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The NFL Debates How Badly Players Can Be Jacked Up by Lloyd Vance

 

After Week 6’s headshot fest, if some people around the NFL have their way… ‘Jacked Up’ hits, like this one delivered by former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins on TE Alge Crumpler in the 2004 NFC Championship Game, may soon draw more than a fine

After a weekend where the National Football League saw an unprecedented number of head injuries, i.e. Concussions , caused by some extremely hard hits. The entire league including officials, players, media and fans were talking about what to do to protect players better from devastating hits. 

The four biggest collision hits that were deemed “flag worthy” by the league — or as ESPN used to glorify, where guys getting “Jacked Up”.  Were Falcons DB Dunta Robinson knocking himself and Philadelphia Eagle WR DeSean Jackson out on a bang-bang play; Steelers LB James Harrison knocking out Cleveland Browns WR/RB Joshua Cribbs on a running play and on another play sending WR Mohamed Massaquoi to the sidelines for a good bit after a head shot; and New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather’s blatant helmet-to-helmet big shot on Baltimore Ravens TE Todd Heap.

Concussions, which have been the NFL’s biggest hot button topic – especially after congress got involved last year – were plentiful in Week 6.  Players Jackson, Robinson, Cribbs, Jaguars QB David Garrard, and Redskins TE Chris Cooley all suffering the league’s most dreaded injury.  So now the league in “protecting” the shield is talking tough about big hits. The cases of Massaquoi, Heap, and Jackson drew the most ire as at least two of them involved helmet-to-helmet contact to “defenseless” receivers, which is a big no-no since the NFL beefed up the defenseless receiver rule before the 2009 season.  The rule — which some say was in response to 2008 “flagged” hits on WR’s Wes Welker and Anquan Boldin” — states that a defender must have two feet on the ground before contact to the head. 

Almost before Sunday’s 1 PM and 4 PM EST games were completed varying shots were fired from both sides of the “devastating” hit debate.  Immediately I was receiving emails and texts saying, “Put flags on these guys, because football is too soft” or on the other side, “Football is becoming too violent and the league needs to step in”.  The situation got so bad that NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, i.e. “The Fine Man” had to go on the offensive. 

On the “Mike and Mike” Show on ESPN Radio, Anderson said, “We need to get our players firmly in line with the current rules”.  He added when talking about defenseless players, “What we’re trying to make sure our players understand is that you should know the rules.  The coaches know the rules, the players should know the rules. And so if you are in violations of the rules — particularly one of those trying to protect against head, neck injuries — we’re going to hold you to a higher standard.”  However lastly Anderson said there is no intent to change any rules. “We are just going to enforce the existing rules much more to the letter of the law so we can protect our players”.

“We understand this is not just about the NFL,” Anderson said. “This is about safety at our level, at the college level, at the high school level, at the pee-wee level, because we are the standard bearer and we are committed to safety at the highest level.  “So we will take all the criticism and all the backlash against those that say we are acting too aggressively in this regard. We are not going to be apologetic. We are not going to be defensive about it. We are going to protect our players and hopefully players at the lower levels as well by example.”

Trust me as someone that has gotten to know a lot of current and former players over the years, I am all about “Player Safety” and trying to preserve football players’ health long-term.  However I think many members of the media and fans are being too over reactive  in regards to big hits.  Yes, there were players laid out everywhere in Week 6, but too often these types of bone-crunching hits are too hard to evaluate in live action to call them “dirty”.  You cannot blame a defender for trying to make a play in a split second especially when separating a receiver from the ball. 

In the game that I was paying particular attention to, the Eagles-Falcons, I clearly thought that Robinson was not intentionally trying to knockout Jackson.  He led with his shoulder pads and it was a quick bang-bang play where the former Pro Bowl corner could not stop his forward motion.  Unfortunately both players laid on the ground for some time before they were helped off and neither did not return.  As outrage filled the Philadelphia area and Robinson was being painted as a “dirty” player, I thought it was ridiculous given the speed of the play.  I even had to chastise one hypocritical Eagles’ fan who I had to remind that he was the same guy who celebrated former Eagles corner Sheldon Brown’s big hit that “Jacked Up” Saints running back Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Playoffs.

