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Cowboys' Romo already in mental battle against Giants' D; mail

Last indelible memory from my training camp tour: Last Tuesday, with Dallas practicing against the Chargers in San Diego, the first-team Dallas offense was throwing against the starting San Diego nickel defense. Tony Romo got blitzed from the right, and it wasn't picked up. He couldn't escape and was "tackled'' (touched, but the quarterbacks don't go down in such scrimmages) for a sack. Angry, Romo spiked the ball hard and yelled something I couldn't make out. But it was something angry.

Last indelible words spoken to me on my training camp tour: "Now you have completely ruined my chances of getting any sleep tonight.''

Those words come from Romo, near midnight Pacific Time Tuesday, near the end of a conversation about the opening game against the Giants. I don't normally talk to quarterbacks at midnight Pacific time, but we'd missed each other after practice, and we were both tied up in the evening, so he told me to call before 11, and I did, and he was talkative, so we spoke for a while. The quote had to do with us talking about how complicated some defenses are getting, and how smart the Giants' defensive front was and a few other things, and Romo, who was sitting in his hotel room in San Diego studying some tape of the Giants, just knew that no matter how much he studied, the Giants would do some things in the opener 15 nights away that he wouldn't -- couldn't -- be prepared for. On this night, he looked at six Giants games from last season. He said he felt good about being able to study the Giants so much -- but he's no fool. He knows Eli Manning is probably doing exactly the same thing, studying the Dallas D back in New Jersey, whether it's on this night or some others.

"We run an offseason study on the teams we're going to play, like all teams,'' Romo said. "They [the Giants] will structurally be the same team; why would you change when you've won the Super Bowl? Structurally, they'll probably run the same blitzes. But when you look at games from last year, you see their imagination. Against Buffalo [way back in Week 6], they did some really new stuff. I've watched a lot of that Buffalo game, with how they played a stack alignment and how they handled the [Bills'] screen game. What you do is take all that in and try to determine how they'll react to what you're going to do.''

Chess match. Spy vs. spy, especially in a first game, when two teams that played each other twice in 22 days at the end of last year then had eight months to wonder: How will they counter us when we do X?

"The first game of the year is always an in-season adjustment game,'' Romo said. "But I feel good about where we are. We've changed our two guards (former Bengal Nate Livings and ex-Panther Mackenzy Bernadeau now start), and they'll be important to what we do. If they can give me an extra half-second more after the snap, that can be eternity for our offense. It's interesting to consider what we'd be able to do.''

That presumes that ascending star Tyron Smith, at left tackle, and right tackle Doug Free can also keep pressure off Romo. Last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Free allowed 49 pressures/hurries/sacks, so it's no sure thing that Romo will be cleaner this year.

Romo was better last year than our memories of him: 66 percent accuracy (and one memorable overthrow of Miles Austin in the close December loss to New York), 4,184 yards passing, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 102.5 rating. "He's more than capable of winning a Super Bowl in this league,'' Jason Garrett told me earlier in the day. "Look at John Elway. He went 14, 15 years without winning one, and all of a sudden Denver runs it better and plays better defense, and he wins two, and now people think of him as a top three quarterback of all time. With Tony, we've just got to be better around him, and I think we will be.''

The reason I'd feel good about Romo as my quarterback if I were a Cowboys fan was accentuated late in our conversation. We were talking about the contentious practice session against the Chargers, which ended with a Romo rainbow deep into the end zone to a fifth-round receiver who looked like he didn't get both feet in. The official looking at the play looked around for help. The Chargers screamed that the kid was out of bounds. With no help coming, the ref threw both hands in the air and called out "Touchdown!'' The Chargers were furious.

"I went back and looked at the play on tape tonight,'' Romo said. "Threw it to Danny Coale. Cover 2, soft zone. Safety bit on the fake too hard. Danny came down with it. Great play. And he got both feet in. He definitely got both feet in.''

Manning-Romo, for the third time in nine months. Eight days away. Looking forward to it.

***

I'm going to hold my Joe Flacco stuff until next Monday, because I want it to get a wide airing, and because I'd have to keep it too short here. Flacco and I talked a bit about the no-huddle, and how much the Ravens are likely to run it this year -- "I'm looking at our offense as total no-huddle" -- and what it could mean to the efficiency and explosiveness of what they do.

Sorry to keep all you Ravens fans waiting. Come back next Monday to get your Flacco fill.

Now for your email:

BERNARD DOESN'T LIKE THE SENIOR PICKS. "I've read your column religiously for many years and never written before, but this statement really irks me, as a long time historian of football: 'The committee doesn't have as its stated objective to get the cases of the forgotten heard. But those are the players who make the most sense to me to get in the room.'

REALLY? So the two guys you review in the super-secret-special-awesome room every year are the most deserving?! Dave Robinson and Curley Culp will be good additions to the Hall; but you really think they are better than Bobby Boyd, Jake Scott, Isiah Robertson, Jimmy Patton, Randy Gradishar, Alex Karras, Mick Tinglehoff, Bob Trumpy, Dan Hampton, Lemar Parrish, Ken Anderson, Riley Odoms, Chuck Howley, Bill Bergey, Russ Washington, Maxie Baughn, Al Wistert, Sherrill Headrick and George Kunz? I'm speechless!

