Week 16: Cowboys ready for rematch
Philadelphia at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Eagles scored 45 points on Rex Ryan’s Jets last Sunday and they trounced the Cowboys in their first meeting, 34-7. Coming off a bye, Andy Reid seemed to know every time that Rob Ryan was blitzing and LeSean McCoy ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns mostly through massive holes. “We’re going to have to play a great game to get a win,” Cowboys QB Tony Romo said this week. Eagles QB Michael Vick passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Like Marcus Spears said, the Eagles caught the Cowboys with their pants down, or better said, caught the Ryan Brothers with their pants down. The best chance Dallas has is to force turnovers. Philadelphia has a league-high 35 turnovers.
The Cowboys must disguise their blitz packages and also keep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. They can’t constantly worry about the Vick bomb to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. With CB Asante Samuel out, the Eagles will have to shuffle Joselio Hanson into the slot and move Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the outside. The moves could help Romo (no interceptions in six of his past seven starts) and his receiving corps, which figures to attack with post patterns and deep sidelines routes. Of course, rookie RT Tyron Smith must block Jason Babin, who has eight sacks in his past three games, giving him a NFL-high 18 on the season. Cowboys RB Felix Jones will be starting, but running with a tight hamstring. McCoy (17 touchdowns on the season) gashed the Cowboys’ nickel defense last time, and Dallas now better be mindful of TE Brent Celek on wide runs. Vick could be throwing back to Celek’s side.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent the past couple of days explaining his comment that the Eagles scared him based on their Week 8, 27-point victory over his Cowboys. “Let’s be honest about it,” Jones said. “These guys don’t get on the field if they’ve got an element of physical fear in them. That’s not the point.” Jones has said repeatedly that fear of failure motivated him in his business career. “Being afraid of messing up has caused me to be more conscientious, caused me to be prepared,” Jones said. “Fear is a great motivator, and especially in this sport.”
Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo believes CB Nnamdi Asomugha was inconsistent this season because it took him a while to adjust to the Eagles’ practice habits and overall team atmosphere. Castillo said that it took Asomugha time to adjust to how the Eagles practice compared to his years with the Raiders. I guess that’s a shot at Oakland, right?
With a win, Dallas will finish 6-2 this season at Cowboys Stadium. Former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano has been rumored as returning to the Cowboys next season. Sparano was a Dallas assistant under Bill Parcells.
San Francisco at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Seahawks have turned their season around, just like they did last year, but this time they meet San Francisco’s defense, which has a lot at stake. And something is bound to give. The 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 14 games, an NFL record, or a 100-yard rusher in 36 straight. Well, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch had scored a touchdown in 10 consecutive games. He’s also eclipsed 100 yards in five of his past seven games. Linebacker Larry Grant, subbing for the injured Patrick Willis, will have to have another strong game in order to stop the Beast, who had only 33 yards in the teams' first meeting.
Yes, Frank Gore has been struggling, but he’s also 108 yards ahead of Lynch this season. Seattle has also developed a great, young secondary. Injuries have caused the Seahawks to install two big corners in rookie Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner to go with safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. To stop Lynch, the 49ers are considering putting eight defenders in the box because they really don’t fear Tarvaris Jackson, especially with no Sidney Rice and a slow-footed Mike Williams. Leading receiver Doug Baldwin will play, though.
CZAR’S SCOOP: Scot McCloughan, who was dumped as 49ers general manager early in 2010, has been working with the Seahawks and predicted his new team will kick San Francisco’s butt today. McCloughan will be applying for the Raiders’ opening for a general manager.
In the 49ers' three losses, Alex Smith has been sacked 20 times. In their 11 wins, he's been sacked just 19 times.
The 49ers believe that DE Justin Smith, an 11th-year veteran, is the team's MVP. The veteran Smith has taken rookie pass rusher Aldon Smith, who had 2 1/2 sacks Monday night, under his wing this season. Aldon has 13 sacks this season and the rookie record is 14 1/2 by Jevon Kearse in 1999. Both defensive players were stars at Missouri. The younger Smith showed wisdom by choosing to work out at San Jose State during the lockout with a group of 49ers led by the elder Smith. On the first day of workouts, Aldon Smith threw up twice, which made players openly wonder if he was up to the task to being a successful NFL player. Aldon kept showing up and learned the 3-4 scheme from Justin.
After going 2-6 in the first eight games, Lynch has been the catalyst behind Seattle’s 5-1 mark so far in the second half, running for 748 yards since Week 9. Seattle has forced 18 turnovers since Week 10. Browner has 210 interception return yards this year, a single-season record for Seattle.
Other Saturday games
Denver at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET: Well, Tebowmania is in deep freeze with more than 30,000 empty seats expected for the Denver quarterback. The Broncos finally lost last Sunday after six straight wins, leaving Tebow 7-2 as a starter this season. The Bills have lost seven straight after a surprising 5-2 start, or since the team signed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a new contract. The Bills are allowing 369.5 yards per game, and defensive coordinator George Edwards has a bleak future with the team.
Miami at New England, 1 p.m. ET: The Dolphins’ brain trust was apparently right about Reggie Bush, who is 27 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. Amazingly, Bush had only 944 yards combined in his past three seasons with the Saints. Still, how does Miami slow down the Tom Brady passing show? He finally connected with Chad Ochocinco on a touchdown pass last Sunday while targeting TE Aaron Hernandez nine times last week for 129 yards. Apparently, Miami owner Stephen Ross has researched Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin for his head-coaching vacancy for 2012.
Cleveland at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET: With the Texans fading, the Ravens have a lot to play for today. They can secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC by sweeping the Browns and then the Bengals next week, even if the Steelers win out. Ravens QB Joe Flacco is 7-0 vs. the Browns and the Ravens can finish unbeaten at home this season by controlling QB Seneca Wallace and stopping RB Peyton Hillis. Baltimore’s Ray Rice has 1,734 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns.
Jacksonville at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET: New owner Shad Kahn keeps saying he will keep the Jaguars in Florida, although first he wants to make a run at a new head coach. Yes, Mel Tucker will get an interview, but most observers expect Kahn to look for an offensive coach to help his young QB, Blaine Gabbert. Since the start of training camp, the Jaguars have placed 29 players on injured reserve, but have made salary settlements with six of them, so technically it’s only 23.
Oakland at Kansas City, 1 p.m. ET: The Raiders have won four straight at Arrowhead and their offense definitely clicked last week against the Lions with Carson Palmer throwing for more than 300 yards for the third time this season. However, the Chiefs’ defense plans to keep playing hard for interim coach Romeo Crennel, as it did last Sunday in knocking the Packers off their perfection routine. The Chiefs blanked the Raiders earlier in the season. Oakland can expect a heavy dose of RBs Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle.
San Diego at Detroit, 4:05 p.m. ET: After 11 mostly awful seasons, the Lions can secure a wild-card spot with a win. Of course, the Chargers are currently playing their best football, which shouldn’t surprise anyone with San Diego coach Norv Turner 18-2 in December. QB Philip Rivers hasn’t thrown an interception in his past four starts while RB Ryan Mathews has been running wild, which is a bad omen for Detroit’s porous rush defense. This figures to be a high-scoring game, especially if the Chargers can block Detroit’s defensive front.