Emmitt Smith remains the key to the Cowboys' offense, said the Bucs' advance scout
Last Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' advance scout enjoyed a nice turkey dinner before settling down to watch the Dallas Cowboys take on the Minnesota Vikings.
Sound a lot like your Thanksgiving? Well, not exactly.
Our scout was actually in Dallas, attending the annual Thanksgiving game in Texas Stadium. He pulled this unlucky assignment because the Cowboys just happen to the be the Buccaneers' next opponent. That meant, in addition to rooting for Dallas to bump off the Bucs' division rivals, the scout was also paying close attention to each Cowboy player, charting tendencies, injuries, strengths and weaknesses.
As usual, we pulled that scout aside to get just a little bit of what he has put into a 50-plus-page scouting report for the Buccaneers' coaching staff. Dallas, of course, appears to be headed to its worst record in a decade, but the Cowboys remain dangerous. Here are some of the reasons why.
· Dallas has long been defined by the skill position trio of QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith and now-retired WR Michael Irvin. However, the best player currently on the Cowboys' roster, said our scout without hesitation, is guard Larry Allen. In fact, the Buc rep considers Allen not only the best guard in the league, but the best offensive lineman at any position. He put Allen ahead of such luminaries as Tony Boselli, Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace because Allen has great power, explosion and size in an athletic body. That's a rare combination for NFL linemen, and it allows Allen to both get a good push in the running game and be light on his toes in pass protection. He also pulls and traps fabulously. According to our scout, Allen simply doesn't have a weakness in his game. He will be, said our scout, DT Warren Sapp's toughest opponent of the season.
· Allen is part of a Cowboy offensive line that remains, far and away, the strength of Dallas' team, said our scout. The front group does miss center Mark Stepnoski, who was recently lost to a season-ending injury, but it still possesses two fine guards in Allen and Solomon Page and excellent tackles in Erik Williams and Flozell Adams.
· That leads us naturally to Smith, who has the pleasure of running behind this group. Smith may not quite be the MVP-level talent he was during the Cowboys' run of Super Bowl victories, but he's not far off, said our scout, and he remains the key to the Dallas attack. Smith is still dangerous between the tackles and he has enough speed to shoot through a small hole in the line of scrimmage. Most importantly, he still has excellent feet.
· Season-ending injuries to Joey Galloway and Raghib Ismail have obviously hurt the Cowboys' passing attack. The main problem, said our scout, is that Dallas doesn't have a completely consistent threat at the position, even if James McKnight does have 42 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns. Virtually all of the players in the Cowboys' wideout stable have been up-and-down performers this season, so the team doesn't believe it has a player it can count on to pick up a crucial third down. The closest thing they have to that, in our scout's opinion, is tight end Jackie Harris.
· Speaking of Harris, the former Buccaneer, should the Cowboys move into scoring position on Sunday in Raymond James Stadium, keep an eye on the tight end. He appears to be Dallas' favorite outlet receiver near the goal line.
· The Cowboys have also had some injury issues at cornerback, which may contribute to the team's tendency to play their corners well off the receiver. Our scout believes they are playing deep enough to prevent the big play. Former Giant CB Phillippi Sparks has been beaten for some long plays this season, anyway, but, said our scout, Sparks was in position to make the plays but just didn't come up with the ball.
Those were some of our scout's top observations last Thursday in Dallas, other than that the turkey was actually quite well prepared by the Texas Stadium crew. If you're feeling a little pity for the Bucs' advance man and his forced travel on Thanksgiving, you might want to save it for this weekend. He heads to Buffalo next.