The young Dallas Cowboys may have blown the 1963 season in a minute and a half at the end of the first half of their first game against the St. Louis Cardinals. They were leading 7-3 at the time, but a series of mistakes cost them 17 points and they left the field behind 20-7, confused and disheartened. It took them most of the rest of the season to recover—one of the penalties of youth. They are not quite as young now, their offense is enormously strengthened by the addition of two top receivers, Tommy McDonald and Buddy Dial, and the defense is not so apt to collapse in a quivering heap at the onset of adversity.
Tom Landry, with a 10-year contract, the one truly secure coach in the league, has the most versatile and powerful offense in either division of the NFL, with the lone exception of the Green Bay Packers. Don Meredith has gone through a long and difficult maturing process, but he now appears to have completed it. Amos Marsh, Don Perkins, Amos Bullocks and Jim Stiger are all fast running backs who will give the Cowboys the third-best set of runners in football, behind Green Bay and St. Louis. To go with McDonald and Dial, Meredith has Pettis Norman, Lee Folkins and Frank Clarke, all better than run-of-the-mine receivers. The offensive line is young, with a leavening of experience in the person of Jim Ray Smith, but it has played together long enough to be cohesive. It will occasionally allow linebackers to reach Meredith, but the occasions should be rare enough for the Cowboys to mount an excellent attack.
"The defense is still a couple of years from its peak," Landry says. "But it's beginning to come on a little. We don't have to be as rigid now; we can give the players more options for reaction since they understand better what they are doing."
The Cowboys have the brightest defensive backfield prospect in many years in Mel Renfro. The combination of Renfro and Mike Gaechter could give Dallas the fastest safeties in the league. Cornell Green and Don Bishop are good corner backs, and Landry has a rare thing—depth in his defensive backfield.
His linebackers are small but agile, and Lee Roy Jordan, with a few years' more experience and the addition of 10 or 15 pounds, looks like a good bet to make All-League.
The Dallas team finished fifth in 1963, after a disastrous start. With augmented deep-passing threats and with good running backs behind an adequate offensive line, the Cowboys may be the strongest all-round offensive team in the East. Look for Meredith to be among the top passers in the league and for the Cowboy running backs, aided by the receiving threat of McDonald and Dial, to rank high, too. The defense should hold up well enough—with more interceptions than last year—to bring the Cowboys home second.
Bill McPeak, coach of the Redskins, may have made the two best trades of the off season when he acquired leaders for both his offensive and defensive units in Sonny Jurgensen of the Eagles and Sam Huff of the New York Giants.
Jurgensen, who replaces Norman Snead, brings the poise and confidence of experience to the club plus an arm as good as that of his younger predecessor. Huff, long the mainstay of the Giant defensive unit, has taken control of the Redskin defense and infused it with some of his arrogant self-confidence. There is more talent on this 1964 squad than ever before, and there is a brand-new feeling. Huff and Jurgensen are winners in attitude.