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2 Dallas Cowboys
Ben Reiter
September 03, 2007
The sideline decibel level is way down, but can this mellowed-out bunch of Boys at last make some postseason noise?
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September 03, 2007

2 Dallas Cowboys

The sideline decibel level is way down, but can this mellowed-out bunch of Boys at last make some postseason noise?

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WHAT'S NEW

> No, the Tuna wasn't canned. But after guiding the Cowboys to a 34-30 record in four seasons and extending the franchise's streak of years without a playoff victory to 10, Bill Parcells and his domineering act had clearly worn thin in Dallas, and he resigned in January. Enter defensive guru Wade Phillips, late of the Chargers, who will seek to ramp up the Cowboys' 3-4 defense and turn 25-year-old linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whose 11 1/2 sacks got him into the Pro Bowl, into a Shawne Merriman-like force.

WHERE THEY'RE HEADED

> "I'm not making any comparisons," says inside linebacker Akin Ayodele, when asked to discuss the differences between Parcells and Phillips. And Phillips himself, when encouraged to describe how his philosophy might diverge from that of his predecessor, says, "I really don't compare myself to anyone." Most Cowboys, in fact, profess to have no interest in comparing the notoriously cantankerous Parcells with the mild-mannered Phillips.

Then the comparing begins.

"You don't have Bill yelling at you, bearing down on you," says quarterback Tony Romo. "There's some truth in what Bill did, and there's some truth in what Wade does--it's just a matter of approach. Wade's going to treat you like a man. He's not going to call you out in front of the group. But if you make a mistake, he's going to pull you aside and talk to you." Even a certain mercurial wideout seems enthused about Phillips. "He calls me Terrell," the gentleman formerly referred to by Parcells as the Player said in August on a Dallas radio show.

But don't think these Cowboys will be kinder and gentler. In three years at San Diego, Phillips molded his defense into one of the NFL's most fearsome--last season he got more sacks (35 1/2) from just three players (Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Luis Castillo) than Dallas had as a team (34). "Also, Merriman didn't play four games, and Castillo was out six," notes Phillips. While Parcells's 3-4 scheme relied on outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback, the pass rush in Phillips's system can come from any defender. "It gives everybody a chance, so we're not so predictable," says a suddenly less comparison-shy Ayodele. Adds linebacker Bradie James, "We know without a shadow of a doubt we'll have more sacks than we had last year. We'll have more game-changing plays."

An aggressive front seven should create opportunities for a pass defense that ranked 24th last year and had just three combined interceptions from its skilled starting cornerbacks, Terence Newman and Anthony Henry. The arrival of hard-hitting free agent Ken Hamlin, 26, should provide stability in the backfield; since Darren Woodson last played in January 2004, six safeties have started next to four-time Pro Bowl selection Roy Williams. Hamlin's range will also allow Williams to play closer to the line, where he's effective on blitzes and in run support.

The Dallas offense will undergo fewer changes; it ranked fifth in the NFL last season and will continue to benefit from the field position produced by Australian punter Mat McBriar, whose 48.2 gross average in '06 was the fifth best of all time. The Cowboys also bring back a Pro Bowl quarterback ( Romo) and tight end (Jason Witten); two 1,000-yard receivers ( Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn); a 1,000-yard rusher ( Julius Jones); and the NFC leader in rushing touchdowns (Marion Barber).

First-year offensive coordinator Jason Garrett vows not to fiddle much with the balanced attack and will continue to split the carries between Jones and Barber. However, the 41-year-old Princeton graduate, who spent eight years as a backup NFL quarterback, will try to harness Romo's improvisational tendencies. "We talk about this all the time: Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness," says Garrett. "He's a very spontaneous player; he's a guy who can get himself out of jams. But the trick is to play within the system, and then when things break down, you're able to tap into some of those abilities." Says the 27-year-old Romo, "The older and more experienced I get, the better I'll be at it."

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