Fox contributor and former head of officials Mike Pereira said in explaining the Robinson-Jackson hit,   “Jackson is considered defenseless as the pass was incomplete, and as a defender, Robinson is not allowed to lower his head and contact Jackson anywhere on his body. I’m not sure what you tell a defender to do in that situation, but we have to avoid these types of hits that create the injuries that result from them”. Pereira closed the topic by saying, “The NFL will continue to look at these types of actions to try to eliminate these injuries. Robinson and others are going to have to lead with their shoulders and not their heads.”

Giving the officials the leeway to suspend/eject players for big hits is going to open a firestorm of “subjective” calls.  The NFL needs to relax as big non-helmet-to-helmet hits occur on almost every play and they have been part of the fabric of football since the game was created in the late 19th century.  I can still remember talking to former Falcons veteran safety Lawyer Milloy after the Falcons-Eagles game in October 2008 where he had been flagged for a hard hit on a “defenseless” TE LJ Smith on a bang-bang play.   Milloy was flagged 15-yards for unnecessary roughness  on a big hit over the middle where he used his shoulders mostly to knock the ball away from Smith.  Milloy said, “It happened so fast that I couldn’t stop my momentum and I was just playing the game hard”.   The former University of Washington hitter was not fined by the NFL for the hit, but it showed the “skewed” nature of officials calling penalties for big hits.

However the one hit from Week 6 that everyone can agree on as excessive and cannot be tolerated was Meriweather’s hit on Heap.  Anderson said of the blatantly late helmet-to-helmet hit that landed the former University of Miami star in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse (i.e. the bench for a few plays), “That in our view is something that was flagrant, it was egregious.”  Anderson added, “And effective immediately, that’s going to be looked at a very aggressive level, which could include suspension without pay.”  Anderson also made it a specific point to accentuate the fact that game officials have the authority to eject players in those situations, if warranted.

So after a 24-hour firestorm of sports talk, the NFL came out strong with $175K worth of fines in hopes of changing player’s minds. James Harrison was fined $75K for his two hits on Browns’ players – already had been under the league’s microscope for body-slamming Titans QB Vince Young in Week 2; Plus Meriweather and Robinson received $50K fines for their infractions.  In addition, the NFL when presenting the fines also planted the seed of possible ejections/suspensions for big hits.  Greg Aiello, the NFL senior vice president of public relations said, “Fair warning needed to be given to players and clubs before increased discipline starts to include game suspensions.  A communication will go to the clubs, coaches, and players tomorrow about the increased discipline for violations of player safety rules.”

We will see if the ejection/suspension threats are merely tough talk and can change the way the game is played.  As NFL players have still played with a hard-hitting style for decades despite fines.  Former New England Patriots thumper turned NBC Football Analyst Rodney Harrison, who received more than $200,000 in fines in his career, gave a great story about the fines he accumulated for his hard-hitting style.  He said, “I used to set aside $50,000 before the start of each season to pay fines for big hits”.   That quote shows that Harrison and the rest of the NFL’s hard-hitters know exactly how much their tough-hitting style was going to cost them in playing to win and they are okay with it.  Some are saying that Harrison didn’t learn his lesson until he was finally suspended for 1-game in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice.  I guess not being able to be on the field to help his team win was the final impetus to make Harrison change his hitting style to stay on the field.  And ejection/suspension may indeed be what it takes to reel-in today’s hard hitters.

Call me crazy, but I do believe in the NFL’s 91 years of existence that “Devastating Hits” have always been celebrated.  I can still remember reveling in the Eagles’ late ‘80s/early ‘90s safety combo of Andre Waters and Wes Hopkins laying receivers out.  Remember Hopkins setting the tone in the infamous “House of Pain” game on December 7, 1991 in the Houston Astrodome where he laid out Ernest Givens and later received a $7500 fine for the hit… but I digress.  Some of the biggest names in professional football’s history including HOFer’s Deacon Jones, Butkus, Lott, Blount, Larry Wilson, Night Train Lane, and others, were celebrated for being fierce intimidating hitters.  These guys had  the ability to knock a guy into next week and everyone loved it – the NFL Films even used produce videos call “Crunch Course” that were hugely popular. 

