IRVING, Texas – Recently released Dallas Cowboys sack leader DeMarcus Ware agreed to a three-year contract with the Denver Broncos today.
The Cowboys released Ware, who was set to make $12.25 million, on Tuesday afternoon following a discussion about renegotiating his existing contract. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones expressed hope the seven-time Pro Bowler would consider a return to the team if he couldn’t find a better deal as a free agent.
“DeMarcus and I agreed on an understanding that would allow him to explore the options he will have for the 2014 season and beyond,” Jones said in a statement Tuesday. “We were also in very strong agreement that playing for the Dallas Cowboys would be one of the options we would both be exploring.”
Those hopes were dashed decisively less than 24 hours later, as the Broncos’ reported deal with Ware is for $30 million over three years, with a $20 million guarantee. The contract will pay Ware $13 million in his first season – more than he was slated to make with the Cowboys.
Ware becomes the latest big-name free agent to sign up with Denver, last year’s league runner-up, in the past two days. The Broncos signed Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward on Tuesday afternoon, and they added Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib on Tuesday night.
The Cowboys saved $7.4 million in cap space with the decision to release Ware.
Ware jumped out to a fast start with four sacks and an interception in the Cowboys’ first three games last year, before he was hampered by injuries. Ware played through stinger issues and a nagging elbow issue, but a quadriceps injury suffered Oct. 13 against the Redskins forced him to miss the first three games of his career.
Among Ware’s many accomplishments and accolades with the Cowboys are a 20-sack season in 2008, when he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and a 19.5-sack year just three seasons ago in 2011. Ware and Mark Gastineau are the only two players in league history with two seasons of 19 or more sacks.
One silver lining for Dallas Cowboys fans is that Ware appears likely to finish his NFL career outside the division, and outside NFC altogether. Dallas just played Denver during the 2013 season, which means the Broncos won’t show up on the schedule until 2017 at the earliest – barring a Super Bowl matchup. There was speculation that Philadelphia would attempt to sign the seven-time All-Pro within the NFC East.
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Seahawks parlay 49ers mistakes into Super Bowl trip
SEATTLE — All season long, the Seattle Seahawks’ defense carried them at times the offense sputtered. Its biggest challenge yet will come in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks forced turnovers on the San Francisco 49ers’ final three drives, the last an interception by Malcolm Smith on a deflection by Richard Sherman in the end zone with 22 seconds to go that sealed a 23-17 victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
Next up: a title date with Peyton Manning and the high-powered Denver Broncos on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Colin Kaepernick fumbled and threw an interception on the 49ers’ previous two drives. But the Seahawks scored only one field goal off those turnovers, keeping the game alive.
Given the ball once more with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to go, Kaepernick completed four consecutive passes, including a fourth-and-2 strike to crossing Frank Gore as the 49ers drove to the Seattle 18.
But Sherman got a piece of Kaepernick’s jump-ball throw to the corner of the end zone and Smith corralled the ball in bounds, allowing Seattle to run out the clock and set off a celebration during which Sherman leaped into the stands at CenturyLink Field.
It’s the second George Halas Trophy and Super Bowl trip in the 38-year history of the Seahawks, who also won the NFC title after the 2005 season before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
No players remain from that team, and no one on Seattle’s roster has appeared in a Super Bowl. Neither has coach Pete Carroll, who did take the University of Southern California to two BCS championship games before becoming the Seahawks’ coach in 2010.
Sunday’s win was the Seahawks’ third straight against the 49ers in Seattle, where they rolled 42-13 on Dec. 23, 2012, and 29-3 on Sept. 15 before San Francisco won this regular season’s rematch 19-17 on Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park. This one was far tighter.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Peyton Manning passes Broncos past Patriots into Super Bowl
DENVER — Two years ago, the NFL world was wondering if Peyton Manning might ever throw another pass. Even he wasn’t sure.
Yet there were a gaggle of Mannings in a jubilant Denver Broncos locker room on Sunday, celebrating the Broncos’ 26-16 win in the AFC Championship Game and Manning’s third trip to the Super Bowl. Manning has a chance to win a second Super Bowl ring — his first with the Broncos and his first since having four surgeries on his neck.
“One of my favorite things to tell him is, ‘Enjoy the journey.’ I tell him that all the time. And it’s been a good journey,” Manning’s father and former NFL quarterback Archie Manning said.
Archie was joined by his other two sons, New York Giants quarterback Eli, who made the trip to Denver to surprise his brother, and Cooper, whose two sons scampered around the locker room in their orange No.18 jerseys, taking pictures of the AFC championship memorabilia and posing in their uncle’s locker.
“Oh, we’re proud. Obviously we’re proud of Peyton, but we’re just like all the other parents of Broncos that are going to the Super Bowl,” Archie said.
Peyton Manning was brilliant in leading the Broncos to their first Super Bowl since his boss, John Elway, retired after the 1998 season. Manning threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, both at the end of drives lasting more than seven minutes. He was clearly the best player on the field in his 15th meeting with longtime nemesis Tom Brady.
Manning will be joined in East Rutherford, N.J., at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 by a suddenly stout defense that held the New England Patriots to 320 yards. The Broncos shut down the Patriots running game (64 yards) and held Brady to 277 passing yards. Brady was sacked twice, including a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-3 from the Broncos 29-yard line in the third quarter with Denver leading 20-3. That sack, by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, killed the Patriots’ 13-play drive and drew some of the loudest cheers of the day from a sold-out crowd at Sports Authority Field.
“We knew it would take a dominant performance on defense. We knew our offense was going to go out there with a rhythm. I knew Peyton would throw for all that, and we just wanted to do our part,” Knighton said. “We didn’t want to be the missing link.”
Fans relished the Broncos’ first AFC title game since the 2005 season (when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers), and the resurgence of a team that was 4-12 three years ago. But the brief and disastrous tenure of coach Josh McDaniels, now New England’s offensive coordinator, led to the hiring of Elway as executive vice president of football operations. Elway has rebuilt the team and was a key element to the signing of Manning in March 2012.
Denver has gone 13-3 in the two seasons since, while Manning and the offense shattered records this season with 55 passing touchdowns and 606 points scored. But none of that would have really mattered without a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos, the preseason favorites to win the AFC, did not get here easily. They played the first six games of the season without their star pass rusher as Von Miller served a suspension, lost all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady in Week 2, lost defensive starters Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris to season-ending injuries and played four weeks without coach John Fox, who had heart surgery in early November.
“Every Super Bowl team that has held up that trophy has been through some type of adversity,” Knighton said. “We just wanted to respond.”
The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.
There are four games on tap this weekend:
Will home-field advantage be established this weekend?
A thrilling Wild Card Weekend saw three road teams prevail in hostile environments — setting up another enticing batch of games. Noting the surprising success enjoyed by visitors this past weekend, which road team is most likely to prevail in the divisional round?
The divisional round pits eight of the best quarterbacks in the NFL against one another.
Drew Brees versus Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck against Tom Brady. Colin Kaepernick battles Cam Newton. To top it all off, Philip Rivers will once again take on Peyton Manning in the final game of the weekend.
Whether it’s two young quarterbacks battling to prove who is the better dual-threat signal-caller, a showdown of sophomores versus veterans or two of the most experienced minds in the game facing off, this weekend packs a lot of offensive punch.
Which teams will survive this hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII 48?
