Cowboys Must Contain Steve Smith

IRVING, TX - It wasn't that long ago that NFL wide receivers were measured against two seemingly untouchable standard setters: Randy Moss and Terrell Owens.

But since being traded from Minnesota to Oakland, Moss has loosened his hold on the national spotlight, and Owens took Rosenhaus Highway out of the NFL for the rest of the season. The standard had been set: the league's best receivers, it seemed, had to be big and fast, looking like power forwards and running like track stars.

Coaches still covet big targets on the perimeter, but the best target in the game just might be a guy who could pass as a younger brother to Moss or Owens. Through the Carolina Panthers' first 14 games, Smith -- all 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds of him -- leads the NFL with 93 receptions and 1,414 yards. His 11 receiving touchdowns are the second-highest total in the league.

Dallas head coach Bill Parcells said Wednesday that in his opinion, Smith is one of the 10 best players in the league at any position. He said that Smith is so dangerous that normal strategies to overcome the challenges created by a dangerous receiver aren't necessarily the best plan of action with Smith.

"He's a very physical, strong guy," Parcells said. "He's not very big, but he's very strong. He's a very good, competitive player.

"One of the problems is that when they play him at split end, if you double him, that leaves you with nine guys to play the run, all over the field."

The Cowboys have seen Smith -- so far only on highlight reels and in film sessions. When asked what other receiver Smith most closely resembles, Dallas cornerback Jacques Reeves came up with a name Cowboys fans don't want to hear: Santana Moss.

"They're pretty similar receivers, really," Reeves said. "They're both speedy, quick guys, guys who can really run. When you play guys like them, you have to make sure you don't get beat deep.

"Moss is probably a little faster, but Smith is probably a little tougher, a little more physical. He'll go over the middle, and he'll block the s--- out of you."

The Cowboys certainly hope to defend Smith better than they did Moss this year, when the Washington wideout burned the 'Boys for two late touchdowns in the Redskins' 14-13 shocker in September, and got behind Aaron Glenn again in Sunday's 35-7 debacle on a play that put the Redskins at the Dallas 1-yard line. Reeves said that contrary to popular belief, the key to not getting burned deep by a burner like Smith is not simply allowing more cushion at the line of scrimmage.

"We can't just play deeper," Reeves said. "We've got to play smarter. We've got to look at everything they do with him until we know their offense, and rely on our technique and coaching to be in the right place to make plays."

Unlike Moss, who is basically the only threat among the Redskins' receiving corps, Smith is not alone in the Carolina passing game. Reeves said the Panthers' second-most impressive receiver, at least on film, is 16-year veteran Ricky Proehl.

"He's supposed to be getting old," Reeves said of the 37-year-old Proehl, "but he sure doesn't play like it.

"You've got to be be concerned about everyone, but he's really impressive. He's a veteran, very crafty, and of course, he has great hands. He's smart and he's got experience. He doesn't look like he's lost a thing."

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