You can call me a “Narcissist” all you want…but almost all contact sports fans love the brute force of the pros and are drawn to it .   Remember how quickly a circle would form and sides would be taken on the playground when someone yelled, “Fight, Fight”.   Like it or not… people like the big hits of the NFL — just like the Ancient Rome’s Gladiators, NHL Fights, WWE, MMA, Boxing, etc.  “Player Safety” aside, we all love to watch the tough guys of the NFL, because these guys have the “guts” to play in the hit or be hit world of the greatest league on Earth.  

Hopefully the league will try not to impose themselves too much into the equation and NFL football can remain the hard-hitting game that we all love.  When I talked to former 9-year NFL veteran safety Robert Massey about the whole NFL cracking down on big hits situation he said that understood “player safety”.  But Massey added, “Hitting is a big part of the gameYou don’t want to take away the ‘Beauty of the Game’ which is hitting and intimidation”.   What I believe Massey was saying was that hard hits are part of the gamesmanship of the NFL and the brotherhood of players understand that risk.

I am not even sure if fines and penalties are going to deter devastating hits in the NFL.  To the dismay of Pereira, the NFL’s former hot button penalty (horse-collar tackles) increased during the 2008 season even after the league place an emphasis on them — 24 horse-collar tackles called in ’08 as opposed to 12 in ’07.  We will have to wait to see if “Devastating Hits” will fall by the wayside.  Like past NFL big stories ‘SpyGate’ and the Wildcat, but for now get used to everyone talking about the league legislating big hits on “defenseless” players.

You know the NFL is going to be vigilant or is it “reactive” in making sure that players are safe, especially the “Golden Boys” (Quarterbacks and Receivers).  So as former Eagles head coach Buddy Ryan used to say, “They should just put flags on offensive players and get it over with”. 

But c’mon let the defensive guys play hard too! Can anyone please tell me if the same kind of uproar would have been heard if a couple defensive lineman were lost to chop blocks and zone blocking knee-diving schemes…you already know the answer.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

“NFL looks like the league that cried wolf by not suspending a player after being so aggrieved about it.”  – Peter King on Twitter

“Henceforth, unless a Merriweather-type hit earns you a week off, NFL will be guilty of talking big but not following through with action” – Don Banks on Twitter

Sports Ilustrated’s Top 10 biggest hitters from a couple of years ago http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/0707/top10.hitters.today.nfl/content.1.html

Checkout some of these YouTube NFL Big Hits including some from when the league “promoted” crunching shots

NFL Crunch Course – part 1 of 5 — www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOBOxxxKNXQ

Sheldon Brown Jacked Up Steven Jackson — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3c5jwoWPRpI&feature=related

Brian Dawkins: BIG HITS!!!! — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suYFi8zW6pE&feature=fvst

DAWKINS kills Crumpler — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ApFRBpdf8

NFL’s Most Bone Crushing Hits — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXLOHF71L_c&feature=related

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2010 NFL Season – Week 6 Preview by Lloyd Vance

RB Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings (1-3) will host the Dallas Cowboys (1-3) in a key Week 6 match-up being called “The Desperation Bowl”

I am dubbing Week 6 of the 2010 NFL Season, “Moving Week”.  This is the time where teams start to distinguish themselves as “Contenders” and “Pretenders”.  Teams will either soon be preparing for key November and December games with playoff implications or eventually start their studying  for the 2011 NFL Draft.  As hard as it is to believe, the NFL season is moving closer to being half over.  But the important thing for everyone is to enjoy the wackiest and quickest league around while it is lasts. 

There clearly is a sense of high anticipation for Week 6 of the 2010 NFL Season.  Some great storylines for this week are the return of Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger from his 4-game suspension (Steelers host Cleveland), Brett Favre’s alleged “Sexting” incident investigation, coaches fighting to stay off the “Hot Seat” (fill-in Carolina’s John Fox, Browns Eric Mangini and the Niners’ Mike Singletary), the Return of Receiver Deion Branch to New England and most importantly on the field there are 8 match-ups where teams at .500 or better will be playing each other. 