NFLN: Prater’s NFL-Record 64-Yard FG | Watch Video
Kicker Matt Prater set a new NFL record when he kicked a 64-yard field goal through the uprights at the end of the first half against the Tennessee Titans in Week 14.
Last Sunday, kicker Matt Prater took down Tom Dempsey and the legendary 63-yard field-goal record when he banged a 64-yard attempt through the uprights in Denver.
Dempsey’s regular-season mark stood for exactly 43 years and one month. Three men in history tied the 1970 record: Jason Elam (1998), Sebastian Janikowski (2011) and David Akers (2012).
None until Prater could surpass the legend.
No kicker in four decades of football could muster that extra yard to outdo Dempsey. In honor of Matt Prater and all the men who went before him in the valiant effort to kick balls from deep, we give you a look at the failed attempts to break the record.
|FG attempts of 64-plus yards|
|Player||Team||Date||Quarter||Length of miss|
|Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||9/28/2008||2||76|
|Joe Danelo||New York Giants||10/28/1979||2||74|
|Mark Moseley||Washington Redskins||11/25/1979||4||74|
|Fred Steinfort||New England Patriots||9/29/1980||2||73|
|Phil Dawson||San Francisco 49ers||9/26/2013||2||71|
|Mark Moseley||Washington Redskins||9/2/1979||4||70|
|Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||12/28/2008||2||69|
|John Hall||New York Jets||10/19/1997||2||68|
|Neil Rackers||Arizona Cardinals||11/23/2008||2||68|
|Jan Stenerud||Kansas City Chiefs||9/21/1975||2||67|
|Steve Cox||Washington Redskins||12/20/1987||4||67|
|Ali Haji-Sheikh||New York Giants||10/24/1983||4||66|
|Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||12/10/1995||2||66|
|Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||12/13/2009||2||66|
|Robbie Gould||Chicago Bears||12/1/2013||4||66|
|Greg Zuerlein||St. Louis Rams||10/14/2012||4||66|
|Steve Christie||Buffalo Bills||11/2/1992||2||65|
|Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||9/10/2001||2||65|
|Jason Hanson||Detroit Lions||10/14/2001||2||65|
|John Kasay||Carolina Panthers||10/29/2006||2||65|
|Jeff Reed||Pittsburgh Steelers||10/21/2007||2||65|
|Raul Allegre||Baltimore Colts||12/11/1983||4||64|
|Steve Cox||Cleveland Browns||12/2/1984||4||64|
|Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||12/19/1997||2||64|
|Neil Rackers||Arizona Cardinals||10/31/2004||2||64|
|Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||11/4/2007||2||64|
|Sebastian Janikowski||Oakland Raiders||10/21/2012||4||64|
As we all know, Peyton Manning used his ‘once every five-year” quarterback keeper to score against the Dallas Cowboys last week. Let’s take a look at the play …
Denver in I-formation with a wide receiver set left
Receiver shifts to right side, Dallas defense adjusts
Play in motion, Manning fake handoff to running back, Ware in pursuit, secondary set for run defense
Bruce Carter breaks free, heads toward Manning. Church recognizes play, but is out of position.
Bruce Carter and Barry Church in pursuit as Peyton Manning approaches goal line
Manning crosses into end zone, Carter pulls back
Peyton Manning scores touchdown on quarterback keeper.
The play, from the end zone …
Carter sees Manning rolling out towards the end zone
Manning scores one of the key plays in the game.
See it for yourself … check out NFL Game Rewind
VALLEY RANCH VINDICATION VIBE: Dallas Cowboys have a chance at redemption against the Washington Redskins
IRVING, Texas – Last week’s emotionally jarring defeat is made more manageable when there’s a chance at redemption against the Redskins and moving to 2-0 in the division.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten admitted the days following the loss to the Denver Broncos were tough. But now five days removed, having a division rival on the slate that swept the regular season series last year makes shifting the focus easier to handle.
Witten said he continued to rewind missed opportunities from last Sunday’s game back in his head the first few days of this week, especially because it felt offensively like they’d score every time. But he knows he’s the last person that can afford to reminisce.
“There were so many big plays in the game on both ends, so it took a while (to get over),” Witten said. “But you don’t have a choice. I think as leaders on this team, people are looking around to see how you handle yourself, so you’ve obviously got to come in and move on. Really, to get to a division game, you don’t have a choice.”
The focus is now entirely on a Redskins team that confused the Cowboys with blitzes and ran down the throat of the Dallas defense, winning the first matchup last season, 38-33, and the season finale, 28-18. Tony Romo threw for 441 yards in the first loss, but he compiled just 218 passing yards in the second game and threw a combined five interceptions between the two games.
DeMarco Murray could do nothing but watch the first defeat as he nursed a foot injury. He was able to play in the finale and average 4.5 yards per carry.
“We know how important these division games are,” Murray said. “We really don’t look at records and those things, but each division game is important, and we’ve got to make most of them count.”
Witten said frustration can set in when he looks back at those losses, the latter of which forced the Cowboys out of playoff contention. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett sent various blitzes that brought Romo down twice in the finale and forced him to throw three picks.
“They outplayed us,” Witten said. “They brought a lot of pressure against us and got there different ways. It felt like we were on our heels the entire game. We turned the ball over, did all the things you hope not to in those big games like that. It’s a tough tape to go back and watch and learn, and I’m sure we’re going to expect Jim Haslett to do the same kind of stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have some better answers this year.”
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones admitted after Sunday’s loss to the Broncos that the defeat would be tough to swallow for a few days for the Dallas Cowboys, who have a 24-hour rule to put everything behind them. Head coach Jason Garrett said earlier this week that rule can be a tough challenge, but the Cowboys need to shake off whatever success or adversity they had from the previous week.
That challenge can be even tougher for a quarterback who threw for five touchdowns and more than 500 yards, yet still lost after throwing his first interception with two minutes left. Witten has no doubt Tony Romo will bounce back this week.
He commends Romo for how he handles himself after those situations, and Witten said the offense goes as Romo goes.
“I think that’s one of the greatest traits he has as a player – he’s as composed as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Witten said. “He just has great mental toughness and composure to move forward. A lot of times as professional athletes, you think some of the most mentally tough people you know, I think he exemplifies it every time he goes out there every day.”
The Cowboys will need a resilient Romo this week against a Redskins team that’s had their number in the last two matchups with Robert Griffin III at the helm. Witten said these games are what teams play for, and the Cowboys need to find a way to get to stay undefeated in the division.
Cornerback Brandon Carr knows the defense will have to put the team in better shape to make that happen after allowing 51 points last week.
“Another high-powered offense that can get the ball down the field,” Carr said. “We have our hands full, but we better get the job done. When the ball’s in the air, you’ve got to take it away.”
Secondary link: Click HERE … IF asked, use code: UD44NF4UKTBD
The play seemed to move in slow motion, like one of those movie scenes when you can sense the outcome and long to jump up to implore the actor not to go down that dark hallway or try to start his car. Before Danny Trevathan had even completed his dive with the ball cradled to his chest, you had a bad feeling about how this would end.
That foreboding is omnipresent when Tony Romo is playing. For almost the duration of his career, you could ask opposing defensive players what the private scouting report on Romo was and you would get the same variation on a theme: Immensely talented, they would all say; capable of making big plays; and susceptible to making terrible mistakes at critical moments.
