The Jeff Fisher Experience rolls into The Simulacra tonight, tasked with following Paul McCartney, who worked the new house last night. It might outperform the old Beatle, and in the process disappoint the Cowboys Nation. Tennessee is good, and coach Jeff Fisher, who is now the dean of NFL coaches (anybody who accomplishes that working for Bud Adams is an automatic HOF candidate in my book) and feels this year's model could be better than last year's. Well, last years Titans were the best regular season team in the league, so that's high praise.
Tennessee will certainly provide a measuring stick for the new 'Boys. They have a character and a style that will challenge the seemingly weaknesses in Dallas' game. Here are three things to watch tonight.
Chris Johnson and the Tennessee line versus the Dallas run defense: Fisher attended USC in the late '70s, when John Robinson was executing the second generation of the tailback-friendly I-formation offense created by John McKay in the '60s. He played with Charles White and Marcus Allen, and has used a similar ball-control, meat-grinder attack as the Titans coach. Think of Tennessee's offense and what comes to mind? Eddie George playing bludgeon ball behind Bruce Matthews.
Fisher went through several backs in a vain attempt to replace George, who wore out in '03. He finally hit on a replacement last year -- with his second choice. Fisher admitted on draft day '08 that he wanted Felix Jones, but took East Carolina's Johnson two spots after Dallas snagged the Cat. Johnson delivered, rushing for 1228 yards and a 4.9 average his rookie campaign.
Tennessee like to pound Johnson at defenses between the 10s. Johnson runs more to his left, where Michael Roos has blossomed into one of the game's best LTs. Watch Roos matchup with new Cowboys RE Igor Olshansky. Igor built his reputation as a run stopper. If the Cowboys show any softness against the run, Johnson will run free. We'll know a series or two into the game.
The Dallas receivers vs. the Tennessee secondary: The Titans didn't think twice about letting Pacman Jones leave, because they had plenty of young talent behind him. Last year, 24 year old Cortland FInnegan snagged five picks and made the Pro Bowl. The 23 year old FS Michael Griffin, Tennessee's top pick two years ago, played Pro Bowl-caliber FS. The Titans ranked second in touchdown passes allowed; they gave up only 12 all last year.
Fisher was a backup secondary player for the '85 Bears and takes much of his defensive philosophy from Buddy Ryan. He plays an aggressive, blitzing scheme and plays a lot of man behind it. Finnegan, Griffin, Chris Hope and Nick Harper will give us a quick read on the Cowboys wideouts. Is Sam Hurd really breaking out? Is Miles Austin a weapon? Again, we'll have a much clearer picture by halftime.
The Tennessee DTs versus the Dallas guards and center: Albert Haynesworth left for an airliner full of Dan Snyder's cash this past spring, but don't cry for the Titans. They have a knack for finding quality young defensive tackles. Starter Tony Brown remains and Kevin Vickerson was abusing Bills guards in his first chance as a starter two weeks ago. The team is very excited about 22 year old Jason Jones, who impressed last December after Haynesworth sat with a knee problem.
The Titans work a DT rotation and blitz behind them. The Cowboys line had a little trouble with the heavy blitzing Wade Phillips' defenders showed them in camp, though they improved as camp progressed. Did the line improve because they were starting to gel, or because they became familiar with Wade's blitz packages? As Bill Parcells loved to say, "we're fixing to find out."