Already the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins have celebrated their past perfection as there are not any undefeated teams left – hard to believe a record five teams were 5-0 entering Week 6 in 2009.   Parity is extremely prevalent as there are currently 20 teams with a winning percentage of .500 or better….so please let the sorting out begin.  However from week to week, you don’t know which supposed “powerhouse” is going to be falling back to the pack as “Any Given Sunday” still rules.  In Week 5, it was the former 2009 AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals’ turn to get upset.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went on the road in a “Mission Impossible” situation and shocked many by producing a hard-fought 24-21 win over the highly favored Bengals.

The current standings show that there is little separation in this parity-laden league.   There are the “Elite” teams at (4-1) are the NY Jets, Ravens, Falcons, Bears (4 teams) along with (3-1) teams Chiefs, Bucs, Steelers, Patriots (4 teams) – Is anyone penciling any of these teams in Super Bowl XLV?; The “Contenders” at (3-2) are Colts, Jags, Eagles, Redskins, NY Giants, Titans, Cardinals, Texans, Saints, and Packers; The “Stuck In the Middle” teams at (2-2) are the Seahawks, Dolphins  along with (2-3) teams Rams, Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, and Bengals; The “Pretenders” currently stuck  at (1-3) are the Vikings and Cowboys (will play this week) along with (1-4) teams  the Lions and Browns; and of course bringing up the rear are the “Putrid” teams at (0-5) (i.e. You should just skip to the 2011 NFL Draft) Panthers, Bills, and Niners.

The division leaders after 5 weeks feature also have some unexpected surprises — Washington Redskins (NFC East – 3 teams at 3-2 in this division), Chicago Bears (NFC North), Atlanta Falcons (NFC South), Arizona Cardinals (NFC West), Baltimore Ravens (AFC North), Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West), New York Jets (AFC East), and Tennessee Titans (AFC South – Every team in AFC South is 3-2). Sadly some of my division winner picks from my 2010 predictions are not looking too well – they were the Cowboys, Niners, Packers, Saints, Ravens, Broncos, Colts, and Patriots – but it ain’t over yet. Brash New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of his team’s current place in the NFL standings, “We’re 4-1 and right on schedule.  We want to have the best record in the NFL at the end of the season and right now we’re on schedule”.

The factor that everyone hopes will lead to more competitive games is “adjustments”.  The NFL is a copycat league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to stay ahead of the pack and combat falling behind.  With the third round of bye weeks about to take place, it is time for the “good” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams back on track or keeping them at the top.  Remember early season results are important (don’t want to get too far behind), but good coaches realize that they want their team peaking in the championship months of November and December when it is playoff push time.

But as usual I am cautioning NFL fans to not jump off their respective teams’ bandwagons.  All is not lost for most NFL teams going into Week 6 –- well at least those with 1 or more wins…yes even the in-fighting Dallas Cowboys (1-3) still can turn things around.  Since the current 12-team playoff format was instituted in 1990, 11 teams have rebounded from being at least three games under .500 after the season’s first five weeks or later to qualify for the postseason.  Of those 11, six won their division, including the 2008 San Diego Chargers, who won the AFC West after a 4-8 start.  Also in 2008, the Indianapolis Colts record stood at 3-4 going into a crucial game against the New England Patriots. Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts answered the bell winning 18-15 then rattled off nine straight wins to make the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

Some match-ups already being discussed around water coolers are:

Kansas City Chiefs (3-1) at Houston Texans (3-2) – The old Texans — KC Chiefs were once the AFL’s Dallas Texans — take on the new Texans.  Both these teams are looking to make the jump into “legitimate” contenders.  The Chiefs definitely want to show the NFL that they are not done yet after suffering their first loss last week to the Colts by a score of 19-9.  Kansas City will need better quarterback play from Matt Cassel while the Texans better find a running game, if Arian Foster can’t go. LV’s Pick – Texans

Indianapolis Colts (3-2) at Washington Redskins (3-2) – This one is a battle of two veteran quarterbacks as Peyton Manning faces-off with Donovan McNabb.  The Redskins have been winning “ugly” and continue to play very good defense plus former Pro Bowl DT Albert Haynesworth will be back after attending the funeral of his brother.  While the Colts may have turned the corner after a physical win over the Chiefs last week.  Indy still needs to run the ball better and play better on defense to get the win.  LV’s Pick – Colts

