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Instead of coming up with any odd new notions of how to stop the Dallas Cowboy offense, which had been roaring along at an average of nearly 46 points a game, the St. Louis Cardinals spent last week polishing their usual defenses. Their usual defenses are odd and ingenious enough, featuring a number of loops and stunts by the defensive linemen, a banzai blitz by the linebackers and a gambling rush from the secondary.
This did not mean that the Cardinals awaited the Cowboys without a certain amount of anxiety. Both teams were undefeated and leading the Eastern Division of the NFL. Dallas was 4-0 and had swept its games like a hurricane. The Cards were 5-0 but had had to claw for a late touchdown to beat the New York Giants the previous week. "We are the strangest unbeaten team I ever saw," said Cardinal Co-owner Billy Bidwill. "We look like we're losing, even if we aren't."
The biggest crowd for any sports event in St. Louis history bought every seat in the city's lovely new stadium, and the spillover was clamoring for the Bidwill brothers to sell more standing room. With the newspapers on strike, the word did not get around that the tickets were gone, and the Cardinal ticket office was packed with the desperate and the demanding. A cop in the foyer had to inform one irate citizen, "Buddy, there ain't any tickets, and if you don't shut up I will put a cut on your head." The situation was such that Billy Bidwill said, "If the governor called me and said he had to see this game, I'd tell him I'd get him through somehow but there wouldn't be a seat for him."
And all over town there were arguments. You could hear some weird ones. "The Cowboys are no good," a fellow was saying at Trader Vic's, "and I'll tell you why. It's because they've been beating everybody by 50 points. Now what does that prove? They've got to win a close, tough game before I'll believe they're good."
"What if they beat everybody by 50 points for the rest of the season?" his friend asked. "Would that mean they stink?"
"It would mean they're soft," the fellow said.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, were working at the stadium—where their fancy new dressing quarters have red wall-to-wall carpeting, a sauna bath, a complete medical examining room and an elevator to deliver them to the street—as though they were preparing for an ordinary game. For the defensive unit, that meant the linemen were leaping about, the linebackers were charging and Free Safety Larry Wilson was practicing his darting blitz.
Most teams that use a high proportion of blitzes do it to conceal a flaw. That is not the case with the Cardinals. Their defense is fairly solid. They could play a standard pro 4-3 as well as almost any team. But Cardinal Defensive Coach Chuck Drulis, who usually gets credit for having invented the safety blitz, is, of course, a believer in his own theories. And his new boss, Charley Winner, was a dedicated blitzer as a defensive assistant coach at Baltimore.
Although a Winner-coached Baltimore defense embarrassed the Cowboys 35-3 in last January's Runnerup Bowl in Miami, the Cardinal defense has stayed primarily in the hands of Drulis. Winner has changed a few pass coverages and perhaps the Cardinals stunt in the line (i.e., move linemen around to rush from unexpected angles) more than in the past, but fundamentally the Cardinal defense is still Drulis. He saw no reason to revamp the work of years merely because he was meeting the NFL's most dangerous offense.
The Cowboys have proved difficult to contain because they have so many different formations, shifts and unusual plays. Cardinal Defensive End Joe Robb, who sometimes drops off to become a linebacker, said: " Don Meredith has always been a good quarterback. But in the past the Cowboys were beating themselves. Now they've got their plays down pat."