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NFC east
Paul Zimmerman
September 05, 1994
Did you happen to have a chance to watch the Dallas Cowboys against the Denver Broncos in their Aug. 21 preseason game? Were you as impressed with the Cowboys as I was? Dallas won the game 34-10, going at it as if it were November and a lot was riding on the contest. There are no fat cats on this two-time Super Bowl-champion team. There's actually a hungry look, and it goes back to the old theory about controversy being one of the best cures for complacency.
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September 05, 1994

Nfc East

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Prediction

DALLAS

12-4

ARIZONA

10-6

N.Y. GIANTS

7-9

PHILADELPHIA

7-9

WASHINGTON

5-11

Did you happen to have a chance to watch the Dallas Cowboys against the Denver Broncos in their Aug. 21 preseason game? Were you as impressed with the Cowboys as I was? Dallas won the game 34-10, going at it as if it were November and a lot was riding on the contest. There are no fat cats on this two-time Super Bowl-champion team. There's actually a hungry look, and it goes back to the old theory about controversy being one of the best cures for complacency.

Instead of a nice, peaceful off-season, with plenty of feature stories about the magnificence of the organization and its achievements, there was Team Turmoil to read about. Owner Jerry Jones versus coach Jimmy Johnson, then Barry Switzer dropping in to replace Johnson after spending five years out of the game. There was a lot of hand-wringing and plenty of long faces. Perfect. It kept the players edgy and their concentration level up. Jimmy loved me, was the feeling among the Cowboys, but now I have to prove myself to the new guy. There are two things that can crumble a dynasty: old age (that's what happened to the Packers after Lombardi) and a smug, we've-got-it-made philosophy.

No problem with either one in Big D. The Cowboys are still a young team, with their trifecta of quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin at just the right spot in their careers to bring the offense up to even higher levels. Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator for the past three seasons, is now running the Washington Redskins, but the offense won't skip a beat. Turner learned the old Sid Gillman-Don Coryell offense from Ernie Zampese when he and Zampese were with the L.A. Rams from 1987 to '90. Zampese is the new Cowboy coordinator.

Recently Zampese was comparing the Dallas attack with the old Dan Fouts-to-John Jefferson show that he and Coryell ran in San Diego, and though he is reluctant to get into "this guy is better than that guy," he did mention that those Charger teams never had a player like Cowboy fullback Daryl Johnston, a devastating blocker and valuable checkoff receiver. And as good as those old San Diego lines were, they didn't have the drive and thrust power of the current Dallas unit led by Nate Newton and Erik Williams.

The Cowboy defense, which has always been based on speed and relentless pursuit, suffered three hits when Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Norton, interior pass-rush specialist Jimmie Jones and tackle Tony Casillas left via free agency, but the unit is still young and on the rise. 'There are people here with things to prove, which should give the defense some zip. Tackle Leon Lett would like to go down in history as an All-Pro, not for his notorious gaffes. Free safety James Washington, who's been knocking down anything that moves, should have been the MVP of Super Bowl XXVIII, and he would like to remind people what a mistake it was to overlook him. Left cornerback Kevin Smith is ready to stake a Pro Bowl claim too.

Missing from the Cowboys will be Jimmy Johnson's flair and bold game-day decisions. Switzer is more of a percentage player. And in the week before the NFC Championship Game, he'll find himself trading quotes with 49er coach George Seifert as the Cowboys prepare to battle San Francisco for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Bear this in mind about the Arizona Cardinals: They played very tough, very emotional football in an effort to save coach Joe Bugel's job last year—but they never had a chance. The master plan of team president Bill Bidwill was to bring in a big-name coach who would sell tickets. Buddy Ryan was perfect, everybody's favorite 11-o'clock-news sound bite. Cardinal season-ticket sales have almost doubled. Now if Ryan can win some games, well, that would be nice too.

Ryan knows only one way to coach—bring in his type of people, make sure that everyone has a grasp of his 46 defense, and brutalize the enemy. If you want to hit people, you'll play for Buddy, provided your legs are fast enough and your brain is quick enough to get you close to the action. He has loaded his coaching staff with guys he's comfortable with, including five of his former assistants in Philadelphia and Houston and two of his own sons. And to the Cardinal roster he has added four former Eagle defensive players and Wilber Marshall, who played linebacker for the Bears and the Oilers when Ryan supervised those defenses.

Holdover Cardinals were frankly concerned about whether or not they were Ryan's type of player. "Does he really like me?" was a question heard more than once, even from such sturdy warriors as tailback Ron Moore, quarterback Steve Beuerlein and Larry Centers, a third-down utility back last year but now the starting fullback.

"Of course I like those guys," Ryan says. "I love 'em. [The coaching stall'] last year didn't even have the sense to play Centers every down. All he does is win games for you. And I think that Aeneas Williams kid might be the best cornerback I've ever had."

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