SI Vault
Paul Zimmerman
September 09, 1987
First things first. I think the New York Giants will repeat as NFL champions. They will beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl 24-17. The Giants should be better than they were in 1986 unless, of course, injuries remove some key people. Injuries are always the ultimate determinant, the stuff of catastrophe when you are operating in the stratosphere of the NFL.
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September 09, 1987

Dr. Z's Scouting Reports

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So he selected Jerome Brown in the first round of the draft, 292 pounds of unbridled ferocity at defensive tackle. Brown tried to take on the whole offensive line in a minicamp drill. That Eagles O-line gave up an NFL-record 104 sacks last year, and a lot of people will be longing to take it on. Ryan could have had his pick of any offensive lineman on the board, but he chose Brown to go with another defensive house wrecker, All-Pro left end Reggie White. Somehow, somewhere, we'll scrape an offensive line together. Ryan was saying, but when you've got a chance to acquire a Jerome Brown, you don't pass it up.

Coaches reviewed the films and decided that 30 of those 104 sacks were the fault of the quarterback rather than the line's blocking failures. That still leaves 74, which would have broken the old record by four. To make things worse, Philadelphia has 10 games against opponents that finished in the top half of the league in sacks in '86.

Ryan's defense is keyed on the havoc that two linemen can create. It should be very good, especially if rookie linebacker Byron Evans, a serious hitter, develops. And with an extra year under his belt, the Eagles' savvy young quarterback, Randall Cunningham, should go down less often this year.

The Dallas Cowboys ran a tough camp, their toughest in years, and everybody got hurt. The two toughest injuries involved speed, which the Cowboys finally regained in '86. Wideout Mike Sherrard's broken leg puts him out for the season. Herschel Walker's sprained knee might cost him early-season playing time, and when he comes back, then what? Tony Dorsett dragged a bad leg around for most of '86.

If the Cowboys don't get out of the box quickly, they're dead. I say this for two reasons: 1) December features road games against the Redskins and Rams and 2) one of my charts says so. I call this one my "tired legs" chart. It traces Dallas's cumulative month-by-month record since 1983, the year after the Cowboys played in their last NFC title game. Four years' worth of September games shows a 14-3 mark. By October they were down to 12-5. Their legs were starting to tire in November, a 9-9 month, and by December they were worn out: Their record is 3-10. One January game was lost. Old teams die at the season's end. Dallas has gotten old and is without the traditional infusion of young talent to relieve the pressure.

If you look at the games in which the Cowboys were beaten badly, you'll find a recurrent pattern: They couldn't get people blocked. Quarterbacks Danny White and Steve Pelluer, who stepped in after White broke his right wrist in game No. 9, were simply overrun. So was Dorsett. Adjustments at halftime didn't work. The Cowboys have been weak at the tackles, the traditional pillars of the offensive line. They drafted a few 300-pounders, and they are talking about switching players to different positions. The new line coach, Jim Erkenbeck, believes in coming right off the ball and knocking people back, a switch from Dallas's old finesse-block philosophy.

There are just too many unknowns. Will White's wrist hold up? Will Erkenbeck find the tackles to make his ideas work? Will Walker's knee heal? Will new warriors be found to replace the worn-out old ones? The ship has sprung too many leaks.

This is basic, especially if you're a lowly team like the St. Louis Cardinals. When you have the sixth pick in the first round and you are planning to draft a quarterback whom you firmly believe no one else will take, you sit down with his agent before the draft and make sure a contract can be worked out. The one guy you have got to have in camp is the rookie quarterback you're planning to build an offense around—if that, indeed, is your plan.

Ever since offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower left, the Cardinals' quarterback, Neil Lomax, seems to have gone into a fog. Coaches have complained he was stubborn. Coach Gene Stallings ripped him after he refused to participate in off-season workouts. "Football's not the most important thing in my life, especially in the off-season," Lomax said.

So Lomax became trade bait. However, no one wanted any part of his $875,000 salary. Therefore, St. Louis decided to draft a quarterback, Kelly Stouffer, with that sixth pick in the first round. Stallings does not make the draft decisions. He might have preferred a solid defensive lineman, but we will never know. The draft is handled by player personnel director George Boone. So the Cardinals went for Stouffer, and then they couldn't manage to sign him. Now Lomax is facing a challenge from Cliff Stoudt, a well-known washout from Pittsburgh.

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