For the fourth time in five games, a retired Dallas Cowboy quarterback will be providing color commentary for the national TV broadcast of a Packer game. Some of you are claiming that Tony Romo wasn’t so bad the last two weeks (he is from Wisconsin, after all), but no honest Packer fan should have to hear Troy Aikman’s cliches and bias during our sacred Sunday ritual. So come to Linneman’s, 1001 E. Locust St., this Sunday, where Cowboy Troy and Joe “born on third base” Buck will be muted. Instead, a poet and a politician—Keith Gaustad and I—will be on the mic, telling you what’s happening and how.
Speaking of Mr. Aikman, the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl since he retired. In fact, they’ve barely won a playoff game. During the current millennium, Dallas is 2-6 in the postseason, and their last two defeats have both come in close games against the Green Bay Packers.
The Cowboys have also missed the playoffs entirely in 10 of the last 16 years, while the Packers have suffered such embarrassment just four times in that same span, compiling a 12-12 postseason record so far during the 21st century.
This regular season, Dallas has started with two wins and two losses and the playoffs are once again in doubt. Were it not for an early ticky-tack holding penalty in Arizona that took a Cardinals’ touchdown off the board, the Cowboys would likely already have three losses.
If the Packers are going to give Dallas that deserved third loss this Sunday, we’ll do it by beating these names and jersey numbers:
SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
The man who drew that questionable holding penalty is left end #90 DeMarcus Lawrence, who is currently leading the NFL in sacks with 7 1/2. Drafted in the second round back in 2014, he only had nine total sacks in his first three seasons. Coming off yet another back surgery this offseason, something has clearly clicked into place for the 6’3″, 265-pound edge rusher. Most of his sacks have been all the way around the edge with speed, but against Denver he kept his overmatched team in the game by cutting quickly inside the right tackle.
Making his 2017 debut will be #95 David Irving coming off a four-game PED suspension. Last season he was also a nobody for about a month, because he was undrafted and unwanted and unplayed. Then on October 18 he did this to the Packers and suddenly became a starter if not a star.
The rest of the four-man line is ordinary. They’re trying to rotate in this year’s first-round pick, #97 Taco Charlton, for more snaps at right end, but so far all he’s done is spin to nowhere. Packer fans might also want to keep an eye out for backup tackle #92 Brian Price because he was cut by the Packers just a month ago. Rest assured they made the right choice in adding Quinton Dial and ditching Price, as Tom Silverstein ably discussed this week.
Besides Lawrence, the other headliner on this defense is linebacker #50 Sean Lee. He missed last week against Los Angeles because of a hamstring, and it’s not a coincidence that Todd Gurley had 121 yards rushing and 94 yards receiving in the Rams’ 35-30 victory. Lee is the captain and center of the defense, moving forward to stuff the run, and side to side to stop underneath passes to tight ends and running backs. Lee is iffy again for Sunday, and one of Bob McGinn’s scout sources predicted an eight-point swing if Lee is a scratch: “I like Dallas, 21-20. If Sean Lee doesn’t play I’d go with Green Bay, 28-21.”
Lee’s injury replacement, #52 Justin Durant, is shorter, smaller, slower, older, and from a lower division college program. Alongside either one of them will be #54 Jaylon Smith, the talk of the 2016 draft because he dropped from a top ten pick to the second round due to leg nerve damage he suffered on this play in a college bowl game. Smith timed faster than Lee but is less effective in pass coverage so far in the NFL.
Speaking of pass coverage, this secondary is a mess. They weren’t even that good last year, and all the decent players (cornerbacks Claiborne and Carr, safeties Church and Wilcox) left in free agency. The remaining guys can barely stay upright on double moves much less defend passes in the air. Strong safety #38 Jeff Heath literally ate dirt when a Denver running back ran a simple zag pattern out of the backfield for the Broncos’ second touchdown on September 18. For the third touchdown, it was the right corner, #27 Jourdan Lewis, who had to watch the celebration from yards away in a prone position.
The next week even Carson Palmer was able to make lunch meat out of left corner, #30 Anthony Brown, in the first quarter, then again in the third quarter. #32 Orlando Scandrick plays the slot like a scared sloth.
The offense is supposed to be what makes this team go, but cracks are already forming at all the skill positions and even along the line. #88 Dez Bryant used to be the headliner, and he still has his moments like this one, but he was never that fast and he’s not getting any younger. #82 Jason Witten is so old that teenage cashiers are starting to just assume he gets the discount.
