What I Learned About Football This Week That I Didn't Know Last Week
Two things: You have to play variable forms of bump coverage to have a chance to stop Terrell Owens. Forget giving him a free release off the line. And second, Shawn Springs and T.O. must have the strangest relationship of two quasi-arch-rivals in the NFL.
Second point first: After Springs blanketed Owens throughout the first half of Washington's 26-24 upset of the Cowboys on Sept. 28 (holding Owens to two catches for 11 inconsequential yards; he finished with seven receptions for 71 yards), Springs showed up at Owens' condo in a tony Dallas neighborhood. There was a small gathering of friends.
"Would you like a bottle of water?'' Owens asked.
Sure, Springs said, and they spent a chunk of time together, watching the Chicago-Philly game, and never mentioning the three hours they'd spent in battle that afternoon at Texas Stadium. Then Springs said he was headed out, over to Nobu, a sushi place not far from Owens' home.
"See you in a couple of weeks,'' Springs said to Owens. Actually Nov. 16, which is when they meet at FedEx Field.
How strange is that? Two guys jousting, determining the outcome of this big upset, and the subject of the game never comes up. "My driver thought it was crazy,'' Springs said the other day.
It is crazy.
So how did Springs drive Owens mad in Dallas? His view: "When I got drafted by Seattle, they picked me because I was a big corner, and the game was evolving to the point where teams wanted big corners to be physical with the big receivers.
"I've checked T.O. so many times over the years, and I've learned a lot. Once he gets his speed up, he's very hard to stop. But he's not as explosive coming off the line as some other guys are. He doesn't think anyone can cover him one-on-one, but in our game-planning last week, [defensive coordinator Greg] Blache said, 'We ain't gonna double T.O.' He was giving him to me, one-on-one. He told me, 'I need you this week. We're gonna load up the box [to stop the run], and you got T.O.'
"I loved it. The little waterbug receivers, I can't stay with them. My game is the bigger guys. With T.O., you cannot let him free-release off the line. He will kill you if he gets off the line. Another thing is, you can't play a guy the same way every time. I might stab him one-handed with my inside hand, maybe come back with my other hand [in the five-yard bump zone]. I just try to jam him the first two or three yards. Sometimes he'll bull-rush me. Sometimes he'll try to get away from me. Whatever I do, I try to make some contact with him. That's important. Then I just run with him downfield. There's contact, but it's not interference, it's just two guys going to make a play. And the officials usually let us play.
"Most teams usually come into the game and say, 'We're not gonna let T.O. beat us,' and they do whatever they have to do to try to stop him. But Dallas has so many other ways to beat you. The way to play them is to try to put one guy on T.O., be a little physical, and try to neutralize him.''
And then go to his condo afterward and act like nothing happened.
Good Guy of the Week
Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins.
Dawkins picks a high school football player from a Philadelphia-area school each week who is a smart player, a good student, has high character, and might not be able to attend a game otherwise. He buys the student and a parent or chaperone lower-bowl tickets at Lincoln Financial Field to an Eagles home game.
Dawkins meets each player and his parent or chaperone after the game, and he'll host a lunch including all his guests after the season to get to know the students better. Last week he chose Jerry Boyer, a running back/linebacker from Penncrest High, a suburb of Philadelphia, and Boyer saw the Washington-Philly game Sunday. Boyer is the only surviving child of four born to his mother, and weighed 2 pounds when he was born prematurely. His father died of pneumonia two years ago. Dawkins had a bond with Boyer, in part, because he and his wife had premature twins, Chonni and Cionni, in 2007.
"I want these young men and their parents to see something completely different from what they see around their neighborhood every day of their lives and think, 'That's all there is in life,'" Dawkins said Sunday night. "There's more to life, and I want them to see the possibilities of what happens if you work hard. Jerry is a very, very humble kid. He's the only living sibling in his family, and he's been through so much already. I told him today, 'You are God's gift to your mom and your family.' ''
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Between 1973 and 1985, head coaches Mike Shanahan, Brad Childress and Sean Payton played quarterback at that football mecca, Eastern Illinois University.
Payton coached against Shanahan two weeks ago in Denver. He coaches against Childress tonight in New Orleans.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
I'm surprised I'm not sitting in a Jersey jail today. Last Wednesday, just after 6 a.m., still dark outside, I drove along Grove Street toward Route 3, the main route to get from my house to Manhattan. (I've got a 7-10 a.m. Sirius NFL Radio shift in midtown Manhattan each Wednesday.) As I drove, suddenly -- like when a deer darts in the road and you've got to swerve to avoid it --I saw a man in a dark suit in the road with his eyes focused on something in his hands.
As quick as I could, I hard-tapped the brakes and veered to the left. The man never budged, never looked up, never acted like there was a car or another being in his planet. I missed him by 20 feet, maybe.
With my heart racing, I was fuming at the idiot and relieved I hadn't killed him ... and then I realized: This jerk was crossing a busy thoroughfare, sending a text message or reading his Blackberry, totally oblivious. And even when a car clearly came close to him, he was so mesmerized by the idiot-box in his hands that he paid it no heed. This is the third or fourth time some fool has been crossing the street without looking up as I've driven by, but the first time it's happened in the dark.
Can we please wait 'til we get to a sidewalk or a bus stop before texting or locking onto the crackberries?
The Way We Were
Muhsin Muhammad vs. Art Monk.
Muhammad is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. Monk (1980-1995, mostly with the Redskins) played at 6-3 and 215. Monk, with 940 catches in his career, averaged 4.2 receptions a game. Muhammad, with 764 receptions, averages 4.3 catches a game. Muhammad, 13.4 yards per catch. Monk, 13.5 yards per catch.
Each surpassed 100 catches in one season -- Monk with 106 in 1984, Muhammad with 102 in 2000. Monk was a supremely good blocker downfield, one of the best of his day, a guy Joe Gibbs often used as a tight end blocking on intermediate and deep routes. Muhammad is a very good blocker, not the best in the game, but willing.
When I think of both, I don't think of numbers. I think of unselfishness. Receivers in Monk's day weren't divas, the way some of them are now, and Monk led the way in doing what was best for the team, not his stat line. Muhammad goes against today's grain in the same way.
After Monk got in the Hall of Fame, I asked him about something Gibbs once said -- that never once in the decade he coached him did Monk ever ask for more balls, or say he was open, or ask why sometimes he was being used in the offense more as a tight end than wide receiver.
"This was a team sport for me,'' Monk said. "If it meant blocking, I blocked. If it meant catching the ball in traffic, I did that. I was just happy to be out there, contributing to a team.''
When's the last time you heard a star receiver say that? I'm not saying I can hear those precise words coming out of Muhammad's mouth (Muhammad used to gravitate toward the spotlight), but it's close. Two weekends ago, when he had a big day against Atlanta, he refused to say he's "the guy'' in the Carolina passing game, with Steve Smith on the other side. Rightfully so. "I'm the other guy,'' he said.