Miami Dolphins (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-2) – The physical Dolphins will want to establish the run behind RB’s Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams – possibly some Wildcat — against the Packers’ injury depleted defense.  The Packers’ offense will definitely be without their two top tight ends and possibly quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion), so it will be interesting to see how they generate points on offense against the Dolphins attacking defense.  LV’s Pick – Packers

Atlanta Falcons (4-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) – The young Falcons want to show the NFL that they are indeed a top team as quarterback Matt Ryan returns to Philly.  Look for Atlanta to pound the ball with RB Michael Turner (NFL’s 2nd ranked rushing attack) against the Eagles’ 25th ranked run defense – No DT Broderick Bunkley (elbow).  For the Eagles expect to see starter Kevin Kolb again as Michael Vick (rib cartilage) is too beat-up to face his old team.  Maybe Kolb will be able to get back in synch with WR’s Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. But the Eagles’ O-line is banged-up including LT Jason Peters (knee) being out.  LV’s Pick – Falcons

Baltimore Ravens (4-1) at New England Patriots (3-1) – The top undercard bout to the Cowboys-Vikings main event as two teams that met in the 2009 Wildcard round renew acquaintances.  In last year’s playoff game, the Ravens pounded the Patriots in a 33-14 victory, in particularly QB Tom Brady (2 INTs and 1 fumble in the loss), but this looks like a different New England team.  Expect a physical black-and-blue battle.  The team that can most effectively run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense is going to win this game.  Watch for the match-up of the Ravens LB’s (3rd ranked NFL defense) and the Patriots offensive line.  Surprisingly the Patriots are 5-0 in the regular season against Baltimore. LV’s Pick – Ravens

Lloyd’s Leftovers

NFL Trade Deadline is approaching – Wednesday October 19th is the NFL Trade Deadline and for the first time in a while, there is some “buzz” around the date.  Already the NFL saw the trades sending former New England Patriots WR Randy Moss – along with a 7th rounder — to the receiver-desperate Minnesota Vikings for a 3rd rounder in 2011.  Watch for the names like Chargers holdout WR Vincent Jackson, New England Patriots holdout OG Logan Mankins, Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars WR Mike Sims-Walker, and Green Bay Packers LB AJ Hawk.  Speaking of holdouts V. Jackson and Mankins, the NFLPA has instructed them to report to their respective teams in order to not lose an accrued season of service — the deadline for Mankins is November 16. Of course I never hold my breath around the trade deadline, as trades like the 2005 deal where former Niners QB Tim Rattay went to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a future 6th rd pick are usually the norm.

Next Man Up – Whether in training camp or Super Bowl week, injuries are always going to be an unfortunate part of the NFL….and owners are pushing for an 18-game regular season (yeah right!), but that is a conversation for another time.   Some key injuries that will have to be dealt with leading up to Week 6 are Rams WR Mark Clayton – Knee (season), Chargers OLB Larry English – Foot, Packers TE Jermichael Finley – MCL (season??), Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – Concussion, Lions WR Calvin Johnson – Shoulder, Colts RB Joseph Addai – Shoulder, Texans RB Arian Foster – Knee, Browns RB Peyton Hillis – Quad, Cowboys WR Dez Bryant – Ankle, Browns QB Seneca Wallace – Ankle, Browns QB Jake Delhomme – Ankle, Packers OLB Clay Matthews – Hamstring, NY Jets CB Darrelle Revis – Hamstring, Eagles DT Broderick Bunkley – Elbow (season??), and Eagles OT Jason Peters – Knee (season??).  However some good news on the injury is that Baltimore Ravens S Ed Reed is very close to returning from a hip injury that has sidelined him since the start of the 2010 season.

