It wasn't supposed to happen this quickly. Everywhere Bill Parcells has been, a pattern was established: He takes stock the first year, finds out why the team he's been hired to rescue has been a loser, brings in his kind of players, tweaks the schemes, instills a bit of spirit, and then by his second year his club is playoff-bound.
But look what's happening his first year in Dallas. The Cowboys (3-1) lead the NFC East, a division that was expected to be won by the Eagles or the Giants. Dallas is playing with passion. There weren't a lot of new faces added to the cast that stumbled to a 5-11 record in 2002. It just seems that everyone has turned it up a notch.
Look closely and you can spot Parcells's typical ploys. One of them was a Vince Lombardi trick—work 'em and scold 'em when they're winning, ease off after a loss. So it was only natural that the Cowboys, who must have been feeling pretty good about themselves after road victories over the Giants and the Jets, would get the full treatment last week heading into the Arizona contest, a trap game because they could be caught looking ahead to a big game against Philadelphia.
"He rode us hard," strong safety Darren Woodson said. "He said, 'You guys don't believe.' He told me I was satisfied with being 2-1. That's how he is. He plays mind games. He wants us on edge."
So the Cowboys crushed the Cardinals, and they'll be on edge this week for that division showdown with the Eagles. And if you're wondering how Parcells is doing it, you can start with the fact that Dallas is No. I in the league in total offense. Huh? With what? Well, the running game is capable of going over 200 yards in a game, and quarterback Quincy Carter is the surprise long-ball king of the NFC.
In an era in which everybody seems to be locked into dink-and-dunk—the Packers' Brett Fawre is averaging fewer than 10 yards a completion for the first time in his career, and so is Marc Bulger in the Rams' great yardage system—Carter's average is 14.5 yards per completion. The Cowboys aren't simply a grind-it-out club. They'll go long.
That will play right into the hands of an Eagles secondary that was missing three starters when Philly squeaked one out against the Redskins on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson made up for it with an array of blitzes that had young Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey in a lot of trouble for a while. But then, strangely, the Eagles dropped back into a passive zone at the end and handed the Skins great chunks of yardage.
The game's in Dallas, but Philly is favored, which should further anger a Cowboys team that has lost six straight to the Eagles. This is where it ends. I like Dallas in an upset.
?The Browns will beat the Raiders, who seem to have sunk to a level somewhere between the Bears and the Chargers. I learned my lesson last weekend—don't pick against a team of destiny—so the Chiefs are my choice at Green Bay. Indianapolis is coming off a remarkable overtime win in Tampa, and I like the Colts at home over the Panthers in a battle of unbeatens. I don't know how the Patriots are hanging in there with all their injuries; on a hunch, I'm picking the Giants. I don't see the Redskins putting much of a dent in what figures to be an angry Tampa Bay defense, so I'll ride with the Bucs.
?The Broncos will rebound against the Steelers, who don't defend well against the pass. The Jets are rested, but I'll take the Bills anyway. The Seahawks, with home court advantage, will beat the Niners. And although I don't like fattening up on puppies and generally avoid games where a team is a heavy favorite, I always do the Monday nighter: I'll go with the Rams—surprise!—over the Falcons.