The new stars are supposed to be the quarterback, #4 Dak Presott, and the running back, #21 Ezekiel Elliot. Both of them got MVP votes last year as rookies, and both of them benefitted greatly from a premier offensive line. Two starters—the left guard and right tackle—are now gone. #71 La’el Collins, last year’s swing backup, is now the right tackle and is holding up. But the left guard replacement is still uncertain, and so for the first time in three years there is a weak link on the Cowboy big ugly chain.
Prescott is a magician when on the move, and scrambles wide so that he can throw deep. But from the pocket he’s as likely to miss the barn as hit the hay. Elliot is still a frisky and arrogant talent who can turn an inch into a mile, yet there just aren’t as many holes opening so far this season.
Rookie #10 Ryan Switzer returns kicks and motions from scrimmage a lot, but if Dak is looking for a short, quick receiver in the flat his eyes are still all over #11 Cole Beasley.
HOW THE PACKERS MATCH UP
Rumor has it both starting tackles might play together for the first time this season. If so, it’s hard to imagine this Dallas defense slowing down, much less stopping, our offense.
Both of their safeties, Health and #31 Byron Jones, like to hit hard and high, meaning our tight ends and backs should be able to break a lot of tackles if they can stay low and clever their shifts.
On defense, it will be up to Blake Martinez, Josh Jones, and Morgan Burnett to remember not to arm tackle Elliot and Prescott. If Dial and Clark can two-gap, our linebackers and safeties will have plenty of shots at both guys, and they will need to make them count.
Kevin King will likely be matched up on Bryant, and everybody else in our starting secondary might be a safety, which should work against this Cowboy’s receiving core. The only fast guy they have is #19 Brice Butler, and Prescott loves to underthrow him deep while rolling out. Kentrell Brice, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and even Marwin Evans should get interceptions off this action if they maintain their leverage and keep their eyes up. Josh Hawkins will probably get a chance to shadow Butler and #83 Terrance Williams.
TOM LANDRY AND VINCE LOMBARDI
They worked together in New York, for the Giants that lost the so-called “Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958. Lombardi coached the offense, Landry the defense. Then throughout the ’60s they walked opposite sidelines as head coaches, Lombardi in Green Bay, Landry in Dallas.
According to the left cornerback who played for both coaches, the differences between them were deep. “I have always felt,” wrote Herb Adderley in his book Lombardi’s Left Side, “that Lombardi used his position as head coach of the Packers to show the country and the world that black and white men could get along as human beings, teammates and become World Champions in an all-white city. He used his position to integrate housing in all-white city. Because of him, the black players could live where they chose to live without any problems from the neighbors. Those things happened because of Lombardi’s zero tolerance for racism and discrimination.”
This assertion is backed up by the thorough research of David Maraniss, who wrote the definitive biography of Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered.
“During his first year in Green Bay,” wrote Maraniss, “Lombardi called his team together on the practice field and delivered a rare lecture on racism: ‘If I ever hear…anything like that around here, regardless of who you are, you’re through with me. You can’t play for me if you have any kind of prejudice.'”
Over a decade later, Herb Adderley would be playing in Dallas for the Cowboys, and the distance was profound. “Tom Landry and [GM] Tex Schramm knew what was going on in Dallas and were a part of it for not stopping it,” he wrote. “The two of them made the decision to keep a less talented white player and cut the more talented black player…This stuff was the exact opposite of Lombardi’s policy of putting the best players on the field.”
Lombardi was not just non-racist in his professional dealings, he was actively anti-racist in all of his associations. “Before the season began,” wrote Maraniss, “Lombardi spread the word among Green Bay’s tavern and restaurant owners that any establishment that did not welcome his black players would be declared off limits to the entire team.” This was at a time when all of Brown County had just 128 black residents.
Over 50 years later, the crowd at Lambeau still looks a lot like 1960:
Notice anything? pic.twitter.com/qCApiS8CJc
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) September 29, 2017
And last week, in response to a request from all of the players on a team that is now majority black, most of the nearly all-white crowd at Lambeau chose to pretend racism doesn’t exist. Instead of linking arms during the anthem, as the players requested, loud chants of “USA” could be heard at Lambeau for the first time since the weeks after 9/11. This time the chants were not in response to a foreign threat, but to a call for justice and unity from their own neighbors and heroes.
It was a teachable moment, and one that Vince Lombardi would have used to make his community better. May his spirit be renewed among us.
This week’s episode of The PackerVerse radio show features the return of Bob and Jeff from Lake Wanna Spilarski, along with Sonny’s analysis of the last two wins at Lambeau. Cowboy Stu calls in direct from Dallas and passes on the rumors that Aaron Rodgers’ bachelor brother is spreading there. Then Jim From The South Side does the film study, and Exile re-emerges as a voice for sanity and justice in America. Tune in below.