Romo ticked off all those boxes during the Dallas Cowboys’ 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, in addition to the 506 yards and five touchdowns. But of course the narrative was edited down to that interception, thrown into triple coverage no less, with less than two minutes to play. This is Romo’s fate, to be one of the most maddening, polarizing figures in sports. On Sunday, he was all that.
But really, he is a more complex figure, not fully a hero and certainly not wholly a goat. He is the only quarterback who has gone pass-for-pass with Peyton Manning this season — outplaying Manning, in fact — only to be unable to get out of his own way again, to trip up on the legacy he just can’t seem to bury. He has the NFL’s second-best passer rating, behind only Manning, and Romo’s overall statistics are stellar: a 71.8 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, two interceptions.
Manning himself likes to say that every interception has its own story, mostly ones that nobody wants to hear. He says that, usually, to absolve quarterbacks from all the blame they get and it might be useful to remember that when considering Romo now. Judging Romo through the prism of his entire career — one playoff victory, many more bad plays in bad moments, the kind of contract extensions reserved for the game’s greatest players — invites frustration. Judging him by looking only at Sunday spawns something else: an invitation to leniency.
Luckily for Romo, that’s the way Dallas owner Jerry Jones wanted to look at things. He is presiding over a mediocre team in a putrid division and he chose to find moral victory in a 51-48 defeat. Jones also helpfully said that he cut defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin some slack, even though the defense has given up 1,023 in the last two weeks.
But back to Manning’s admonition. This interception had a story, too. Romo admitted he wanted to toss it further outside, that he didn’t place the throw where he had hoped. Of course, he should never have been throwing to a terribly inexperienced target, rookie Gavin Escobar, who was surrounded by a trio of defenders. Romo clearly was pressing there, desperate to make a play, the same way he was desperate in last year’s regular-season finale, when the Cowboys trailed the Washington Redskins in the fourth quarter and Romo threw an interception that essentially decided the division.
But Romo also should never have been in the position of having to drive the Cowboys to victory Sunday night. He had unleashed the creative derring-do that makes him a delight to watch, flinging long passes downfield over and over, dazzling with his accuracy and chutzpah. That is the quarterback the Cowboys want, not the conservative one content to take the safe, underneath throws. They need someone who can create, who can take advantage of Dez Bryant. Romo gave his defense 48 points. What proved his undoing — his belief that he could create another play, that he could join the battle with Manning again — is what gave the Cowboys the chance to win in the first place.
Looking for the real scapegoat? There are so many options. Why didn’t Jason Garrett tell his defense to play matador and let the Broncos score late in the game so that Romo would have another chance. Go find Kiffin, whose defense gave up an early 14-0 lead, then a 17-7 lead, and finally the nine-play, 73-yard gut punch by the Broncos that tied the game late in the fourth quarter. The Broncos faced just one third down on that drive, and it came on the touchdown, a third-and-goal from the one. Yes, the Cowboys were facing Manning playing at a level that perhaps no other quarterback has ever attained, but they did not have a sack in 42 pass attempts. They have yielded 30 points in three of their five games. They still have Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers on the schedule.
“The fact that we weren’t able to win when the offense scored 48 points is absolutely unacceptable,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “We have to find a way to be a better defense. Right now, we’re not a good defense. Two weeks in a row, we’ve given up way too many points and way too many yards.”
And there is Romo, too. Great quarterbacks, of course, rise to such critical occasions. They conduct the winning drives, they lead the nine-play, 73-yarders to come from behind. They are smart enough to tell their running back to get the one yard for the first down but not to score, as Manning warned Knowshon Moreno, so that the clock would run down before the Broncos kicked the game-winning field goal. They also sometimes make terrible mistakes, because they press their luck. Manning has had a few of those, too, none more gruesome than the pick-six he threw to Tracy Porter that sealed the Super Bowl XLIV victory for the New Orleans Saints over the Indianapolis Colts.
If there is any comfort for Romo, aside from Jones’ support, it should come from a quick glance across his football-crazed state. There he will see the diminished visage of Matt Schaub, a quarterback so broken that he is now setting records for scoring touchdowns for the other team. For the fourth straight game, Schaub threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and he did it on the Texans’ first passing play. Houston never recovered, losing 34-3 to the San Francisco 49ers, and it is safe to start wondering how much longer Schaub and the Texans can go on like this.
Houston has the misfortune of playing in a much tougher division than Dallas currently does, which is why the Texans’ season is already in trouble while the Cowboys are — eureka! — still in first place and probably still best situated to win the NFC East. But Schaub has one thing going for him that Romo does not: He is not the quarterback of “America’s Team,” and so his foibles play out in smaller type and under fewer klieg lights, casting fewer harsh shadows. Schaub and Romo might be the twin villains of Texas football right now, but Romo’s hat is darker. Just like the blots on his résumé.
Sides are being chosen in the renewed debate over Romo, apologist or hater. Manning would warn also that quarterbacks get too much of the credit and too much of the blame. The Cowboys have never embraced subtlety, not with the glitziest stadium and the flashiest cheerleaders and the most captivating owner. But while the Cowboys sift through the wreckage of Sunday’s loss — or maybe adopt Jones’ up-with-people attitude and think of it as a learning experience — maybe we should listen to the wisdom that Manning has acquired and dispensed over his career of making other quarterbacks look ordinary. Every interception has its own story. And aren’t those blemishes sometimes outshone by the sparkle of brilliance?
POSTGAME PRESS CONFERENCE: Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, and Jerry Jones reaction to Dallas Cowboys 51-48 loss to Denver Broncos
Head coach Jason Garrett talks to the media following the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys loss to the Denver Broncos.
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IRVING, Texas – Talk about a Texas-sized order for these Dallas Cowboys.
Why, the Denver Broncos are coming to AT&T Stadium Sunday afternoon with a 4-0 record.
They haven’t been beaten in their past 15 regular-season games.
During this franchise record 15-game winning streak, no one has even come within seven points of the Broncos, which is one game shy of the Chicago Bears NFL record set in 1941-42, if that’s even possible to comprehend. Heck, in the four games this season, no team has come within the 16 Oakland has.
This also means the Broncos have tied their franchise record with seven consecutive road victories, no matter if they have been playing at the world champion Baltimore Ravens or in the supposedly indomitable collegiate atmosphere of Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium last year, or at MetLife Stadium (Giants) this season.
They are currently averaging 44.7 points a game, as if they are some Alabama playing a bunch of directional schools to start the season. And to think, the Cowboys have already given up thirty-something twice this season: 31 to the now 0-4 Giants and 30 this past Sunday to the then 1-2 Chargers.
The quarterback, The Peyton Manning, leads the NFL in nine of 10 statistical QB categories, most importantly a ridiculous 138 passer rating. Not to mention averaging 367.5 passing yards a game. And just think what that average might be if the Broncos were not winning each of these four games so far by an average of 22 points.
Considering opposing quarterbacks in three of their past six games, stretching back to last season, have thrown for more than 400 yards: Drew Brees (446), Eli Manning (450) and, most recently, Philip Rivers (401). Which brings to mind that the franchise record for most passing yards by an opposing quarterback is 486, set back in 1962 by Chicago’s Billy Wade.
Oh, if this all is not enough, the Broncos kicker, Matt Prater, has not missed a field-goal attempt yet (6 of 6) and their return specialist, Trindon Holiday, has just been named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month, mostly for his 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Beaten team walking?
