Dallas Cowboys: LaDainian Tomlinson

LaDainian Tomlinson's retirement puts into perspective just how unlikely it is that Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing record will ever be challenged.

Tomlinson finished his phenomenal career as the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher – a whopping 4,671 yards shy of his childhood idol. (That’s a figure almost equal to the career total of fellow recent retiree Marion Barber, arguably the Cowboys’ best back since Smith’s departure.)

Thomas Jones is the only other active back who is even halfway to Smith’s 18,355 yards. And Jones is 33 years old, coming off a 478-yard season and almost 8,000 yards away.

I compared Smith’s record to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak Sunday on Twitter. A follower replied with a better comparison: Cy Young’s 511 wins.

The records set by Smith and Young are testaments to tremendous durability almost as much as they are Hall of Fame talent. Those records will probably never be challenged in part because the games have changed so much.

Young started every four days, if not more often, and pitched a complete game more than 90 percent of the time. Complete games are a rarity these days with the reliance on bullpens, even though five-man starting rotations are the norm.

Smith was a workhorse back his entire career, an endangered species in today’s NFL. This has become a passing league with running back committees the norm, but tailbacks still seem to burn out faster than ever before.

Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew (6,854 yards) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (6,752 yards) are the only active backs who appear to have even a slim chance of legitimately chasing Smith’s record. They’re 26 years old and over a third of the way there.

But 28 is considered old at their position, 30 over the hill. And Jones-Drew and Peterson would have to rush for more yards the rest of their careers than O.J. Simpson did in his entire career to catch Smith.

The odds of Smith’s record being broken are about as good as O.J.’s odds of succeeding in his quest to find the real killer.

Jason Garrett pays respect to Hudson Houck

January, 19, 2012
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys coach Jason Garrett opened his introductions of new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan and secondary coach Jerome Henderson with an homage to the man Callahan is replacing, Hudson Houck.

After 29 years in the NFL and two stints with the Cowboys Houck, who turned 69 on Jan. 7, elected to retire.

“He is as good an offensive line coach that this league has ever seen,” Garrett said.

Garrett went on to cite Houck’s time at Southern Cal where he coached linemen like Jackie Slater and Anthony Munoz and designed running games that helped Charlie White and Marcus Allen win Heisman Trophies. With the Los Angeles Rams, Houck coached Slater and saw Erick Dickerson dominate the league in rushing.

His first stint with the Cowboys coincided with Emmitt Smith’s push to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In San Diego, Houck was the line coach when LaDainian Tomlinson was building a Hall of Fame career.

“He’s a rare guy, a rare person who made a tremendous impact on players through the years, on a lot of fellow coaches through the years and just a real class guy and a guy who makes me as a coach feel proud to be in the same profession,” Garrett said. “I learned an immense amount from him when I was playing and had the good fortune of coaching with him on the same staff. Really an unbelievable guy.”
This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

Jay Ratliff was on the field for 733 plays last season, and did not record a tackle for loss.

Actually, he hasn’t had one in 19 games.

If that trend doesn’t end Sunday against the Jets, then the Cowboys have no chance to control the Jets’ running game. Ratliff is an undersized nose guard at 285 pounds, so the Cowboys often align him so he can use his quickness and agility to beat blocks at the line of scrimmage.

When the scheme works, Ratliff is a disruptive force. When it doesn’t, the Cowboys get gashed.

But the run defense begins and ends with Ratliff, who will be going against Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. If Ratliff doesn’t play well, the Cowboys have no shot to beat the Jets.

The Cowboys are still learning the nuances of Rob Ryan’s schemes, which prefers not to use a safety as an eighth defender to stop the run. They will make some mental errors against the run and Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson will take advantage of them.

The Jets should hit their average, if not more.

Five-star answer: Defense still adjusting

September, 9, 2011
This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

The Cowboys struggled against the run in the preseason mainly because of quirks in their defensive line play. The linemen are being asked to move more across the line of scrimmage and the safeties are not helping against the run.

Once the Cowboys make this adjustment, it should allow a nose tackle like Jay Ratliff to make more plays on the ball or open the door for inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking to make tackles.

The Jets have a strong running game, led by Shonn Greene on first and second downs, and then third-down back LaDainian Tomlinson. The Cowboys' inside linebackers are older, and we're not sure if they can consistently stop the run.

So no, it's not going to happen. The Jets will run for more than their 2010 average.

Five-star answer: Jets won't hit mark in win

September, 9, 2011
This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

Yes, they can but I don’t think it means they win Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium.

Given the shakiness of the secondary, even if Mike Jenkins is able to play, I think Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will be able to throw the ball more than the offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has shown in the past.

With Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, as well as tight end Dustin Keller, Sanchez has veteran, dependable wide receivers that will make him look better even with some inaccurate throws.

I say this knowing the Cowboys run defense wasn’t good in the preseason, but LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t exactly light it up either.

