Cowboys Extra


Wednesday, September 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6




COWBOYS AT CARDINALS
SUNDAY, 7:30 P.M., ESPN




Series/Last meeting

Cowboys lead, 50-25-1; The Cardinals won, 13-9, Nov. 21, 1999, at Sun Devil Stadium



Spotlight on . . . | Key matchups | Inside the Cardinals' huddle | The skinny on Vince Tobin | Key play






SPOTLIGHT ON ...




Phillippi Sparks


POSITION: Cornerback

HT.: 5-11

WT.: 195

COLLEGE: Arizona State

EXPERIENCE: 9th NFL season

THE LOWDOWN:

Ten days ago, Sparks was in his hometown of Phoenix, mulling retirement, playing golf and playing with his son P.J. and daughter Jordin.



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Louis DeLuca / DMN
Phillippi Sparks . . . new kid in town gives Cowboys experience at cornerback.

But the Cowboys interrupted Sparks' relaxation by offering him a five-year contract that will pay him $2 million this season.

He jumped at the chance after getting a call from Cowboys safety Darren Woodson, Sparks' former teammate at Maryvale High School in Phoenix and then at Arizona State.

The Cowboys acquired Sparks, 31, because they needed experience at corner, as well as a veteran backup at safety. In eight seasons with the New York Giants, Sparks had 22 interceptions.

He was such a solid player that he started 77 of his last 96 games with the Giants. He had 67 tackles and nine deflections in 11 games last season, which was cut short because of a groin injury suffered against Arizona.





KEY MATCHUPS




Emmitt Smith vs. Arizona's defensive line

This is a matchup the Cowboys will definitely exploit because the Cardinals' line is their weakest link. With linemen Mark Stepnoski, Larry Allen, Flozell Adams, Erik Williams and Solomon Page leading the way, Smith should find some big holes. The Cardinals' once promising defensive line is without Andre Wadsworth, Simeon Rice and Thomas Burke due to injuries and holdouts. . Those absences should also help QB Troy Aikman.



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Michael Mulvey / DMN
The Cowboys need to pressure Jake Plummer to take some pressure off their secondary.



QB Jake Plummer vs. defensive line

The Cardinals need Plummer at his best, and he can be dangerous. He is at his worst when forced into making poor decisions because of poor protection. Lack of a pass rush will allow Plummer to strike. If the Cowboys put pressure on Plummer, that will relieve some pressure off the secondary and allow the Cowboys to make some big plays.


CB Ryan McNeil vs. WR David Boston

With Rob Moore out for the season with a knee injury, the Cardinals are without their big-play receiver. Boston, in only his second NFL season, has the potential to be a deep threat, and he must get free for the Cardinals to stretch the field. McNeil, in his eighth season, has experience on his side.






INSIDE THE CARDINALS' HUDDLE




OFFENSE

Scheme: The Cardinals run a West Coast type of offense with a lot of play-action passes, rollouts and bootlegs.


Game plan: The Cardinals need to run the ball to buy time for Plummer and set up the play-action pass. That is essential. The offensive line must be strong to open holes for rookie running back Thomas Jones, as well as protect Plummer from a Cowboys' front seven that will focus on rattling him. Plummer will try to test Dallas' cornerbacks like every other team this season.



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Player to watch: Jake Plummer


Plummer struggled mightily last season, finishing as the lowest-ranked starter in the league with 24 interceptions and only nine touchdown passes in 12 games, a sharp decline from his 17 touchdowns in 1998. Injuries severely reduced his effectiveness as he never really recovered from a hyperextended thumb. He has worked on managing the offense better and being more in control while avoiding the big mistakes.


DEFENSE



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Huy Nguyen / DMN
Arizona's Aeneas Williams (35) has been playing a more physical style at cornerback.

Scheme: The Cardinals use a 4-3 scheme and will need to blitz to offset their problems up front. They love to blitz from all areas while keeping their cornerbacks in man coverage. Although they have gotten quicker at linebacker, their front four has been decimated.


Game plan: The Cowboys will try to balance the run with the pass. The Cardinals have a talented secondary. It will be up to the linebackers and safeties to pressure Aikman. While they may have some wide bodies who can stop the run, the Cardinals have nobody up front to blitz.


Player to watch: Aeneas Williams


The cornerback, who has been to six Pro Bowls, remains a dynamo at 33. He is a true shutdown corner. He has excellent cover skills and has gotten more physical. He hasn't missed a game since entering the league in 1991.


SPECIAL TEAMS

Scheme: The Cardinals no longer have Chris Jacke to worry about, replacing him with Cary Blanchard, and punter Scott Player has improved.


Game plan: Unlike Jacke, who struggled with kicks more than 40 yards last season, Blanchard made nine of his 10 kicks from 40-49 yards after joining the New York Giants at midseason last year. He kicked a 54-yard field goal in preseason. The injured Coby Rhinehart and J.J. McCleskey were considered two top special teams players.


Player to watch: Scott Player


Player averaged 42 yards a kick last season, but had trouble pinning opponents deep. Player has a strong leg and can get excellent hang time, but his placement is suspect.





THE SKINNY ON VINCE TOBIN




Age: 56

Years in the NFL: 14

Years as a head coach: 5


BY THE NUMBERS

1:
Year left on his contract

3: Number of losing seasons since arriving in 1996

634: Population of his hometown, Burlington Junction, a northwest Missouri farming community.


STATUS

Tobin led the Cardinals to their first playoff victory in 51 years two seasons ago, but is 26-38 at Arizona. He must win this year, or it will be his last. Tobin asked for a contract extension after last season, but owner Bill Bidwill said no. Adding to the pressure on Tobin is a vote on Nov. 7 to determine if taxpayers will fund a new stadium. Tobin is considered a strong defensive coach, but his offense, under coordinator Marc Trestman ranked 29th overall last year.





KEY PLAY




Three-wide receiver passing game

No. 81 (Frank Sanders) comes into motion toward TE (Chris Gedney, No. 84) on snap. He will run a shallow crossing route to hold the weakside linebacker into shallow coverage. No. 89 (David Boston) will run a square-in at 15 yards to get behind the linebacker. If the safety flattens to the square-in, No. 19 (Mar Tay Jenkins) would be open behind him on the deep post. No. 84 runs a corner route to hold the safety on that side.