Well, as a public service announcement, don’t try peddling any of this overwhelming evidence to these underdogs out here at The Ranch, an inherent danger to yourself yesterday, a danger today and even more dangerous come Sunday before the 3:25 p.m. kickoff that is being preceded this season with a little Texas Stadium old-school trumpet-playing of the national anthem.
“We ain’t scared of nobody,” a defiant Jason Hatcher said this week.
“I’m sick of hearing about Peyton Manning this and that and that,” said starting linebacker Ernie Sims of the Dallas Cowboys nickel defense Sunday, which might as well be called their base defense since the Broncos are expected to do exactly what Rivers and the Chargers did this past Sunday: Go three-wide, hurry-up.
Well, you wanted to know what the mood has been out here at The Ranch, didn’t ya?
Testy, for sure.
And that’s certainly a good thing. I mean, you don’t want this 2-2 team coming into a game like this, especially at home, meekly tiptoeing around, as if being led down a gangplank.
That’s why I am not one subscribing to this theory of playing some cozy, ball-control offense, as if the Cowboys should set up in some Carolina Four Corners from back in the day when shot clocks were an NBA thing.
Run the ball, absolutely, all you can – all you need to – but you can’t go into some offensive shell just to keep Manning off the field. You’ve got to go into offensive overdrive. You’ve got to score points. You’ve got to take some shots at the bow. Let your hair down and take some chances
Doggoneit, be aggressive, and same on defense. You can’t just sit back passively on defense, giving ground in fear of giving up a big play, betting Manning and this high-powered Broncos offense won’t execute like 12 plays to cover 80 yards. Ha, do so and you’ll be the one executed.
This all brings back to mind 1991, when the 6-5 Dallas Cowboys, losers of consecutive road games marching into Washington D.C. to play a third against the 11-0 Washington Redskins, who by the way were on their way to winning a Super Bowl title that season.
And just might have done so as the first 19-0 team had the overwhelming underdog Cowboys not kicked their headdress feathers, 24-21, that Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Did they come in playing conservatively, just trying not to lose?
Oh, contraire. On this day they were swashbuckling roughriders, then head coach Jimmy Johnson deciding before the game that they would not cower to a soul nor any Redskins.
Afterward, here is what Jimmy stated he said beforehand:
“I told the players, ‘Don’t ever hit a guy lightly. If you have a big ol’ gorilla in front of you, you don’t tap him on the shoulder.’ And I threw a punch at [guard] John Gesek, and I told them, “If I hit him lightly, I’ll get killed. I’d better take my best shot.’
“Teddy Roosevelt said one time, don’t ever hit lightly.”
OK, Jimmy had a master’s in psychology, not history, sort of twisting Roosevelt’s line about “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
But you get the idea, right? Don’t be taking a twig into a shootout.
That day the Cowboys went for it on fourth down three times. They eschewed a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half for a “Hail Mary” into the end zone that Alvin Harper pulled in for a touchdown. They successfully executed an onside kick. And defensively, they did not sit back in fear of a Redskins offense that had scored 97 points the previous two weeks, coming with blitzes and stunts they had not shown the entire season.
Oh, and did I mention that even after Troy Aikman went down early in the third quarter with a sprained knee, offensive coordinator Norv Turner did not baby backup Steve Beuerlein, having him immediately firing aggressively down field, even without the services of injured tight end Jay Novacek and injured guard Nate Newton. They even had the audacity to attack Pro Bowl corner Darrell Green, wide receiver Michael Irvin burning his man-coverage with nine catches for 130 yards and a huge 22-yard scoring grab from Beuerlein to provide clinching separation late in the game.
And get this, Cowboys linebacker Jack Del Rio at the time, eerily now the Broncos defensive coordinator, said afterward, “I was just happy we didn’t go into a shell and play conservatively.
“We attacked, gave them everything we had.”
Shhhh, don’t tell Jack. Don’t remind him of the gorillas and the stick and the “best shots.”
And please don’t tell him “Hatch” has been doing a slow burn all week in continued defiance, insisting as he was stewing, “We’re not a pushover team at all. We’re definitely ready to play.”
So, almost time to sound that trumpet, sing the anthem and aggressively barge onto the AT&T Stadium field with them big sticks.
Don’t you think?
IRVING, Texas – It’s hard to quantify whether Tony Romo is putting in Peyton Manning-type time at Valley Ranch this season, but he’s certainly dealing with plenty of Peyton Manning talk this week.
With one of the game’s great quarterbacks playing the Dallas Cowboys this week, it goes without saying that Romo would field plenty of questions about Manning – especially given the prolific start the Broncos quarterback is off to this year.
“I think it goes without saying. He’s been a great football player his whole career,” Romo said. “Right now he’s playing at a very high level — week in and week out — that provides a great test for anybody that goes against him.”
Manning’s presence at AT&T Stadium has dominated the pregame storylines, mainly because of his 1,470 and 16 touchdowns with no interceptions through for games – an incredible start, even by his standards.
There are also the comparisons in preparation time, which Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones invited on his franchise quarterback when he said he Romo would spend “Peyton Manning-type time” on game planning.
That falls in line with what Romo and Garrett have said all year – even before the Broncos were the next team on the schedule. On Monday, Garrett repeated that he was as quarterback as happy with the game plan as possible.
“You want quarterback to be invested in what you are doing,” Garrett said. “You want him to like the plays that are in the plan. You want him to like the plays you are calling into his helmet so he can go play his best football.”
Romo was never going to get into specifics about the Cowboys’ game plan for the Denver defense. But asked about the difference in his workload on Mondays and Tuesdays, he said it comes down to more than just game film.
“You’re always watching a lot of tape – I don’t think that changes,” Romo said. “The difference is just some of the ideas and things that are put into the base plan, and each day it goes from there.”
It’s something Romo said he might not have handled as a younger quarterback.
“When you’re young you just don’t – you haven’t experienced it or seen enough to understand exactly what people are trying to do, philosophy-wise, against you,” he said.
With or without specifics from Romo, all eyes will be on his role in derailing the Denver freight train moreso than the Cowboys defense. Both Garrett and Romo acknowledged that Manning and his offense would have their fair share of success on Sunday.
Romo has been incredibly efficient in 2013, with a 105.1 quarterback rating and just one interception this season. Some of that can be attributed to DeMarco Murray’s 356 rushing yards through four games, but it also raises questions about the Cowboys’ ability to push the ball downfield to targets like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten – a notion Romo disagreed with.
“Since you’re 12 years old, there’s a coverage and there’s places to throw the football – you take that,” he said. “Kansas City wanted to get up and play single-high coverage and press man, and the ball went to Dez five times down the field. One got dropped, and another got called for a penalty – that might change the balance of certain things, too. In some of the other games, they just dared us to run – so we ran.”
The Cowboys have had more success running against some than other, but the stats hold true across the board. Through four games Romo has just three completions of more than 25 yards – two against Kansas City and one against San Diego. He said that stat doesn’t come from fear of turnovers, however, but reading the defense.
“For me, I’m just what play gets called and taking it through the progression,” he said. “Believe me, if there’s shots down the field, I’ve never been accused of not taking them.”
Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Broncos CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
With no Champ Bailey in the lineup, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been the best cornerback for the Denver Broncos this season. He is a wiry, long athlete that plays with an ease of movement.