Just Send Him to the Hall – It may have not been a masterpiece, but Arizona Cardinals quarterback Max Hall (25) did just enough to get his first win — over the New Orleans Saints by a score of 30-20 – in his first NFL start. The nephew of former Dallas Cowboys QB Danny White finished the game with numbers passing numbers: 17 of 27 for 168 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT.  The former BYU star became the first undrafted rookie free agent quarterback to start and win against the defending Super Bowl champs in more than 42 years, since the Steelers’ Kent Nix did it against Green Bay on Dec. 17, 1967.  Cardinals’ teammate WR Larry Fitzgerald exaggeratingly praised his new quarterback by saying, ‘He’s 29 years old, man”.  Fitzgerald added, ‘He’s the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL. He’s been on his mission for about 10 years, then he went back to BYU, he went to ASU, he was a sixth-year senior out here at Mountain View, he’s been at it for a long time.’

Further Proof that the NFL is a Pass-First League — Quarterbacks Philip Rivers (1,759) of the San Diego Chargers, Kyle Orton (1,733) of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning (1,609) of the Indianapolis Colts have each passed for over 1,600 yards in their team’s first five games in the 2010 NFL Season.  The pass-happy quarterbacks have made history as for the first time in the NFL, there are three quarterbacks with at least 1,600 passing yards through their team’s first five games of a season.
 

Week 6 Feature Game

DALLAS COWBOYS (1-3) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-3) (Sunday, FOX, 4:00 PM ET) – Mall of America Field    

Broadcast Team: Thom Brennanaman, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

High anxiety will be in the air at the Metrodome in a game that everyone is appropriately dubbing “The Desperation Bowl”.  This game is a rematch of the 2009 NFL Divisional Playoffs (won handily by the Vikings 34-3).  But this early season game has taken on an even bigger aurora as both the Cowboys and Vikings enter this game with a record of 1-3.  Though a “lose” in this match-up is technically not a death sentence, there will be little hope for the loser — Since 1990 only five out of 240 playoff teams have started with a record of 1-4, which is only 2 % . Especially when both teams entered the 2010 NFL Season with extremely high hopes. 

The expected raucous crowd should be hyped for this “Loser Leaves Town” match-up and a big reason will be each team’s respective quarterback.  In last year’s playoff lose, the Cowboys QB Tony Romo (sacked 6 times and hit often in the playoff loss) was a disaster and had trouble dealing with pressure brought from the Vikings’ D-line, especially DE Jared Allen.  It will be incumbent on the Cowboys’ shaky offensive line (allowed 6 sacks in Week 5 loss to the Titans) to protect Romo (119-174, 1346 yards (2nd in NFC), 7 TDs and 5 INTs) this time around.  The key person on the offensive line will be OG Montrae Holland who is replacing benched inconsistent high-price tag player Leonard Davis (seven-year, $49 million contract). Romo will definitely be trying to get the ball to his stellar receiving corps of TE Jason Witten, rookie WR Dez Bryant (ankle), WR Roy Williams, and Pro Bowl WR Miles Austin (31 receptions for NFC-leading 474 yards, 15.3 ypr, and 2 TDs). 

But in my opinion, the Cowboys would be best served by slowing down the Vikings speedy attacking defense by re-establishing their dormant rushing attack — Felix Jones leads the team with only 197 rushing yards and 0 TDs.  Surprisingly even with head coach Wade Phillips on Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’ Hot Seat, young offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has chosen to put the ball in the air over and over instead of going to his three-headed monster of Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice.  Romo has averaged 43.5 attempts per game including a high of 47 in a Week 1 loss to the Redskins.  The Cowboys must bring back forgotten player, Barber (has just six carries in 2010), to have any chance to win this game. However finding holes against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams) will not be easy.

However everyone knows that Romo is a just a “bit” player in this marquee match-up as the NFL’s media circus has descended on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.  To say the least the 2010 NFL Season has been a nightmare for No. 4.  The 41-year old passer/grandfather came out of another brief retirement looking recapture his 2009 form, but all hell has broken loose.  Favre (74-131, 861 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs (same number as the entire ’09 season) and a 67.0 quarterback rating) has been battling an elbow injury that clearly has made him “less” than effective in his first 4 games and he is even contemplating sitting out a game or two, which would end his NFL record 289 consecutive games ironman streak.  He has been hit often (sacked every 14 pass plays) and his receiving corps has be decimated by injuries — leading receiver Sidney Rice has been out all season due to hip surgery and former Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin is battling migraine issues. 

