Cowboys, Texans already feeling playoff pressure
Although training camp won’t begin for the Dallas Cowboys until the end of the month, owner Jerry Jones is hoping a brand new billion dollar stadium will stimulate more of a winning attitude among the players than has been demonstrated for the past decade.
Besides building a brand-new stadium with a lot of his own money, Jones also said goodbye to trouble-maker Terrell Owens, a couple of ex-cons in Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson and aging unhappy campers Greg Ellis and safety Roy Williams.
Jones paved the way for quarterback Tony Romo to prove he can win the big one with a minimum of distractions and drove home his point when he released Owens in March with the intention of making the 2009 offense more “Romo-friendly.”
Romo’s chance for success relies on what USA Today Sports Weekly refers to as “The Tailback Triplets”—Marion Barber III, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice—and their ability to stay healthy and complement Romo by establishing ball control and play-action presence.
A run-oriented offense should make Romo’s chore a lot easier and Jones is hoping his trio of tailbacks could create a championship run the way the original “Triplets”—Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, record-setting running back Emmitt Smith and Hall of Fame wideout Michael Irvin—led the franchise to three Super Bowl titles in the early 1990’s.
After going 13-3 in 2007, the Cowboys were everybody’s choice to get to the Super Bowl last season. But mediocrity beset our heroes and they finished with a ho-hum 9-7 season and failed to even make the playoffs.
In fact, it’s been 13 years since the Pokes even won a playoff game so perhaps a new beginning in a dazzling new stadium might just be what’s needed for Dallas to regain their America’s Team image. It’s a sure bet cleaning their house of a bunch of riff-raff is a step in the right direction.
The Cowboys’ draft wasn’t anything to write home about, but there are some new faces that played elsewhere in the NFL in recent years like backup quarterback Jon Kitna, linebacker Keith Booking, safety Gerald Sensabaugh and defensive end Igor Olshansky, who hopefully is as mean as his name sounds.
One of the key players in the future success of the Cowboys is Owens’ replacement Roy Williams, acquired last season for first and third-round draft picks and a five-year, $45 million contract extension for Williams.
Romo promises to take a more assertive leadership approach entering his fourth season as the Cowboys’ starting quarterback. “Contrary to what some people say, I think he’s a natural leader,” Jones said.
As far as the Houston Texans are concerned, they feel as if they’re on the brink of a break-through based on their 5-1 finish last season. They owned the third-ranked offense in the NFL last season, but have yet to have a post-season appearance or even a winning season in the franchise’s seven-year history.
Team owner Bob McNair says he expects nothing less than a playoff appearance this season. Head Coach Gary Kubiak agrees. “We’re at a point as an organization where we feel like we have an opportunity to get out there and compete with anybody,” Kubiak said. “And with that comes the expectation of being a playoff football team, so I understand that.”
Hurricane Ike hit Houston with a fury before Week 2, damaging Reliant Stadium and forcing the Texans to take their bye week then. “It was such a tough start last year and it was huge for our team to overcome that,” evaluated quarterback Matt Schaub.
“There were two or three games last year where we were one or two plays from winning,” Schaub added. “If we can win those two games this year, we can have a winning season.”
Last year’s 8-8 record can be credited for the most part to the emergence of the offense. After years of inconsistency, the Texans hit their stride with Schaub, Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson and rookie running back Steve Slaton.
Johnson led the NFL in receptions for the second time in three years with 115 and receiving yards with 1,575 while Slaton was given his chance early in the season and responded with 1,282 yards, the most in club history.
“It helped having a solid running game,” Schaub said. “It put a little fear in the defenses and forced them to be honest against the run.”
However, everything wasn’t all that great on defense for the Texans, who ranked 22nd in 2008. The defense didn’t do a good job of creating turnovers or stopping the run last year.
General manager Rick Smith tried to address those issues through free agency, signing defensive linemen Antonio Smith and Shaun Cody. Smith was one of the key reasons the Arizona Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII by being such a persistent pass rusher.
Smith also selected Southern California linebacker Brian Cushing with their No. 1 pick and took University of Cincinnati linebacker/defensive end Connor Barwin No. 2. Cushing figures to step right into the starting lineup this fall while Barwin should help on the line and at linebacker.
So if everything works out, Houston will enjoy the city’s first NFL playoff run since the Oilers reached the post-season in 1993.
KWICKIES…Congrats to Houston Astros Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence for being named to the National League’s All-Star team. The game will be played July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Both Astros are among the top batting averages in the NL. Houston began a seven-game home stand Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates (3) and the Washington Nationals (4) before breaking for the All-Star game with a 39-41 record, four games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division.
There still appears to be a ton of unanswered questions surrounding Steve McNair’s homicide last weekend. Initial reports state that the former Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans quarterback, 36, was shot four times, twice in the head, by a semiautomatic pistol. His 20-year-old girlfriend was also found dead at his side, shot once in the head. Sounds like soap-opera material.
Even though tennis is far down on our list of favorite sports, Sunday’s marathon Wimbledon men’s singles championship finally won by Swiss Roger Federer over American Andy Roddick was very exciting to watch. Federer finally downed the rocket-serving Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set to win his record 15th Grand Slam title and sixth Wimbledon championship.
JUST BETWEEN US…Tiger Woods won his 68th PGA Tour victory Sunday by a single stroke over up-and-coming Hunter Mahan in the AT&T National played at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD. The strange twist about this event is that Tiger hosts the golf tournament and presented the $1.08 million winner’s check to himself, which he turned over in its entirety to his Foundation. Woods has now won all three PGA events hosted by players in one year. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March with a birdie on the final hole, the Memorial hosted by Jack Nicklaus with a final-round 65 and his own tournament Sunday with a birdie on No. 16. All three victories came on his final start before a major tourney. Tiger will play in the British Open in two weeks at Turnberry, a course he has never seen.