Pardon the older hands if we have a sense of deja vu.
In '95, the Cowboys had the best offensive line in football, with four starters making the Pro Bowl. The lone holdout was Larry Allen, who had not built his reputation yet. The unsung hero of the group was Derek Kennard, a squatty, rotund center/guard picked up in the offseason by Jerry Jones. Kennard had been a starter for New Orleans, but was let go after failing to control his weight.
Kennard started the season at right guard but was quickly overtaken by Allen. When C Ray Donaldson dislocated his ankle in the Thanksgiving Day game against Kansas City, Kennard stepped into the pivot and played at a level not far below Donaldson's. Kennard, whom Nate Newton dubbed "Big Baby," didn't have the greatest stamina, but he was powerful and was able to maintain his level of play for seven games. He kept the running game rolling -- all the way to the Super Bowl.
The Big Baby's football nephew made his first appearance in this year's Thanksgiving Day game and he did his part to restore hope in the '08 campaign. Like Kennard, Montrae Holland is a former Saint. Like Kennard, Holland ate his way off his last team. And like Kennard, Holland appears to have the game to keep the offensive line operating at a higher level.
Holland isn't perfect. There isn't another Larry Allen under all that girth. But the guy KC Joyner called "Joe Average" showed that average can be good enough. Holland misses pass blocks once in a while, but he can anchor. He'll whiff on linebackers when he tries to block out in space, but he's got some power in his hands and can make defensive tackles move. In short, he's much closer in level of play to Kyle Kosier than Cory Proctor ever was. Consequently, the Cowboys line had its second sackless game since the bye -- it has allowed just one sack since Tony Romo returned.
Holland's solid debut means the Cowboys nation can turn its worry onto other things, like Marion Barber's right little toe and Demarcus Ware's left knee.
-- Is Sam Paulescu the best punter the Cowboys can find? His lack of distance is shocking. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys are scanning waivers for another leg.
-- Another D-lineman steps forward. Jason Hatcher had a strong game yesterday, adding to the list of Cowboys D-linemen who have picked up their games in recent weeks.
-- Short week brain freezes: Mike Holmgren confused the Cowboys' D and produced his team's biggest play of the day. In the first quarter, Julius Jones motioned out of the backfield and lined up as a wide receiver. SS Keith Davis went out into space to cover Jones. For some reason, ILB Zach Thomas also went wide. Matt Hasselbeck threw a pop pass to TE John Carlson in the area Thomas vacated. Carlson raced 33 yards before Terence Newman and Ken Hamlin ran him down.
-- Last spring's draft guides had a split decision on tight ends. One had Texas A&M's Martellus Bennett rated first. Two others had Notre Dame's John Carlson at the top of the list. Both made plays yesterday. Carlson has been Seattle's top receiving weapon all year. The Cowboys' linebackes and safeties will testify.
-- The education of Demarcus Ware: Ware whipped Walter Jones for his first sack by running straight at Jones, hesitating for an instant to free Jones, and then cutting hard and fast around him on the wide side.
Later, Ware started with a cut inside, got Jones to step right to cut him off, then slalomed outside Jones for a second sack.
Ware is getting the hang of setting up tackles now. He's much, much better at getting linemen off balance and getting past. Great speed rushers understand that they can change direction at speed while offensive linemen can't as well. Hope that Ware's MRI is clean, because he's looking more like Charles Haley with every passing week. I can't pinpoint when the light went one for Ware, but his hand usage and understanding of balance and leverage has taken a quantum leap forward this year.
-- Orlando Scandrick was Mike Holmgren's target yesterday and he held up fairly well. I'm concerned about his practice of diving low and head first to tackle opponents. Two years ago, Bill Parcells cautioned Pat Watkins against low dives, because he was exposing his head and neck to injury. Scandrick needs to add some weight and strength. It's clear he's not confident in wrapping up NFL backs and receivers. Still, I wince every time he flies in kamikaze-style to make a stop. He's a promising young player. It would be a shame to see him hurt because his technique is so crazy.
-- A sure sign Marion was not right. The Seahawks started to blitz heavily after rushing four and watching Tony Romo cut them up. Their pressure got guys free. Most of the leakage came from linebackers and secondary blitzers who shoud have been blocked by Marion Barber. He was not his usual self, probably because of his injured toe.
-- Take off the splint, reason #17: Romo had a lot more zip and accuracy yesterday. His deep balls were well placed. This looks a lot like the Romo of old. He was still a tad off on his shorter throws and that should improve against Pittsburgh. This is supposed to be Romo's final game with any type of splint.
-- Football hurts: The Steelers won't feel any sympathy if Barber can't play a week from Sunday. They had to play several early games without Willie Parker and lost Rashard Mendenhall for the year back in October. Similarly, don't expect any understanding from the Giants the following week if Demarcus Ware has to miss their game. They're doing just fine without Osi Umenyiora.
The Cowboys will have to keep going, regardless of the medical reports.