I really can't believe that's what you meant. Please tell me you didn't mean it that way and correct my understanding, because there is no way that that can be said to be true by anyone who has been watching professional football for 50-plus years. (I also agree that Jerry Kramer is being over-rated by the masses; very good, famous play in the "Ice Bowl", but 'Hall of the Very Good material'!)''-- From Bernard, of Biddeford, Maine

That is exactly what I meant. Who is to say who is "most deserving?'' The Senior Committee is composed of human beings, five of them who meet in Canton with two former Hall of Famers, to try to whittle down the list of old-timers who deserve a chance to have their cases heard by the committee of 44 selectors to the Hall. You say yourself that Robinson and Culp will be good additions to the Hall. Isn't that what the Senior Committee should do? Give those who have never had a chance to have their cases heard, so the deserving can have a legitimate chance to get in?

The players you listed are good ones, and many are among the 15 each summer that the Senior Committee considers. There is a backlog of those who have never had their cases heard by the selectors. And I am not on the Senior Committee, so I can't tell you about the deliberations or who was considered most strongly this year. If you're interested in contributing to the process, I would suggest writing to Joe Horrigan at the Hall, and asking him to pass your ideas on to the Senior Committee.

GOOD QUESTION. "In your opinion, what's the hardest position to get into the Hall of Fame from?''-- From Russ, of Charlotte, N.C.

Safety. Our history of putting safeties in the Hall is terrible.

HE DOESN'T LIKE JIM IRSAY. "The audacity and entitlement of Jim Irsay is beyond belief. If memory serves me, he owns the team because he inherited it from his dad. He didn't do anything to buy it. And they snuck out of Baltimore in the middle of the night, trashing their loyal fans and the community. They stunk enough to get Peyton Manning and that, vastly more than his ownership, led to the record he claims is due to his ownership. After Manning got hurt, they stunk enough to land another [potentially] incredible quarterback.

If his ownership were so great, they wouldn't have slipped so badly last year (the Patriots didn't slide so much when Brady went down) unless it was an ownership move to blow the games to secure the top choice (which still would be poor ownership since it is against the rules). Give me owners like the Rooney family any day over arrogant, disloyal self-promoters like Irsay.''-- From David, of Cleveland

He's not disloyal. He also had the guts after last season to look at the organization not meshing well with the Polians at the top and know it was time to make a change -- and change toward an independent scout not afraid to make a decision like trading a second-rounder for a benched corner. The other thing I'd say in Irsay's defense is he's the only owner in the NFL who takes to Twitter to interact so freely with the fans. Isn't that a plus? I'm glad he's in the league. And the Rooneys are the gold standard, to be sure -- but all humans are different.

ON BILLY CUNDIFF. "Peter, I know you've done a lot of work covering the Ravens organization. Don't you think they did Billy Cundiff wrong in not cutting him when last season ended? That would have been better then stringing him out, giving him the impression he had a "chance" to retain his kicking duties, and then cutting him. Didn't he deserve a clean chance to move on, especially since he's the most accurate kicker from 50 yards and in the past few seasons? (And while Baltimore is at it, by their logic, should they simply cut everyone on defense who gave up the 20+ points in that game? Whatever happened to "You win as a team, you lose as a team?' ''-- From Joe C, of San Antonio

I don't think they were convinced they wouldn't keep Cundiff this year until they saw how good Justin Tucker was. Cundiff is 1 for his last 10 from 50 yards and beyond, and you can't eliminate that from the equation.

WELL, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THEM TO SAY? "In all of my years watching football, I find it very comical for Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Head Coach Rex Ryan to all say the same statement after they just completed a third pre-season game without scoring a touchdown. All three basically said, 'Wait till Week 1, that's when we pull the rabbit out of the hat and you will all be blown away.' I don't know if any Jet fan, or football fan for that matter, in the Tri-State Area is buying.''-- From Joseph Costabile, of Middletown, N.J.

Should they have said, "We stink, and we have no chance?'' Postgame comments are tremendously overblown in our sporting society. You're right -- They're in big, big trouble. Just don't expect them to admit it.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE PRESEASON. "You mentioned in 10 things you think you think -- why exactly is preseason football worth playing? Ask Russell Wilson.''-- From Mike Cuzzone, of Chicago

Great point. That's why I think teams should play two scrimmages and two regular preseason games. Let Tom Brady play 20 snaps. Let Russell Wilson play 100.

SAM THINKS I'M NAÏVE. "I appreciate that you are interested in what statistics can tell us about the question of the dangers of football, but as an applied statistician, I ask you to please be more careful in your interpretations.

Your discussion of the Barnwell story on deaths in football versus baseball is incredibly naive. Any credible statistical analysis will not simply compare the means of two groups and call it a day. A credible study will control for other factors, like age, fitness, etc. It should not be surprising at all that football players live longer lives than baseball players and the general population. Have you looked at C.C. Sabathia or Prince Fielder? Have you looked at the average American walking through the street? Baseball players are typically less fit and play careers into more advanced age. That means they are older and fatter when they retire.

The real relevant comparison is between football players and those that engage in regular exercise and are similar ages. Compare the numbers between football players and hockey players or how about track and field athletes. We don't live in a single variable world. You need to control for overall fitness and age (among other variables). You may find similar results, but drawing an inference like this from a difference between means is not a "study." It is hack science. By the way, love the column, but when it comes to these data questions think a little harder.''-- From Sam, of Manhattan, Kans.

Thanks, Sam. I don't view the Barnwell piece as hack science, though. It's another study. It's not THE be-all, end-all study, and many readers wrote in Monday to complain, like you, that I have over-simplified things in the baseball versus football comparison. But you have over-simplified too, haven't you? In pulling out Sabathia and Fielder, two overweight guys, you go to extreme. Why not pull out more fit players -- Corey Hart and Matt Kemp -- who are much more indicative of normal-looking baseball players? Anyway, thanks for writing and making me understand that there hasn't been a study done that answers every question about athletes' longevity.

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