NFC East: Hines Ward
"That's my biggest concern. How am I going to be when I'm 50 or when I'm 60? Will I have all these brain diseases and will I have a problem remembering things? . . . Now, I'm trying to get myself together with the help of the doctors as well as coach [Andy] Reid and the training staff. Now, the most important thing is to get 100 percent healthy -- and not play football . . . until I'm 100 percent healthy."
And all of those concerns sound quite reasonable to me. With the research that's being conducted, it's pretty obvious that repeated brain trauma on the field could lead to long-term health issues. So who can blame Westbrook for not rushing back onto the field?
It sounds like Westbrook's weighing a lot of different opinions:
You hear all these different stories," Westbrook said. "You hear the worst -- from guys dying who had a concussion, you hear about guys with memory loss and things like that.
"You also hear, 'You can probably play next week. I played with a concussion. I had two or three concussions in one game.' . . . So at that point you try to process all the information and figure out what the best thing is to do. I've played with knee injuries and I played with ankle injuries throughout my career . . . but for me, and I think for any player, you can't really live your life without having a brain. You don't expect to leave the game without the ability to think. I don't want to put myself in that position."
I don't think the Eagles will rush Westbrook in any way. They'd love to have him return to the field this season, but only if he's comfortable with it. I don't think you'll hear any of his teammates say anything close to what Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward recently said about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
IRVING, Texas -- With the Cowboys preparing for their preseason finale in Minneapolis on Friday, I made the trip to Valley Ranch today to catch up with several players. For starters, it looks like second-year tight end Martellus Bennett and second-year cornerback Orlando Scandrick will be the two best quotes on the roster in '09. Bennett held court on one end of the locker room and Scandrick imparted college football wisdom on the other. Now, please enjoy this week's edition of Things I Learned While Standing Around The Cowboys Locker Room On A Wednesday:
- When a reporter (not this one) asked Bennett about a recent Wall Street Journal report that ranked the top-10 "best-looking" quarterbacks, here's what he had to say: "I'm the sexiest man in the NFL," said Bennett before explaining that more than 20,000 voters had agreed with him on a Web site (his own) poll. Bennett then talked for several minutes about his nickname for the Cowboys' much-praised two-tight end formation. One local columnist has named it the "double dynamite" formation, but Bennett said he thought that nickname was "wack!" Despite protests from Jason Witten, Bennett wants fans to refer to the Cowboys' top two tight ends as "Beans and Rice." Told that Witten had vetoed the idea, Bennett responded, "This is an anarchy." That's when I left the conversation in search of wide receiver Miles Austin.
- I talked to Austin for a column I'm writing for Thursday regarding how the Cowboys suddenly have the most boring/stable locker room in the NFC East. But we also talked about the fact that Austin has emerged as perhaps the best blocking wide receiver on the roster. He said he watches players such as Hines Ward, but for the most part, he says blocking is all about effort. "I was more of a hitter than a blocker in college," Austin said, referring to his time at Monmouth (N.J) University. "But it's become part of our job at this level. If I block for our running backs, then they'll be more likely to block for me when I'm going deep. But it's 100 percent about effort. You don't necessarily need a lot of skill to be able to block." He then pointed to public relations specialist Jancey Briles and said that he could teach her how to be a successful blocker in the NFL. In regard to my upcoming column, Austin said it was a great feeling to not see his team on "SportsCenter" every time he flipped it on. You can read more about that tomorrow.
- I had a long visit with fourth-round pick Stephen McGee about his frustration with having a right knee injury. If he'd been healthy, McGee could've had an opportunity to play the majority of the game against the Vikings on Friday. But he's not worried about making the final roster. He believes that he's impressed his coaches (and other teams) to the point where the Cowboys won't try to sneak him onto the practice squad. So what's the best thing he's learned from Romo? "It's his movement in the pocket," McGee said of Romo. "It's his ability to extend a play and still find guys open down the field. You can go through seven-0n-seven drills and stuff like that, but that's not how football is played. It's hard to find any rhythm when you get two plays every 15 minutes, but I've done the best with the opportunities I have."
