Sunday, December 27, 1998
Drawing Cards is a bad deal for Cowboys
By Tim Cowlishaw
The Dallas Morning News
IRVING, Texas -- Cheer for Troy Aikman on Sunday night if
you wish. Cheer for Jason Garrett, too, if he gets in there against
But if you are a Cowboys' fan, the quarterback you really
want to see hitting his targets this Sunday is Craig Whelihan.
Whelihan is the guy who began the season as Ryan Leaf's backup
in San Diego. When Leaf self-destructed on and off the field,
Whelihan took the wheel, so to speak, of the Chargers' offense.
The Chargers play Arizona on Sunday.
And the Cowboys have reached the point where a win over Washington
on Sunday would be nice, but a loss by Arizona that could send
either New York or Tampa Bay to play the Cowboys in the wild-card
game would be even better.
It all has to do with a Cowboys' offense that has hit the
skids and a Cowboys' pass rush that ranks among the worst in
In recent weeks, the conventional wisdom has been that Dallas
wanted to avoid Tampa Bay in the playoffs. The Bucs were a strong
team last year, a popular pre-season pick for the Super Bowl
this year. You kept thinking they would get back on track.
But their offense is so limited, they couldn't hold off Washington
last week, and right now, Trent Dilfer doesn't scare anyone but
the Bucs' coaching staff.
The Giants, who would need losses by both Arizona and Tampa
Bay to reach the playoffs, are playing the best right now among
the wild-card hopefuls. But New York's 28th-ranked offense would
be hard-pressed to dominate a playoff game in Texas Stadium.
That's why Arizona has become so scary. The Cardinals have
the offense, and the Cowboys know it. Jake Plummer threw for
314 yards in the second half of the Cowboys' 35-28 win at Arizona
last month. He is becoming as synonymous with the last-minute
comeback as John Elway.
Plummer and the Cardinals figure to be especially frightening
to a team that no longer looks capable of winning a shootout.
If the Cowboys have to score 30 points to win, even against a
bad defense like Arizona's, can they do it?
Dallas has scored 33 points in three weeks. What does that
The pass rush is another sad story for the Cowboys, who will
start two rookies on the defensive line for the first time ever
The Cowboys have three sacks in the last 147 pass attempts
over the last four games. No sacks in 84 pass attempts over the
last two games.
This is how bad it has become.
Defensive line assistant coach Jim Jeffcoat had this to say
about the situation: "I'm not talking about the pass rush."
Jeffcoat, who had five 10-sack seasons in Dallas, has to be
embarrassed to be associated with a line that has 21 sacks in
15 games. Dallas is 28th in the league in sacks per pass play.
Kavika Pittman leads with six sacks, and he won't play the
next few weeks after suffering a hamstring strain against Philadelphia.
Replacing Pittman has become a real worry. That's a big change
from six months ago when just getting rid of Pittman was a more
"Anytime you lose a player like Kavika, with his speed,
it's a concern," coach Chan Gailey said. "He was doing
a really good job. He wasn't the only one out there, but he was
doing a good job."
Still, it wasn't that good. While he leads the team, Pittman's
six sacks don't get him anywhere close to the top 30 in the league.
Now the Cowboys turn to rookie Michael Myers for pressure.
Maybe he will help. He won't hurt. The Cowboys don't have a sack
from the front seven in December.
"We've been right there lately, we just haven't had any
sacks," said tackle Hurvin McCormack, second on the club
Gailey has indicated that in addition to using tackle Leon
Lett as a rush end in passing situations, linebacker Randall
Godfrey will also get a look. This team has to find some speed
that can get into the opponents' backfield.
There are no Charles Haleys here, no Jeffcoats, either. Now
there's not even a Kavika Pittman.
That's why the best thing that can happen to the Cowboys this
Sunday is to learn they will be rushing the Bucs' Dilfer or the
Giants' Kent Graham next weekend and not the Cardinals' Plummer.
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