Rodgers-Cromartie is very smooth and do not see many plays where he is beaten badly or is in terrible position on the route. Likes to play a physical game and get right on top of the receiver. Can play very tight in coverage. There is little separation in his game. Is not afraid to use his hands to keep the receiver from getting up the field on him. Is not afraid to mix it up at all. Is not going to shy away from contact. Hard guy to run away from because of his speed and burst.
Rodgers-Cromartie was a 4.35 40 guy coming out of Tennessee State and six years later, and you still see him play with those types of numbers. Do not expect him to back down from the challenge of having to deal with Dez Bryant all day. He’s one of those cornerbacks that doesn’t need help over the top because of his ability.
He had some games in Philadelphia where offensive coordinators picked on him, but has made a nice transition in Jack Del Rio’s scheme. Rodgers-Cromartie has played some large receivers this season, Jacoby Jones and Brice Butler but none with the strength and power of Dez Bryant.
Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick vs. Broncos WR Wes Welker
There will be plenty of matchups that this Dallas Cowboys defense is going to have to deal with, but the one that could swing the balance of the game, is how Orlando Scandrick is able to play Wes Welker.
As well as Scandrick has been playing this season, I put him on Welker no matter where he is on the field. With the skill level of Scandrick and the fact that I know that in his preparation, he will study every pass that Welker has not only caught this season, but also when they met in New England in 2011 and use that to his advantage.
Where Scandrick is good in this matchup, is that he has played Welker before and did quite well. With Welker, it not so much about his speed but the quickness. It’s the initial burst that makes Welker difficult to handle. Scandrick can run with his all day but where he needs to be at his best is when gets up on him and jams him at the line.
The key to playing Welker, is not letting him get off the line. If you give Welker free access off the line, he is going to make your life difficult. Orlando Scandrick has always been one of those players that felt like he was slighted as a player and covering Wes Welker all day, playing him well, gets him that respect he desires.
Dallas Cowboys preparations and scouting report for the Denver Broncos. From Bryan Broaddus, Football Analyst and former scout for the Dallas Cowboys:
No position on this squad has struggled more with injuries than the defensive ends. George Selvie, who has been the starter since training camp, has yet to pass the protocol test that will allow him to even practice after his concussion. Each missed practice makes him doubtful for the game against the Broncos. If that is the case, Kyle Wilber will make the start on the left side with Edgar Jones and Caesar Rayford as the backups. I have always believed that Wilber is better suited to play on the right side, but there really isn’t much of a choice because of the injury situation. An interesting prospect that I am hearing of potentially getting a call up from the practice squad is Jason Vega. If you remember last season, Ronald Leary and James Hanna were stars on the scout teams, and now are playing meaningful snaps. There have been a lot of positive thoughts about Vega and the type of juice that he shows off the edge. The longer Selvie takes, the more likely we could see a call up at week’s end.
Down The Field
Much has been said over the past several weeks about the conservative game plan in regard to throwing the ball down the field. I am clearly in the minority here, but I am not for throwing the ball down the field just for the sake of doing it. I have always believed that you run plays that give your offense the best chance to succeed. The “4” or in route to Dez Bryant is an outstanding call. The deep slant that he scored on against the Chargers was another good play. Jason Witten running the post corner over the years has been money. Given time, those are throws that Tony Romo can make all day, but there is also a time and situation for those calls. The Broncos have a very aggressive safety in Duke Ihenacho who will come forward on play action fakes. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the past has had his issues carrying receivers down the field, and Chris Harris on the other side is not the best athlete, so when the ball goes behind him, there have been some struggles. With all that being said, there will be opportunities for Romo and this offense to potentially have some good looks down the field on Sunday — for the right reasons.
The cornerback currently playing at the highest level on this Dallas Cowboys squad is Orlando Scandrick. Where Scandrick helps you in this game is his ability to not only play well on the outside, but he gives you a chance to deny the ball to Wes Welker out of the slot. Where Scandrick will have an advantage in this game is that he has faced Welker before when the Cowboys plays New England. For the majority of that day, he pitched a shutout. There is something to be said for understanding how a player like Welker is going to try and work you off the line. You have heard me say this many times before: playing slot corner is no bargain because of the two-way go the receiver can use against you. Orlando Scandrick has always been a player that played with mental sharpness, even though there have been times where he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be with his technique. But he has put that behind him. Scandrick will have studied Welker to the point where he will have his own game plan for how to handle him, so now it’s about making that game plan work.
If this Cowboys offense is going to indeed make some attempts to throw the ball down the field, the front of the pocket is going to have to be clean for Romo to step forward and make those throws. The responsibility for that clean pocket is going to fall on the shoulders of Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick and Brian Waters. Where the Broncos are going to counter is with Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton — two massive defensive tackles who are more than just two dump trucks sitting inside and taking up space. Vickerson and Knighton will do more than just push the front of the pocket, they are active and there are snaps where Jack Del Rio will put them on the move allowing them to show some quickness getting up the field. Where the Cowboys match up well here is that both Leary and Waters tend to play with their own power when it comes to taking on rushers that play with strength. Where Leary tends to get in trouble is with the quicker, smaller guys and that is the last things these two tackles are. During his time with the Cowboys, Waters has shown the ability to sit down on rushers and hold them in place. Where Frederick has also been good is helping across the pocket with his awareness when he has been uncovered. If Tony Romo and the offense are going to have success throwing the ball, keep an eye on how well their inside three play against these Broncos defensive tackles who can be a load to handle inside. It should be a good matchup.
Bryan Broaddus breaks down film on Peyton Manning.
2013-2014 PREGAME MEDIA DAY: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos coaches and quarterbacks speak to opposing media
IRVING, Texas – Of course, with as popular a topic as Peyton Manning has been around Valley Ranch this year, it was inevitable the topic would come up when the Broncos showed up on the schedule.
With his team set to travel to AT&T Stadium this weekend, Manning was questioned about Dallas Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ offseason comments that he wanted Tony Romo to have the same level of involvement in the Cowboys’ offense as Manning has in Denver.
But Manning didn’t bite when asked how he reacted to those comments
“I didn’t take it any way,” he said. “I’m the wrong one to ask that – it’s a question for (Jones). I can’t give you a good answer there.”
Manning was even more modest when asked to describe his reputation for time spent at work – particularly during the season.
“Every quarterback that is starting in this league multiple years puts in time. Otherwise you just don’t keep your starting job,” he said. “I feel like I do what I need to do to get ready to play. But any quarterback that’s a starter year after year, I promise you, they’re putting work in – in the facility, on their own – otherwise it shows up and you lose your job.”
Broncos coach John Fox was a little more forthright regarding Manning’s work week.
“He doesn’t take days off – his Tuesday is preparing and looking at tape, to doing what we call go back cut-ups. He prepares extremely hard,” Fox said. “But from what I’ve seen on tape, Tony is playing terrific.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday that Romo would be meeting with the coaching staff about game preparation in the early going of game week.
“He watches a lot of tape on his own and we sit and visit. That’s typically more, not so much on Monday — Monday is more about wrapping up yesterday’s game,” he said. “Then, this part of the day, we all start getting into the upcoming opponent. He’ll spend time watching tape today, watching tape tomorrow and we’ll visit at different points tomorrow.”
