. They blitz crazy. They throw deep. They play hard, which the Arrowhead Stadium fans love. They'll aim to make this game sloppy, because sloppy is where they can compete. It will be up to Dallas to keep their collective composure and stick with their game plan.
The risks of a breakdown appear greater on the offensive side. This is a game the Cowboys can win with their defense. If they can keep Bowe under control and seal the edges when Johnson runs wide, the Chiefs will have trouble scoring. They don't protect Cassell well.
But I'll say it again. Be prepared for any gimmick, gadget or risk at any time. Haley has a lot of Parcells in him, and at this point in his head coaching career he has nothing to lose.
Tomorrow: the Cowboys offense versus the Chiefs defense.