- Scandrick is convinced that he's going to become an All-Pro cornerback in this league, and I'm starting to believe him. He already believes he's the best cornerback on the roster and he brings that type of swagger and confidence to the field. It's amazing that Wade Phillips is choosing to start Mike Jenkins over Scandrick. Something tells me that's an order coming from the general manager/owner's office. Jerry Jones has a lot more invested in Jenkins than in Scandrick. But at this rate, Scandrick will one day be a very wealthy man.
- Here's a full report on what quarterback Tony Romo had to say at Valley Ranch on Wednesday. He talked about his goal to reduce his turnovers this season: "I think every quarterback in the league should be looking at themselves from that same perspective and trying to figure out a way to minimize mistakes and turnovers," Romo said. "Believe me, there's not one quarterback in the league who hasn't done something, turnover-wise, that they can get away with saying oh, 'I'll never do that again.' Everyone has things that they're going to work on to try to improve upon. There's no set numbers. Sometimes things happen for different reasons in a certain play. You just have to understand what went through your mind and why you're doing certain things and what can you make and turn into something that can be second nature to you instead of having to think. That's where practice comes into play."
Translation: Romo's not going to stop taking shots, but he'll try to be a little more careful. I'll be back with some Eagles thoughts in a moment.
|Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE and Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger meet in a highly anticipated game Sunday with playoff implications for both teams.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley and James Walker
In advance of the Cowboys-Steelers game Sunday at Heinz Field, NFC Beast blogger Matt Mosley and AFC North blogger James Walker agreed to discuss what this December showdown means to the league and the world in general. The Cowboys (8-4) could take a major step toward solidifying an NFC wild-card spot, while the Steelers (9-3) are fighting for a second consecutive division title and a first-round bye.
Mosley and Walker are both en route to Pittsburgh to cover what should be the best game of the weekend. Please enjoy the following discussion:
Both quarterbacks are banged up, but how will each fare in this marquee matchup?
James Walker: Ben Roethlisberger had a minor tweak to his right knee at the end of practice Wednesday, but the Steelers are saying it's no big deal. The larger concern in such a big game is Roethlisberger's shoulder, which has been an issue all season. The injury has gradually taken the deep-passing game out of Pittsburgh's offense. In the past three games, Roethlisberger's longest completion is just 37 yards. Most of his throws of late have been underneath to receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller.
Matt Mosley: Tony Romo is planning to play without a splint on his right pinkie for the first time in a month. At first, he felt some pain when he had to drive the ball on deep out patterns, but he's pretty comfortable at this point. He went back to his favorite target, Jason Witten, last Thursday against the Seahawks. And contrary to what No. 81 might say, Witten's the most important piece of the passing game. But since we brought him up, it's a great sign that Terrell Owens has made a significant impact in the past two wins. The Steelers will use press coverage and have a safety over the top in order to slow down T.O. The Cowboys will counter with some pre-snap motion, and this could also be a breakout game for Roy Williams. With Marion Barber (toe) banged up, the Cowboys might have to lean heavily on their passing game.
MM: If Barber can go, the Cowboys will try to feed him the ball early in the game. But the Steelers do a great job taking away the run. The Cowboys have a left guard (Montrae Holland) who's inexperienced in this offense playing next to a false start waiting to happen (Flozell Adams). The Steelers will exploit those matchups every chance they get. The Cowboys won't say it publicly, but they feel like they can make plays downfield against the Steelers' secondary. Romo does an excellent job sliding away from pressure, and he should have plenty of opportunities. When Romo came back, the Cowboys started playing at a faster tempo. They will try to keep the Steelers guessing. Look for third-receiver Patrick Crayton to have a nice game. Teams tend to forget about him on the backside and this is the type of game where he could end up with 80 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers will try to confuse Romo with a lot of different looks. I've watched all 11 players line up in a two-point stance before. They'll bring pressure from everywhere. It's up to Romo to quickly identify where the pressure's coming from and go through his reads at a rapid rate. Since that's one of his strengths, it shouldn't be a major problem.
JW: Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is very good at taking away what opponents do best, which gets teams out of their comfort zones. Last week, Pittsburgh took Randy Moss (four catches, 45 yards) out of New England's offense and quarterback Matt Cassel looked lost without his best weapon playing well. I expect the Steelers to do the same to Owens, who could be matched up most of the game with cornerback Ike Taylor along with help over the top from the safeties, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. But what's intriguing this week is Dallas has so many other offensive weapons that it could still pose problems for Pittsburgh. It will be an interesting chess match indeed.
