The left side of the Dallas line has been leaky. Tuinei used to be a reliable blindside protector of Aikman, but the speed rushers are now zooming by him. Newton, who turns 36 in December, may be paying the price for his wild weight fluctuations over the years. He's not moving piles the way he once did, and the interior blitzes are coming through his gaps. Says Pittsburgh strong safety Carnell Lake, "I think [the line play] is what's wrong with Emmitt's game. Teams are finding ways to stop that big offensive line from blowing holes wide open."
Smith, 30%. After watching him perform on some plays, you wonder if he's saving some energy for another day. Sometimes you're convinced the pounding he took in his first seven years has caught up with him. One thing's for sure: Everyone in the Cowboys organization—especially owner Jerry Jones, who rewarded Smith with an eight-year, $48 million contract in August 1996—wishes Dallas could have back the 400 or 500 needless carries Smith had in lopsided games.
Wideout Anthony Miller, 10%. It might seem like an odd place to put blame, but it's deserved. Through five games the Cowboys have been blitzed about twice as often as they have in recent years, according to line coach Hudson Houck. In a Sept. 28 win over the Chicago Bears, a game in which Dallas had no rushing yards in the first half, many of the blitzes came on running downs. That's because Miller, the speedy receiver imported as a free agent from Denver this past off-season to stretch defenses, scares no one. "We just put whoever's on 83 [Miller] by himself most of the time," Sehorn said on Sunday. It's simple: Defenses have the confidence to run-blitz and move eight players near the line to stop Smith because, other than Michael Irvin, no Cowboys receiver is feared. Which leads us to...
Tight Ends, 10%. From 1990 to '95, Aikman had an any-down security blanket in tight end Jay Novacek, who averaged 57 catches per season during that span. Novacek, however, didn't play in 1996 because of a back injury and has since retired. Aikman's lack of faith in third-year veteran Eric Bjornson (17 catches for 188 yards this season) and rookie David LaFleur (two for 20) is just another reason for defenses to key on Smith and blitz like crazy. Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon says that these days the Dallas tight end "is one thing you don't have to worry about. We had to double Novacek. Now we can put eight guys in the box and concentrate on Emmitt."
Last week Smith remained philosophical about his plight. "Life isn't always rosy," he said, smiling. "This is a challenge, and I'll emerge from it a better person and a better football player.
"I know this," Smith continued, raising his hand above his head. "You don't go from a player at this level"—his hand then dropped—"to a player at this level overnight. It's not over for Emmitt Smith."