- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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At Dallas, Ryan was aware of all the risks. "They may try to blitz more this time," he said. "We're equipped to handle any blitz. It's a guessing game."
The Cowboys showed Ryan the center blitz a couple of times to make him wary, but they depended on the fast charge of the front four most of the evening, and that was enough. Lilly, Pugh and Townes dropped Ryan five times behind the line of scrimmage. In the second half he was so thoroughly bedeviled that he completed only three of 12 passes.
In this game, Ryan guessed wrong. But the guessing was not that important. The Cowboys are becoming a team against which guessing is not enough—and they should stay that way for the next few years. Their young, ebullient front four wore down the Cleveland offensive line. In the previous game, the Browns came off a bye, and the Cowboys came off a disappointing tie with St. Louis. This time the two teams had only three days rest, and the Brown offensive line, considerably older than the Dallas defensive players, got tired. It will not be getting any younger.
While it was still reasonably fresh, the Brown offensive line broke Leroy Kelly loose once for 38 yards and occasionally opened cracks for him in the middle of the Dallas line, but by the waning moments of the third period he had been effectively shut off. Sadly, elderly Lou Groza, with a stiff back and feeling his age, had what must have been among the worst days in his long and productive career as a field-goal kicker. He made two attempts in the first half from short range (28 and 31 yards). One was kicked flat and the other ducked sharply to the left like a hooked drive. On his only other chance, Dallas' speedy Mike Gaechter raced in untouched to block the ball.
Meredith's reluctant espousal of the Landry philosophy of percentages paid off handsomely. The Brown zone defense presented an almost insurmountable obstacle to the long pass. It took away the big boom of the Dallas attack—the long throw to Bob Hayes, the Olympic sprint champion. One Brown defender covered Hayes short and the safety man on that side prudently backpedaled into the deep zone so that he would be in position to knock down or intercept a long pass. This forced the Browns into man-to-man coverage on the other side of the line, and Meredith took advantage of the situation to sting them on a third-down pass to Frank Clarke when the Cowboys very much needed a first down.
The Brown linebackers are key players; they must help out in the short zone area, dropping off the line to blanket the field just over the line of scrimmage. To discourage them, Landry put a draw play to Fullback Don Perkins on the ready list. By the second half the Brown linebackers were aware of the threat of Perkins' run and were loth to drop back quickly. Consequently, they left a wide crack in the Cleveland zone in the area between the linebackers and the defensive backs, and Meredith exploited this with a series of short passes into the open area.
As the game went along, it became apparent that the Cowboys would not be able to free Hayes on one of the long, long passes that have become his trademark. But it was evident, too, that if the Browns insisted upon distorting their defense to prevent that long, long pass, they must perforce weaken their defense against medium-and short-range passes and against the runs of Perkins and Reeves. Late in the game, when they began to tighten up a bit and risked single coverage on Hayes, Meredith reminded the Browns of the fallacy in that defensive philosophy. He called a long pass to Hayes, and the sprinter flew by Mike Howell into the open. The ball was well thrown and would have been a touchdown had not Howell, knowing that he had been beaten, waved his hands in Hayes's face, drawing an interference penalty but saving a touchdown. The penalty put the ball on the Cleveland 19, and the Cowboys eventually settled for three points when Danny Villanueva kicked the third of his four field goals. That Dallas had to kick was a measure of the Browns' defensive strength.
The first of the Cowboys' two touchdowns came when Meredith, on third and six from the Cleveland six, threw a flat pass to Reeves, who broke two tackles to score. Reeves is not a big man—he is 6 feet 1 and 201 pounds—or a very fast man, but he has extraordinary balance and he can make the halfback option go; he was a quarterback at South Carolina two years ago and once passed for 240 yards against Nebraska.
The second Cowboy touchdown was scored by Don Perkins from the Cleveland nine-yard line. The play was sent in from the sideline, and Meredith—who once boggled at some of Landry's calls but now accepts them unquestioningly—handed off to Perkins on the right side of the Cowboy line. The blocking ahead of Perkins was impeccable. He feinted Erich Barnes out of his low-top shoes and walked in for a touchdown to make the final score. The exultant Cowboys had wrapped up the biggest victory in their short history.
One of the signs hanging over the wall in the garishly decorated Cotton Bowl read "Modern Mathematics for Dr. Ryan: 17+22+11 = 7." For those unfamiliar with the numbers of the Cowboy players, that may be translated to read, " Meredith to Hayes plus Villanueva equals a touchdown."