Will the weather and muddy conditions at Heinz Field play a factor in this game?
JW: Pittsburgh is accustomed to playing on this surface, so it will be more of an issue for Dallas. The forecast is expected to be in the high 20s with a 40 percent chance of snow, so that's an advantage for the Steelers, particularly defensively. I've heard so many players around the league complain about Heinz Field this time of year and I think it gets in the head of some teams. Yet I've never once heard a Steelers player complain about playing in the mud. I expect the running games to be very important Sunday. Barber's injury status is huge in this game.
MM: Wade Phillips had his team practice indoors with a DJ when it was 70 degrees outside Monday. He did make the Cowboys practice in "the elements" when temperatures were in the low 50s. He coached in the inclement weather in Buffalo, and he's indicated this week that too much is made of the awful conditions at Heinz Field. Phillips thinks the mud would slow down both defenses, but as James pointed out, the Steelers are used to playing in the Heinz soup. The Steelers put down a new surface, but the fact that high school and college teams play on the field makes for a dicey situation. Romo played in poor weather at Eastern Illinois and he spent a lot of winters in Wisconsin. I don't think the cold weather will faze him. I think Phillips is underestimating how cold it will be Sunday evening -- and it might come back to bite his team.
Which team has more at stake in terms of playoff implications?
MM: The Cowboys have much more at stake in this game, but it's certainly not a must-win situation. The Cowboys will host the Giants and Ravens in consecutive weeks after the Steelers game. If they lose to the Steelers, they can beat the Ravens and then finish on the road in Philadelphia against a team that will likely be out of the playoff picture. If the Cowboys beat the Steelers, it could serve as the impetus for a strong December and push toward the playoffs. The Cowboys have much more to gain here than the Steelers, but I wouldn't dare go out on a limb and pick them to win.
JW: Dallas is more in danger of not making the playoffs, so it's hard to argue that this game isn't more important for the Cowboys. But the Steelers also have a golden opportunity here. They have back-to-back road games against the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, who have a combined record of 19-5, and there is no promise that the Steelers will win either of those contests. So it's very important for Pittsburgh to take care of business at home. A win Sunday combined with losses by New England and the Miami Dolphins and the Steelers are in. There's no point for them to leave anything to chance in the final weeks of the regular season.
Prediction and score?
JW: Dallas struggles in December and has looked ordinary on the road with a 3-3 mark. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh thrives this time of year and is 15-5 in December since 2004. So the Steelers will win this game 24-20. Unless Owens has a huge performance, the Cowboys won't score many points. Romo should face a lot of pressure Sunday, and a turnover or two is all Pittsburgh needs to win at home.
MM: I'm shocked that "Big Game" James has the two teams combining for 44 points. I think the Steelers will win, 17-10. The Cowboys have plenty of weapons on offense, but they haven't seen a defense like this. Even Arizona's front completely baffled the Cowboys for most of the game, and the Steelers are a lot better than that defense. But if Barber's able to bang away at the Steelers' defense, you never know what could happen. Again, keep your eye on Patrick Crayton in this one. He'll be the unsung hero for the Cowboys if they pull off the upset. And though Phillips hates that we keep bringing it up, the Steelers have an advantage in the mud.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb spent part of his Wednesday news conference defending the fact that he didn't know the regular season overtime rules. It sounded like he was emboldened by the fact that other players (Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger) have rushed to his aid:
"It doesn't make me feel bad at all," McNabb said. "I was truly being honest. The thing about it is that now other people are starting to say that they didn't know it either. Am I wrong for that? No. Should I have known that rule? There are a lot of rules that coaches, officials, players, they don't know. Any time an official goes out on the field and then you see [NFL vice president of officiating] Mike Pereira trying to correct that mistake, that shows that officials don't even know everything in the rule book. [Neither do] coaches [or] players. What people may say about me, it doesn't bother me. As you can see, every time something happens that I have been a part of, more and more things have come out and people begin to sit back and say, 'Oh, maybe he was right.' Should I have know that rule? Yes. But, there are a lot of rules in that rulebook that a lot of us don't know, and we ask questions."