Monte Kiffin on staying upbeat
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin knows the challenge presented ahead to him by facing Peyton Manning one week after failing to produce against the Chargers.
Kiffin didn’t offer any secrets to containing the quarterback, whom he described as maybe the best at his position of all time, but Kiffin knows confidence is essential for his defensive group after last week’s performance.
“It’s a big challenge for us,” Kiffin said (Video | Audio). “We should be fired up. Like I said, I’ve got the 24-hour rule. I think this week it was 48 hours, but it’s over with now. We walk in there Wednesday morning, let’s go. What a great challenge.”
Kiffin said the Cowboys can’t allow one touchdown to get them out of their game, and they’ve also got to hang in as best as possible to minimize the long, explosive plays that have allowed Manning to throw 16 touchdown passes without an interception. He knows that will be a challenge, because there aren’t any looks Manning’s unfamiliar with.
“Come on, the guy hit seven (touchdowns) the first week of the season,” Kiffin said. “Good God, let’s go back and play.”
Kiffin said Manning may be playing better now than he ever has in his career. After a week of struggles against Philip Rivers, this weekend will be the toughest challenge to date for the Cowboys’ defensive backs, including Morris Claiborne, who had his struggles last week. With the Cowboys employing mostly the nickel package against the Broncos, he’ll continue to find his way onto the field this week.
“He’s been off a little bit,” Kiffin said. “He was hurt, you know. I think that sets you back a little bit. I’m not making excuses. He’s a great kid, a great young man. He’s bounced back. He made some really good plays, too.
Photo: The Broncos wore their alternate blue uniforms in 2012 — for a 30-23 victory over the Chargers in Denver. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)
Luckily for those who like to see their favorite NFL team mix up its wardrobe, America’s Team prefers to wear white at home.
The Broncos play at Dallas’ AT&T stadium this Sunday and with the Dallas Cowboys wearing white, the visitors from Denver will wear their alternate blue jerseys and blue pants.
It’s the only time this season the Broncos will wear something other than white jerseys on the road and orange jerseys at home.
Navy blue was the Broncos’ home jersey color from 1997 through 2011.
The Broncos switched back to orange as their predominant home color in 2012. The team had used orange home jerseys from 1962-96.
Courtesy: Mike Klis | The Denver Post
IRVING, Texas – There’s going to be a lot of focus on the two quarterbacks this week, and rightfully so.
One of them is playing at the highest of levels right now.
And that other guy … well, he’s playing pretty well too. Tony Romo isn’t turning the ball over, but yet the offense isn’t producing to the level we’ve seen in the past.
It’s hard to say … pick one or the other, when a guy like Peyton Manning is coming here this week with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.
But, this game shouldn’t come down to Tony Romo vs. Peyton Manning for several reasons. Asking Romo to keep up or simply out-duel this guy is probably asking too much. However, the only time they did square off, albeit 2006, Romo did beat Manning and he virtually out-played him.
The bigger matchup is going to be Manning’s success vs. DeMarco Murray’s success.
Nothing wrong with the Dallas Cowboys grinding out yards and the clock to try to limit Manning’s possessions. It wouldn’t hurt if the game worked out that way.
Murray ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards with 356 yards. Not to compare him to the NFL’s best in Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings’ star has just 65 more yards and 20 more attempts.
Murray’s 4.9 yard average is really good. It needs to be pointed out that he doesn’t get many carries in short-yardage situations. If Murray got an occasional third-and-1 run for 2 yards, it might move the chains, but it would lower that average.
Of course, you’ll take the first downs all day.
And that leads me back to Sunday’s game. The Cowboys obviously need to do whatever it takes to be effective Sunday and try to keep pace with Manning and his Denver posse. But running the ball more might be the best and most effective way to start. And with Miles Austin’s hamstring injury, the passing game hasn’t been an absolute strength, despite Dez Bryant’s jaw-dropping plays.
This offense has passed the ball 152 times this year, to 89 rushes. Obviously that needs to change and this is the week to do it.
Easy to like how they ran it last week – averaging nearly 5 yards a carry on first down. But they only ran the ball twice on second down and not once on third. You can say Romo checks out of runs, and he’s done it quite a bit, but when the Cowboys go to a four-wide set on third-and-2, that play and personnel package is getting called from the sideline.
This team needs to run the ball – not just against Peyton Manning but against Robert Griffin III the next week and Michael Vick after that. They need to run it because the Cowboys are starting to become a good running team.
They’ve added a run-blocking center in Travis Frederick who comes from a run-oriented school at Wisconsin. They’ve added Brian Waters to the mix and Ron Leary’s biggest attribute is his strength. This interior line is completely different than last year and it’s time they start making the running game less of an afterthought and more of the focus.
And if it happens to keep Manning on the sideline a little more this Sunday … even better.
IRVING, Texas – The 24-hour rule is in effect. It simply has to be this week.
As frustrating as the Dallas Cowboys’ 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers was on Sunday, it’s time to move on – even if the task ahead is even more daunting.
Philip Rivers just torched the Cowboys for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Now comes arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and clearly the hottest passer in the NFL right now.
Enter Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos, who are steamrolling through the league with a 4-0 record after Sunday’s 52-20 trouncing of the Eagles.
Manning has thrown 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
So what’s the plan for a Cowboys defense that couldn’t stop Rivers and a Chargers attack of Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen? Now come Manning, Wes Welker and a passing attack of Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.
“First things first … the first thing we have to do is clean up what happened in yesterday’s game,” head coach Jason Garrett said in Monday’s press conference. “[The Chargers] did a lot of things in the game that were good. They run the ball effectively and they made some big-time plays in the game. We didn’t keep up with them. We didn’t play the way we’ve been playing. But now the next challenge is Peyton Manning, who has been on a roll for a long, long time. He might be playing as well as he’s ever played. It’ll be a great challenge for our team.” (Video | Audio)
Garrett, who was still playing for the Cowboys when Manning entered the league in 1998, gave the Broncos passer the highest of praise Monday.
“He’s playing quarterback at maybe the highest level it’s ever been played,” Garrett said. “He’s been doing it for 15 years. He’s a fantastic player. His understanding of the game is second to none; his command is second to none. His ability to positively impact the people around him is second to none, and physically, he’s awfully good. He throws it where he wants to over and over and over again. He throws it on time, is accurate, and has an ability to make a ton of big plays and make very few bad plays. So, he’s playing as high a level as the game’s ever been played.”
The Cowboys have faced Manning four times during his time with the Colts, posting a 2-2 record, including the last two victories in 2006 and 2010. The 2006 meeting at Texas Stadium saw Tony Romo in his fourth career start face a Manning-led Colts team that was 9-0. But Romo out-dueled Manning that day and led the Cowboys to a 21-14 win over the eventual Super Bowl champs.
In 2010, the Cowboys beat Manning and the Colts in overtime, 38-35 up in Indianapolis. Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick both had interceptions for touchdowns. Lee, who scored his second pick-six on Sunday in San Diego, also picked off Manning in overtime to set up a game-winning field goal.
Manning and the Colts beat the Cowboys in 1999 and 2002, with both games played in Indy.
But what Manning is doing in Denver is even better than anything he did through four games with the Colts. And it’s much better than what the Cowboys faced Sunday in San Diego.
