With Sunday's impending playoff game against the Packers evoking the Ice Bowl, I believe it's fitting to start with this story, on a great man who played in that memorable game:
BTB's resident historian pens a loving farewell to a great player who always flew under the radar on star-studded teams. But check out this impressive list of accomplishments:
According to unofficial team records, he recorded 95.5 sacks during his career, all of which was spent as a Cowboy. During his career Jethro was a key piece in not only two Super Bowl wins, but also five NFC championships. At the time of his retirement, he held the NFL record for most post-season games played at 23. Today, Jethro Pugh stands sixth on the all time sack list for the Dallas Cowboys and his tenure with the team ranks as the forth-longest behind only "Too Tall" Jones, Mark Tuinei, and Bill Bates.
As I wrote in an email to the other front page writers:
...and Too Jethro
RIP gentle warrior
Sharp, the one NFL writer at Grantland who doesn't hate the Cowboys, pens a terrific piece in which he finally allows himself to admit that these aren't the Same Old Cowboys. He talks about what's different:
Against the Lions, you had all the ingredients for a standard Cowboys collapse. Coming out flat at home … Romo trying to do too much … the defense getting picked apart … the offense getting cute in short-yardage situations … Even at the end, after Dallas scored the go-ahead touchdown, the Lions were all set up for a game-winning drive. Exactly what happened a year ago.
But it didn’t happen this year.
Phillips, formerly (and still occasionally) of The Mothership, draws parallels between the Cowboys 2014 season and his favorite sports comedy. His thesis is that Dallas is thriving thanks to the "FU Theory," in which they thumb their noses at all the unbelievers and naysayers. The conditions for such a theory, Phillips writes, are ripe:
Veteran leaders Romo and Jason Witten literally obsessed with getting back to the playoffs.
Ultra-competitors Bryant and Murray in contract years.
Garrett, an achiever his entire life, on the coaching hot seat.
New playcaller Scott Linehan out to prove he could call a run every now and then.
A defense that had been told "you suck" long enough.
Nobody wants it more than this team. Somebody else can bet against them. Not Bob Uecker, and not me.
While the Cowboys prepare for the Division round, Archer writes, the rest of the division is hitting reset. The Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles are undergoing some significant organizational changes.To wit:
- The Giants fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
- The Redskins fired defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and have hired a new general manager, former 49ers GM Scot McCloghan
- Philadelphia shook up its personnel department, demoting Howie Roseman, giving Chip Kelly more personnel power, and getting rid of Tom Gamble, a Kelly guy.
All of a sudden the Cowboys appear to be the division's most stable franchise. For now.
The last word on an exasperating meme:
Bedard writes the piece the national media doesn't want you to know about, one in which he tells Lions fans that it's "time to accept the truth" because the now infamous non-call was probably correct. And, even if it wasn't, he notes, Detroit didn't do enough to beat the Cowboys. Here's a taste:
But forget about the hypotheticals. The Lions had several chances to overcome that instance of bad luck (if you view it that way). Feel you got screwed by the officials? Fine, take matters into your own hands and go for it on fourth-and-1 in Dallas territory. Lions coach Jim Caldwell should have taken a timeout, refocused his team and gone for it....He got out-coached by Jason Garrett, who ended up going for it on fourth-and-6 at the Detroit 42 when he didn’t have to....But even with Caldwell’s mental miscue, there were still 23-plus plays of football left for the Lions to make something happen, and they didn’t.
On Wednesday, Sabin notes, quarterback Tony Romo, right tackle Doug Free, defensive end Jeremy Mincey, defensive tackle Terrell McClain, and linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Rolando McClain weren’t stacking a good day on yesterday's good day. So, I guess they'll be a good day behind all the other guys who do some good day stacking today.
Not only is starting MLB Rolando McClain dealing with concussion symptoms, DE Jeremy Mincey is also dealing with a concussion protocol after concussion symptoms appeared on Tuesday, causing Mincey to miss practice on Wednesday. No need to panic just yet; when asked how he’s feeling, the veteran D-liineman told reporters:
The meme du jour in the enemy camp? The minute-by-minute status of Aaron Rodgers' injured calf:
The Packers' signal caller did not take part in the Packers' two practices in the bye week and was limited in practice even leading into the Lions' game. But it's a no worries situation for him:
"That's not a concern," Rodgers said. "If it happens, it happens. At that point, it's out of my control. I've got to get myself in the best position to play and then realize whatever limitations I might have moving. Maybe I won't have any. Maybe we'll get to Sunday, and I'll feel great. Or maybe I'll be very limited. It just depends on how I'm feeling this week, and we'll adjust accordingly."
Rodgers met Wednesday morning with team physician Pat McKenzie, who determined Rodgers wasn't ready to practice. As for Sunday, it's pretty simple:
"I'm going on Sunday," Rodgers said Wednesday. "It's just a matter of how."
Neither starting quarterback practiced on Wednesday. Unlike Rodgers, Romo is expected to return to practice on Thursday. Romo shares Rodger's view on what will happen come gametime, however:
"Oh no, he'll be fine," Romo said when asked if Rodgers' absence will hurt him. "When you've played the game long enough it's not going to disrupt his timing. He'll be fine. I expect him to be at full (go)."
I'm with Romo on this one. Banking on anything other than excellence from A-Rod would be foolhardy.