Madden’s favorite kid-like quarterback has looked beleaguered, old, and disinterested as his team has stumbled out the gate.  And to make matters worse, the married Favre has been embroiled in an alleged “Sexting” controversy courtesy of his 2008 stay with the NY Jets.  The website Deadspin.com has been driving the story that Favre made inappropriate advances toward former Jets’ reports Jenn Sterger including some salacious voicemails and photos.  The NFL’s favorite future Hall of Famer has tried to stay above the fray, but now the league is getting involved and you know it has to be affecting the 19-year veteran’s play – only was 14 of 34 and had a bad game-closing interception (returned for a TD) in a 29-20 loss to the NY Jets in Week 5.  The good thing is that the Favre does have new buddy, receiver Randy Moss, more acclimated after a whirlwind couple of days last week (traded at mid-week and played against the NY Jets on MNF).  We see if the two can hook-up again after they connected on a 37-yard touchdown against the NY Jets.  Also I want to see if the Vikings equally inconsistent offensive line can stay away from penalties and stop the Cowboys explosive pass rushing tandem DeMarcus Ware (2nd in the NFL with 6 sacks) and Anthony Spencer.  The position on the Vikings’ O-line will be their center position which has not been the same since starter John Sullivan has a calf injury.

As is the case with Romo, the Vikings would be best served giving Favre some run support, especially with his on-going elbow problems.  Outside of Moss and Harvin, the rest of the Vikings receiving corps are “just guys”.  So Minnesota needs to establish running back Adrian Peterson (88 rushes for an NFC leading 480 yards, 5.5 ypc, and 3 TDs plus no fumbles).  The aggressive runner would be the perfect medicine to soften-up the Cowboys speedy 3-4 defense, so Favre doesn’t have to throw the ball over 30 times.  

The Cowboys allowed 158 yards rushing last week to the Tennessee Titans in a 34-27 loss. The Cowboys will surely pack the box in order to take away Peterson and make sure that Favre is healthy enough to beat them.  A key player on the Dallas defense should be run stuffer and emotional defensive leader, ILB Keith Brooking. The 13-year veteran is fighting mad after he registered one solo tackle in the Cowboys’ playoff loss and he also thinks that the Vikings ran the score up in the that game.   The Vikings will also look to attack a Dallas secondary that, outside of veteran CB Terrence Newman, has looked vulnerable at times.

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game to pick, because these two teams’ backs are against the wall and they also are evenly matched — All-Time Regular Season record is tied at 10-10. This game is almost a pick’em as Minnesota is favored by only a point and a half.  I expect the Cowboys to try to get some pressure on Favre, but they will need to watch Peterson first.  If Peterson gets going, expect play-action from Favre down the field to Moss and Harvin.  Conversely the Cowboys will have to deal with extremely loud crowd noise and fix a shaky O-line to come away with the victory.  As always watch for turnovers — both passers have more than 5 INTs so far this season — and big plays on special teams from both sides.   In making my pick, I believe that the Vikings have too many advantages going in their favornot to win this game (home field, noise, Peterson, a very good D-line going against the Cowboys bad O-line and much more).  Also the Vikings have won 5 of the last 6 regular season games against the Cowboys.  Expect some high scoring as Moss and Austin put on a show  – Vikings 31, Cowboys 24

2010 NFL Week 6 Games

Sunday, October 17 

ATL @ PHI, Lincoln Financial Field, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

CLE @ PIT, Heinz Field, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS           

SEA @ CHI, Soldier Field, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

DET @ NYG, New Meadowlands Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

BAL @ NE, Gillette Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

SD @ STL, Edward Jones Dome, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

MIA @ GB, Lambeau Field, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

NO @ TB, Raymond James Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- FOX          

KC @ HOU, Reliant Stadium, 1:00 PM ET —- CBS          

NYJ @ DEN, Invesco Field at Mile High, 4:05 PM ET —- CBS          

OAK @ SF, Candlestick Park, 4:05 PM ET —- CBS          

DAL @ MIN, Mall of America Field, 4:15 PM ET —- FOX          

IND @ WAS, FedEx Field, 8:20 PM ET —- NBC          

Monday, October 18 

TEN @ JAC, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, 8:30 PM ET —- ESPN          

Byes: Cardinals, Bills, Panthers, Bengals

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)