Cowboys Comparisons

It's too early. That edition of the Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls. This edition of the Dallas Cowboys has won three games. So it's too early to compare the Hall-of-Fame-caliber difference-makers to their descendants on the 2008 team. Too early. But while basking in the glow of a 3-0 start, let's go ahead and do it anyway.

Troy Aikman and Tony Romo. Romo's QB rating last Monday night against the powerful Eagles was 123. He did that despite the occasional over-the-top error, in that game including one interception. But check this: While Aikman was renowned for the smart-and-safe throw, Romo, in his 28 career starts at the time, was plus-25 in terms of touchdown-to-interception ratio. In other words, "crazy, risk-taking Romo'' – while he's still learning the position at this level – is already good for twice as many TDs and INTs.

He did it again Sunday night in Green Bay, overcoming a few zany plays with twice as many brainy – and otherwise terrific – plays. The Cowboys won, 27-16 (their first-ever win at Lambeau) … meaning there's at least that one thing Romo's done that Troy couldn't.

Troy vs. Tony. … Care to argue that the measure is Super Bowls? No argument.

Care to argue that Tony's 300-yard games are the result of a different offense or a different era? It is true. Still, the fact that Romo has 12 300-yard games in his 29 starts while Aikman had 165 starts and had 13 300-yarders speaks for itself. It doesn't mean Romo is better. It just. … speaks for itself.

Care to argue that Troy didn't throw a lot of TD passes because that Dallas offense called for goalline plays to go to Emmitt? It was true – but it's true with this team, too. Otherwise, how is it that since 2006 Marion Barber III leads the NFL in 1-yard TD carries?

Emmitt Smith and Marion Barber. Of course not. It's ridiculous. Emmitt is the NFL's all-time leading rusher. MB3 just became a starter, like, yesterday! But the battering-ram style. The receiving ability. The touchdowns. And the un-Emmitt-like willingness to let everybody else have the glory.

The notion of MB3 with a Cowboys career that is in any way reflective of Emmitt's Cowboys career is ridiculous. Right? Right?

Emmitt's greatness is unlikely to be matched by a single guy. So let's be terribly unfair to Smith here, and allow today's Cowboys to pit both MB3 and backup Felix Jones against him. In the rookie Jones' first three games as a pro, he: 1) scored on an 11-yard TD run against Cleveland on his first NFL carry, 2) had a 98-yard kickoff return for a TD in Week 2 against Philly, and 3) rocketed to a 60-yard TD run in Week 3 against Green Bay.

Felix – while averaging 8.2 yards per carry -- is the first Cowboy rookie since Bob Hayes to score touchdowns in each of his first three pro games.

If we allow these Cowboys to include both RBs in the comparison, it seems less ridiculous. Jay Novacek and Jason Witten. Troy once told me that "If I ever have a son, I want him to grow up to be like Jay.'' Well, there is a second-generation Cowboy out there who has grown up to be like Jay. … and it's Jason Witten. Novacek was the security blanket and close friend to his QB, plus was a big-play receiver who didn't need the limelight, who wasn't just a bulky clod. Witten is the security blanket and close friend to his QB, plus is a big-play receiver who doesn't need the limelight, who is bulky. … but he ain't no clod. He can do it without a helmet, he can do it with a separated shoulder, and he blocks, too.

Jason is going to have to play at this level for a looong time to end up in the Hall of Fame; he's going to be competing with Gates and Gonzalez and Winslow just at his position alone. And with the punishment he takes (and now this season, punishment absorbed with a bum shoulder), that seems a long shot.

Of course, against Green Bay, the shoulder never seemed to come into play. Witten lined up inside as if he was playing guard; he lined up behind the QB to play lead-blocking fullback; he lined up wide, like a receiver, and then most devastatingly, he was pretty much the most clutch guy on the field (again) from the TE spot.

I watched the Green Bay game with a long-time Packers fan who, on every key passing down, said out loud, "All we have to do it stop Witten over the middle.'' The fan was correct. The Packers couldn't follow his advice. And Witten caught seven for 67. (You want consistency? In three games, Witten has six, seven and seven catches.)

This one is not too early. Novacek has told me that he thinks Witten is clearly superior to the player Jay once was. And that's pretty good company right there.

Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens. As a person, Irvin was the Godfather of the Cowboys locker room. As a person, T.O. has sometimes been the Fredo of his assorted NFL locker rooms. But as players? The comparisons are obvious. Is there a greater "Playmaker'' at the wide receiver position that Owens? I mean, isn't the fact that he has more TD catches than anybody in this era or any other era (short of Jerry Rice) pretty much what defines "Playmaker''?

I'll tell you a secret about Romo's protection: Of course it's largely driven by the excellence of this offensive line, which hasn't allowed a sack of Romo through two games. But there is another factor, and it's coordination with people like Terrell Owens. Dallas is able to send him not only on deep routes (as we saw on his 72-yard TD catch vs. Philly, he's faster than his critics think) but also on "control'' routes where timing and reliability are crucial. T.O. has timing. T.O. offers reliability.

Physically, Terrell Owens IS Michael Irvin. And statistically, he's ahead of him.

And one more thing, from Green Bay: T.O. was not a factor. Caught only two balls. Couldn't separate from Charles Woodson. After searching for a tantrum that never came, NBC voice John Madden declared Owens to be a "different and more mature player'' than he was in previous stops.

Good gosh, even Madden is now a T.O. guy? That puts him in Michael's strata.

Deion Sanders and Pacman Jones. When Deion was with Atlanta, and the Cowboys were preparing to face the Falcons, Aikman told me that he was the only cornerback in the league that he gameplanned to avoid. Not Rod Woodson, not anybody but Deion.

Through two games, Pacman hadn't shown anything like that. But we saw glimpses in Green Bay. A huge pass breakup. Electric moments as a return man. And on the second play of the game, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and get-on-your-feet fumble return that set up Dallas first score.

It's coming.

Charles Haley and DeMarcus Ware. This one is not premature. Consider that immediately after the Eagles game, I wrote that Dallas' pass rush was largely kept in check. I stand by that, yet the Cowboys did record four sacks. And of course, D-Ware sealed the thing with his hot-pursuit sack of McNabb.

Against Green Bay he recorded another sack (that's one in each of the three games) and was generally the best player on a defense that spent 46 minutes keeping the Pack out of the end zone.

Haley was hailed (especially in San Francisco) as a do-it-all end; George Seifert designed Bill Walsh's defense around Haley, and called his position the "Elephant.'' But Haley is not nearly as versatile as Ware, and the Elephant thing applied to Haley in the third-grade-joke sense that an 800-pound elephant sits wherever he wants.

It applies to DeMarcus Ware in a different way: He's an 800-pound elephant who sit wherever the gameplan asks him to. Plus, he does all this without watering teammates' cars with his urine.

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