Football is a game of mind, muscle and emotion--this is the only team game that's all that--and when you're emotionally unready for weak opponents, it isn't easy to win, no matter how bright or talented you are, no matter if you're twice the team they are.
For Once, Cowboys Keep Scoring
THE RAIDER DEFENSE was breached Sunday by the kinds of scoring plays that an unemotional, superior football team should expect but often doesn't. Thus, for one touchdown, a young Dallas quarterback, Anthony Wright, came off the bench to heave the ball down half the field into the end zone, where Dallas' best player, wide receiver Joey Galloway, ran under it and held the ball. For another touchdown, the Raider special-team people were victimized by a fake field goal. For another, after a turnover and an interference penalty placed the ball at the Raiders' nine-yard line, they were too slow and too logy to cover a three-yard touchdown pass.
Nothing in that surge suggested the Cowboys have turned a corner and will set out now to tear up the league. To the contrary, they will continue to contend with the Washington Redskins for worst in pro football. But now, perhaps, their owner, Jerry Jones, will at least cease selecting their starting quarterbacks. As running back Emmitt Smith, displeasing Jones, has said all along, third-year quarterback Wright is a much more productive leader for at least this season than Jones' handpicked rookie, Quincy Carter. In the land of the Cowboys, it has to be depressing to realize that if Jones still had his old coach, Jimmy Johnson, they'd still be a Super Bowl contender. As a pair, general manager Jones and head coach-chief scout Johnson were all but unbeatable. As a single, Jones is a disaster.
Vikings Insure Double-Coverage
THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS, as they start the second month of their season Sunday against Detroit, will have to get more production from their best players if they are to regain their old place as a division contender with Green Bay and Tampa Bay. That seems clear now after their failure in the Superdome, where they lost a 28-15 game to a New Orleans team that didn't look that good. Essentially, the Vikings beat themselves by constantly lining up two wide receivers and two tight ends to enhance a ground game they've lost anyway since running back Robert Smith retired. Incredibly, the Vikings tried to run with a plowhorse, rookie Michael Bennett, instead of throwing to a racehorse, Randy Moss.
Standing 6 feet 4, Moss is the tallest and fastest good wide receiver of all time. The Viking under center, Daunte Culpepper--also 6-4 and an acceptably accurate passer--is at 260 pounds the biggest good quarterback of all time. Combine Culpepper and Moss with a canny veteran receiver, Cris Carter, and you have the nucleus of a championship offense when properly deployed. Instead, the Vikings insist on simultaneously lining up two tight ends, insuring that Moss and Carter will each be double-covered by any NFL team deploying a standard four defensive backs, including New Orleans. To free Moss in the secondary, what the Vikings need most is obviously an offense with three wide receivers and sometimes four to challenge the defense. Obviously. Yet they don't see that.
How Could Carter Do That?
THE TURNING POINT play in New Orleans was made by Viking receiver Carter, who, sprinting for what should have been a 55-yard second-quarter touchdown, allowed the ball to be stripped from his grasp an instant before he was to score. When the Saints recovered for a touchback, Culpepper, who had caught them off guard with a long first-down pass, sat down and asked himself how a 15-year NFL veteran like Carter could have blown such a play. At the moment, Culpepper was, perhaps, too much of a gentleman to put that question to Carter himself. As NFL crowds all know, rookie receivers are often stripped when in the exhilaration of reaching for the end zone on long pass plays they are too engrossed in themselves to protect the ball, but it was astonishing to see Carter so trapped.
In any case, Minnesota Coach Dennis Green, like 30 of the 31 other NFL coaches, soon went back to running the ball. Having proved that they could throw, the Vikings set out to prove that they could run too. And when the day was over, they were able to point, if not proudly, to a rushing total of 34 yards.
The NFL's one passing coach is, of course, the Rams' Mike Martz--who also, unlike Dennis Green, long ago protected himself at running back. After first trading for Marshall Faulk with Indianapolis, which couldn't see what it had, Martz drafted a Faulk lookalike, Trung Canidate. Though Martz is the NFL's lone believer in the power of the pass, particularly on first down, he also understands that a ground threat is indispensable.
30 Coaches Trying Not to Lose
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN the Rams and the NFL's 30 other teams is being shown every week this year. The goal of every other head coach--even Denver's Mike Shanahan--is, clearly, not to win but not to lose. In this league, there are 30 coaches who each week start out--and generally finish up--not trying to win but hoping to wait for the other team to make the killing mistake. As Shanahan said, explaining Denver's 20-6 win over Kansas City Sunday, "We established the running game and prevented the turnover."