A convincing argument can be made, Sabin notes, that Green Bay became the invisible hand that spurred Dallas’ recent rise, prompting a pair of awakenings within the Cowboys’ franchise after the teams’ last two encounters. The first, a 45-7 loss, ended the Wade Phillips era and ushered in Jason Garrett's tenure. The second was last season's horrible 37-36 defeat that, Sabin claims, pushed the Cowboys to change their offensive philosophy and commit to running the football.
The Sturminator's weekly "Marinelli Report" looks at the Cowboys' pass rush. He compares the 2014 "waves" approach to the "rely on stars" approach that the team espoused in 2011. The results are interesting:
According to ProFootballFocus, it is still 66 snaps a game (this includes penalties and "no plays"), but look at the distribution of snaps [it's much more even in 2014 than in 2011]. Can you run a mile in the same pace as a quarter mile? Can you run 200 meters at the same pace as 100? Of course not. If Spencer is playing 60 snaps, can he bust his tail at the same rate as 30? No. A player knows to pace himself to last 4 quarters. Unless he is being coached to not pace himself. That is the Marinelli way.
Using the bogus mathematics that is my stock-in-trade, a player can expend twice as much energy per snap for 30 snaps as he can over 60. And we wonder why the pass rush gets better in the fourth quarter...
For the first time since Thanksgiving, the Cowboys didn't jump out of the gate and build an early lead against the Lions. Garrett shares a few thoughts on what happened:
"I think guys were excited, they were amped up, and at different times we didn’t play with as good of technique as we’ve played with in all three phases up to this point in the season. I think it was because it was kind of a playoff atmosphere, so I do think our guys learned a little bit from (the Lions’) experience. We have a young team, not many guys have been in the playoffs and I think they further understood what we were trying to convey to them all during the week....I think as that game wore on, we did a better job at that."
Let's hope they got that out of their system; the Cowboys best chance to beat Green Bay is to play with a lead.
The Broad One's weekly look at the opposing team focuses his scouting microscope (scout-o-scope?) on Jordy Nelson (weapon), Aaron Rodgers (nemesis) and CB Sam Shields (under radar). Here's his take on Shields:
I expect that we will see Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers take Sam Shields and match him up with Dez Bryant and go to battle that way. There is no question that Shields is his best option and is the one player Capers has that can be physical enough on Bryant and not allow him off the line.
Shields was outstanding against Calvin Johnson the last time the Packers played the Lions. His strength is his ability to get his hands on the receiver quickly and ride him up the field, then just past that five yard zone-release. Shields really frustrated Johnson playing him this way. It is this physical style that keeps Shields in position during the route up the field and inside.
You know this must be an all-hands-on-deck football moment if Fraley, the Morning News' baseball beat man, is writing a Cowboys piece. Here, he points out that Green Bay’s passing game is based on getting the balls to receivers in spots where they can run after the catch to make big gains. He points out that Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson ranked among the top six NFL wide receivers for yards after the catch during the regular season. And, as a team, the Packers were seventh in YAC gains with 139.4 yards per game.
And we conclude with musings on the running game...
As the headline suggests, Ross offers four reasons why he thinks the Cowboys will win this weekend. To be precise, they are: Dallas' road record; that they have momentum; an opportunity to exorcize a particular demon that has plagued the team since 1996: their inability to get past the wild-card round; the weather favors the team that runs it best.And the Cowboys are pretty good in the run game on both sides of the ball:
The Cowboys offense rushed for an average of 147.1 yards per game (second in the NFL) and held opponents to an average of 103.1 rushing yards per game (eighth in the NFL). Also, the Cowboys haven't given up more than 64 rushing yards to a single player in the last five games and have given up an average of 61 TOTAL rushing yards per game in that span.
The Goose, who has been harping on the running game all season, offers a few salient points about playing in single-digit temperatures:
But cold weather tends to favor the teams that run the ball....Green Bay can run the ball. The Packers finished 11th in the NFL in rushing, and Eddie Lacy was an 1,100-yard back. But they can’t run it like the Cowboys, who finished second in the NFL in rushing and produced league champion DeMarco Murray with 1,845 yards.
In our Playoff Pick 'Em challenge, we're asking you to pick the straight up winners for each playoff weekend all the way through to the Super Bowl. And to spice things up, we're using a Confidence Points scoring system where you have to give each game you pick a specific point value based on how strongly you feel about the accuracy of your selection.
You have until kickoff on Saturday to submit your picks, but why wait until the last second? Here's the link to the entry form.
If the link above doesn't work for whatever reason, use the following alternative, which does not autofill your BTB user name into the entry form.
As of this morning, we have 170 picks logged. In early voting, the following trends have emerged:
|Road Team||Game||Home Team|
|Avg. Confidence Pts||BTB Favorite||BTB Favorite||Avg. Confidence Pts|
|6.3||BAL: 21%||BAL @ NE||NE: 79%||10.3|
|5.1||CAR: 11%||CAR @ SEA||SEA: 89%||13.5|
|9.0||DAL: 92%||DAL @ GB||GB: 8%||7.7|
|8.5||IND: 11%||IND @ DEN||DEN: 89%||9.8|
The contest is open to everybody, so go ahead and submit your picks, but make sure you to assign a different Confidence Points number to each game.