The Cowboys were coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Rams the previous game, limiting St. Louis to just seven points. And although Lee’s touchdown return gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead, the bottom fell out of the defense, which allowed 300 yards of offense over the Chargers’ next four offensive possessions. The backbreaker was a 52-yard bomb from Rivers to Gates to put San Diego in front, 30-21, in the final minutes.
Now, Garrett’s biggest challenge is getting his players to block out Sunday’s loss and get ready for an even bigger task at hand.
“We like to be consistent in our approach, regardless of what happened the previous play, the previous series and the previous game,” Garrett said. “That’s what we preach as coaches – you’re going to be challenged every time you break the huddle.”
One of the players who struggled the most on Sunday was linebacker Bruce Carter, who allowed two touchdown passes to Woodhead out of the backfield. Carter was replaced by Ernie Sims in the nickel defense, a scheme the Cowboys played primarily in the second half. However, both Garrett and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said Carter was “not benched” and the club wanted to rotate Sims in the game for that defense.
Carter is expected to remain in the starting lineup although the Cowboys might indeed make more changes in the nickel defense and other sub-packages.
Whatever changes are made, the Cowboys will need to be at their best. As tough as last Sunday was, it’s only the warm-up to the NFL’s elite offense, which strolls into town this weekend.
Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis is on the Chicago Bears list of head coaching candidates. Bears general manager Phil Emery has asked the Cowboys for permission to interview DeCamillis. (The Cowboys cannot deny the request since it is a head coaching position.)
DeCamillis and Emery worked together in Atlanta for three years, when Emery was the Falcons director of college scouting and DeCamillis the special teams coach there.
DeCamillis, 47, just completed his fourth season with the Cowboys. He also previously has been a special teams coach for the Broncos (1988-92), Giants (1993-96) and Jaguars (2007-08) besides his stint in Atlanta (1997-2006).
John Harbaugh was the Eagles special teams coach when the Ravens hired him as their head coach in 2008.
The Bears also reportedly will interview Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong, Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. Chicago fired Lovie Smith on Monday after Smith went 84-66 in nine seasons.
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE: 2013 Dallas Cowboys schedule includes Denver, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Green Bay
The Cowboys’ loss put them in third place in the NFC East, leaving them to play play third-place teams St. Louis (at home) and New Orleans (on the road) next season.
The rest of the Cowboys’ home schedule next season includes the Giants, Redskins and Eagles from the NFC East, plus Green Bay, Minnesota, Denver and Oakland.
The remaining road games for the Cowboys next year are at the Giants, Redskins, Eagles, plus Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and San Diego.
After 17 grueling weeks, the playoffs are finally here. The seeds are set and the field is stacked.
A quick look at the 12 teams that survived to play another game. Here’s a case for and against each squad in the race to Super Bowl XLVII:
1) Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? The Falcons continue to be an excellent home team. The running game provides just enough balance to complement a potent passing attack, and the defense routinely baffles elite quarterbacks, producing several turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? The Falcons struggle to rush the passer, and they become too one-dimensional on offense. In their three losses this season, they produced just two sacks and were out-rushed, 487-146. A team like the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers could pose a huge problem.
2) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
How do they make a deep run? The defense dominates the line of scrimmage and Colin Kaepernick produces three or four big plays per game. Receiver Michael Crabtree continues to emerge as a top-shelf talent, and the running game benefits from the fresh legs of rookie LaMichael James.
How do they get eliminated? The49ers’ defense can be attacked; the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks provided a blueprint for doing so in Weeks 15 and 16. The 49ers’ offense, meanwhile, is capable of stalling for long stretches of time. The poor play of kicker David Akers could also end up costing San Francisco a game.
3) Green Bay Packers (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ passing attack gets hot and puts up huge numbers, outscoring every opponent. A different receiver steps up every week and a healthy Clay Matthews closes out games with pressures and sacks.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line can’t protect Rodgers and the running game fails to provide the necessary balance. The Minnesota Vikings match up very well against the Packers; they’re fully capable of quickly ending Green Bay’s postseason.
4) Washington Redskins (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? The Redskins’ unique offense controls the clock, shortens games and piles up just enough points. The defense covers up some soft spots by sending lots of pressure and creating key turnovers. Relishing their postseason opportunity, steady veterans DeAngelo Hall and London Fletcher produce game-changing plays.
How do they get eliminated? Robert Griffin III’s knee injury makes the offense more predictable, and a talented defensive opponent manages to take away Alfred Morris. The Redskins’ defense struggles to create a pass rush, and the safety play is exposed by a top-notch quarterback.
5) Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? They carry their momentum right through the postseason. Russell Wilson continues to play clutch, mistake-free football, while Marshawn Lynch grinds out tough yards. The defense continues to create high numbers of turnovers and finds the end zone a few times, as well.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent stacks the box to take away Lynch, and the athletic Wilson is contained. The lack of a true No. 1 receiver ends up being an issue, and the offensive production takes a nosedive.
6) Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Adrian Peterson continues to carry the entire offense, and Christian Ponder protects the football. Jared Allen gets hot; his pressures create sacks and turnovers. Kicker Blair Walsh hits a long, game-winning field goal along the way.
How do they get eliminated? An opponent sells out to slow down Peterson, and Ponder is unable to make them pay for it. Peterson puts the ball on the ground, and Ponder struggles to play from behind. The defense allows a mobile quarterback to create plays with his legs.
1) Denver Broncos (13-3)
How do they make a deep run? Peyton Manning will have two weeks to prepare for his first opponent. The Broncos are the NFL’s most complete team, ranking in the top five in virtually every important statistic. This balance will make Denver very difficult to eliminate. The pass rush can take over a game, giving Manning’s offense a short field and allowing the Broncos to pile up points quickly.
How do they get eliminated? If the weather is horrible in Denver and the Broncos’ rushing attack is unable to get on track, they could struggle offensively. A matchup against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the snow would pose a very formidable challenge.
2) New England Patriots (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? Recently returned tight end Rob Gronkowski sparks an offensive explosion. Brady benefits from a solid ground attack, utilizing his tight ends to produce chunk plays down the field. The young secondary allows some big gains, but comes up with a few key turnovers.
How do they get eliminated? A physical Baltimore Ravens team pushes around New England’s offensive line, or the Pats simply run into a red-hot Denver team on the road and lose a shootout. I don’t see any of the other AFC teams giving New England much of a problem.
3) Houston Texans (12-4)
How do they make a deep run? They forget recent struggles and recapture their early-season form. Arian Foster shoulders the load on offense, and the defensive line creates numerous sacks and turnovers. The secondary avoids giving up the big play.
How do they get eliminated? Matt Schaub fails to make enough plays to outscore either the Patriots or the Broncos. Facing constant double-teams, J.J. Watt is unable to dominate the game.
4) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? A well-rested Ray Rice carries the ball more than he has during the regular season, and the Ravens physically pound their opponents. Tight end Dennis Pitta and receiver Torrey Smith produce big plays in the passing game. The defense is sparked by the return of Ray Lewis. Paul Kruger plays the role of unsung hero, making several impact plays.
How do they get eliminated? The offense features too much Joe Flacco and not enough Rice. Baltimore allows too many sacks; opponents manage to strip the ball from Flacco in the pocket, creating turnovers. The defense struggles to contain the run.
5) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
How do they make a deep run? Andrew Luck continues to excel on third down, and the veteran pass-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis steps up to make several impact plays. Cornerback Vontae Davis keeps playing at an elite level, picking off a few balls.