The Cowboys allowed 492 yards on 112 carries and four rushing touchdowns. Sometimes stats can be skewed in the preseason because of how much the backups play. Well, the first-team run defense took a hit on the first series of the first preseason game vs. Denver. In the dress rehearsal that is the third game, Adrian Peterson went nuts.

There is no shame in seeing Peterson put up yards but you can’t expect the Cowboys to just flip a switch when the games count. The Cowboys allowed five 100-yard rushers last year and a 90-yard rusher.

I don’t think the Jets will have a 100-yard rusher Sunday night, but it won’t be because of the run defense.

Columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor will kick off ESPN Dallas' weekly "Five-star question" series, where each of our writers answer one question pertaining to a key element of the Cowboys' upcoming game.

This week's question: Can Dallas hold the Jets under their 2010 rushing average per game?

The Jets ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing with 148.3 yards per game last season.

LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are a terrific 1-2 punch for the Jets, who averaged 33.4 attempts and 4.4 yards per carry last season. The idea is to remove the pressure from quarterback Mark Sanchez, allowing him to manage the game.

The best way to beat the Jets is slow down their "ground and pound" attack.

In their five regular-season game losses, the Jets averaged only 119.6 yards rushing per game.

The Other Side: ESPN NY's Rich Cimini

September, 7, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- As part of a weekly feature to serve as a primer on the Cowboys’ upcoming opponent we will speak with a writer from that town. This week we ask five questions to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.

Archer - For the Cowboys the last few years it's been Super Bowl-or-bust entering the season. Is that the feeling around the Jets after making the AFC title game the last two years?

Cimini - It's definitely Super Bowl or bust. Just the other day, Darrelle Revis said, "The Super Bowl runs 24/7 in our locker room, in our organization, in our building." After coming so close two years in a row, the fan base will not accept anything less than a trip to Indy.

Archer - Where is Mark Sanchez in his development? Is he a game manager or a game changer?

Cimini - I'd say Sanchez still is more of a game manager than a game changer. The coaching staff still doesn't ask him to do a whole lot, although this year they're going to air it out a little more than in the past. That's according to Rex Ryan; we'll see if that actually happens. Sanchez gets a lot of pub because of his four playoff wins in two years, but they relied on his arm in only one of those wins. His decision making is getting better, but his accuracy (55 percent last year) remains suspect. The formula goes like this: Rely on the defense and running game, hang around for 3 quarters and let Sanchez make a play or two in the end to win it.

Archer - Help the local folks out: What does LaDainian Tomlinson have left?

Cimini - I'm very curious to see Tomlinson. Frankly, he didn't look good in the preseason, but I'm going to cut him some slack because of who he is. Maybe he's saving it for the regular season, For the Jets' sake, they'd better hope so because he didn't resemble the runner who looked as if he had discovered the Fountain of Youth last fall. He has a new role: Third-down back. He's a very good catcher and pass blocker, so I suspect he'll be fine in that role.

Archer - Cowboys fans don't get much of a chance to see Darrelle Revis. Just how good is he?

Cimini - Revis is incredible. When a receiver catches a ball on him, it's almost like an upset. He had a terrific camp, probably the best of his career. He's not like Deion because he doesn't have dynamic ball skills and the ability to take it to the house, but his coverage is flawless. He has it all -- smooth hip turn, closing speed, instincts, not afraid to come up and tackle, etc. He's a game changer.

Archer - What kind of atmosphere do you expect around the game with it being the opener and the 10th anniversary of 9/11?

Cimini - The atmosphere around the game will be incredible. You're talking about two marquee franchises, a two-year-old stadium (not as nice as your place, by the way), big-name players, the Ryan Bowl ... against the backdrop of 9/11. The stadium is only a few miles from where the WTC used to stand. On a clear day, you could see the towers from the old Giants Stadium. The anniversary always is emotional in NY, and this will be no different. It's going to be a little surreal because of all the conflicting emotions.

Tomlinson lauds Phillips' coaching

May, 6, 2010
Listen Click here to listen to LaDainian Tomlinson talk about Wade Phillip's coaching acumen, his role with the New York Jets and his NFL legacy.

Chargers could clinch playoff spot

December, 8, 2009
Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Cowboys has plenty of storylines. Norv Turner, the former Cowboys assistant and finalist for the head coaching job in 2007, returns as the head man with the Chargers.

Then there’s LaDainian Tomlinson, the native Texan, who played college ball at TCU, gets to play in Cowboys Stadium.

And there’s this one important nugget: If the Chargers win they get closer to clinching a playoff berth.

Now, the Chargers must win plus have the Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Patriots and Dolphins lose or tie.

New Orleans is also rooting for a Cowboys’ loss.

The Saints clinch a first-round bye with a win or tie.

But if the Cowboys, Eagles and Cardinals lose or tie, the Saints clinch it anyway.