How do they get eliminated? The offensive line is overwhelmed and Luck doesn’t get any time to throw the football. The defensive front is pushed around, giving up too many rushing yards to a back like the Ravens’ Rice or the Patriots’ Stevan Ridley.
6) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
How do they make a deep run? Receiver A.J. Green gets hot, producing several big plays through the air, and the pass rush dominates on the other side of the ball. Geno Atkins finally gets credit for his outstanding play after collecting several sacks and tackles for a loss.
How do they get eliminated? The running game is unable to provide balance, and Andy Dalton turns the ball over too much. The defense is on the field too often, and the unit runs out of gas late.
With the Dallas Cowboys on the bye this week, these are a few of the NFL games that we can pay attention to. Primarily, sizing up the NFC East teams.
Philadelphia travels to Pittsburgh:
The Steelers are coming off a bye rested and getting healthier. Both teams struggle to protect the quarterback but the Eagles manage to run the ball better than the Steelers. The Steelers are an NFL best on offense in converting third downs while the Eagles are third in the league not allowing them. On the flip side to that, the Steelers really struggle with their own third down defense ranking 30th. This Eagles offense has been a turn over machine and the last thing Andy Reid and his offensive staff want to do is give the Steelers short field opportunities. If the Eagles manage to win this game, its bad news for the rest of the NFC East because they have already beat Baltimore at home which leaves just Cleveland and Cincinnati on the schedule and the real possibility of going 4 – 0 against the AFC North which is a feat in itself. Pittsburgh will not be able to run the ball so it will come down to their receivers having to win on the outside against these Eagles corners. If the Steelers can keep Roethlisberger up right, their chances of winning improve greatly but that is a big if. I have always believed in the NFL that the more desperate team finds a way to win. With the Steelers looking at the possibility of being 1 – 3 that thought has already begin to sink in as they were on their bye.
Atlanta travels to Washington:
I have always felt like that if you take Atlanta out of the Georgia Dome, you had a great chance to defeat them but the Falcons made a cross country trip and slapped around a pretty good San Diego squad. The Redskins had a physical game last week in Tampa and managed to come away with a victory. The Falcons stole a game from the Panthers that they had no business winning but to their credit, they did. The Redskins really struggle to put pressure on the quarterback and without Brian Orakpo that job has become even more difficult. Matt Ryan and the talented wide receiver core for the Falcons of Roddy White and Julio Jones will make it difficult on the Redskins back end. Where the Falcons struggle is playing run defense and Mike Shanahan knows this and will use Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III to try and control this game much like he was able to do against the Saints opening day. The Falcons are 29th in the league on third down defense and ranked 31st in the red zone. The Redskins have more than enough talent to play with the Falcons but if it turns into a tight, tough game, their kicker Billy Cundiff is one of the worst in the league when it comes to connecting on kicks, just something to keep on eye on.
Denver travels to New England:
There has been a ton of talk in NFL circles that Peyton Manning is playing with limited arm strength and opponents are game planning for that. The Broncos have a real weapon in receiver Demaryius Thomas and how the Patriots play against him will tell you a lot of how they really feel about Manning’s arm strength. Denver’s offensive line is ranked 10th in the league in protecting Manning while the Patriots are ranked 25th in the league at sacks per attempt. So if Manning gets time, there could be some plays made down the field. Throughout his career Bill Belichick has been able to defense Manning like no others. On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady has the Patriots offense humming and with Steven Ridley running the ball with effectiveness it has taken pressure off Brady. You could say that this game could come down to turnovers but Brady doesn’t make those mistakes and the Broncos don’t intercept many passes. The Patriots do a great job of holding the ball and converting third downs where the Broncos have struggled on third down defense. I have a feeling that both quarterbacks will be protected, but this game will come down to who is better in the secondary.
And if you’re REALLY bored:
The New York Giants play Cleveland
Dallas Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton was drafted by the Chicago Bears and spent the first four years of his career in Chicago. He was 21-12 as a starter there, but the Bears traded him to Denver for Jay Cutler in 2009.
“Kyle Orton was super for us when he was here," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Thursday in a conference call with Cowboys reporters. "One of the best guys you’ll ever be around. Confident, smart, a natural born leader. He was good at everything we asked him to do while he was here. The Cowboys really did well getting him to come backup Tony.”
The Bears offense has changed since Orton was there, but the defensive scheme and many of the faces on that side of the ball are the same. So Orton has been able to help the Cowboys with some insights into the Bears’ D.
"I know the defense pretty well," Orton said. "This is a team that hasn’t changed too much [on defense]. A lot of guys around here have seen them for a while as well. You’ve just got to beat a good football team. They’re not too complicated. They’re just really good at what they do and have a lot of good players."
Even though he won’t play unless Tony Romo is injured, Orton is looking forward to seeing some old friends Monday night.
"I had four good years there," Orton said. "They’ve got a great locker room over there, a lot of great guys. Brian Urlacher is a great leader of the organization, and I really respect him and all the time I spent there."
Orton, though, was not eager to talk about the trade that sent him from Chicago to Denver. The Broncos cut him during the 2011 season, and the Chiefs claimed him off waivers. Chicago, which had lost Cutler to injury, had was interested in re-acquiring his services. The Cowboys and Bears both put in waiver claims on him, but the Chiefs had the worst record among the three teams.
Orton signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in the off-season.
"Long time ago. Different point in my career," Orton said. "I’m just happy to be where I am."
NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL and its locked-out officials met the last two days, but a person familiar with the negotiations said Friday the sides remain far apart and no further talks are scheduled.
The source said that there are "significant and serious economic gaps."
Michael Arnold, counsel and lead negotiator for NFL Referees Association, acknowledged the discussions, saying his group reached out to the league last week and the NFL agreed to meet. He said there may be additional talks, but it is "not appropriate" to comment on specific issues.
The NFL locked out the regular officials in June and has been using replacements as the season enters its third full weekend. Many players, coaches and fans have been upset with what they say is poor officiating. The NFL has warned teams that it won’t tolerate confrontational behavior toward the new officials.
The NFL locked out the regular officials after their contract expired. Negotiations with the NFLRA broke down several times during the summer, including just before the season. This is the first time the league is using replacements since 2001.
The collection of small college officials working the games has drawn tough criticism from those on the field. Monday night’s game between Atlanta and Denver underlined the matter, with Broncos coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio engaging in heated arguments with officials.
In response, the league, according to NFL.com, said Thursday night that senior NFL officials called owners, general managers and coaches from all 32 teams to tell them that respect for the game demands better conduct.
NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson noted "unacceptable behavior" and added "we’re not going to tolerate it." He said flags, fines and suspensions are possible for coaches or players who cross the line.
"There’s no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka has said. "We’ve got to get that taken care of."
What the fans seem most annoyed with is the lack of pace to games, notably Monday night’s win by the Falcons that dragged on past midnight. The NFL has said that it is trying to upgrade the officiating through training tapes, conference calls and meetings.
The league and the NFLRA, which covers more than 120 on-field officials, are at odds over salary, retirement benefits and operational issues. The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The union has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it would ultimately reduce their compensation.
"We just all hope, and I’m speaking on behalf of all 31 other head coaches, we hope they get something done," Rams coach Jeff Fisher has said. "We’re trusting that they will."