"The quarterback is the most important man on the football team," said Dallas Cowboy President Tex Schramm. "You don't go anywhere without him." The comment would seem banal except that it occurred just two days after Roger Staubach's disastrous game of bump and run with the Rams' Marlin McKeever. Still, the Cowboys have Craig Morton, which leaves them about as well off as anyone else in the NFC East, where none of the five teams has completely resolved its quarterback situation.
As for Morton, he appears remarkably calm. "Why not?" he asks. "I took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl once before, and this team has always performed well for me." The rest of the Cowboys seem equally confident, but, just in case Morton runs to darkness, there is now Jack Concannon. Nor has anyone counted Staubach out. "What made him try to run over that guy is what will bring him back quick," says Coach Tom Landry.
The well-tempered unit that Landry and Schramm have molded seems capable of overcoming any loss—say, for instance, of the Cowboys' No. 1 rusher, and biggest headache, Duane Thomas, who was traded to San Diego for Running Back Mike Montgomery and Wide Receiver Billy Parks. That still leaves Walt Garrison (see cover) and brittle Calvin Hill, who can fill Thomas' shoes if he doesn't suffer another Great Toe Throb. Montgomery and Robert New-house, the No. 2 draft choice from Houston, also are ready, but with the Dallas offensive line bulging with All-Pros it doesn't much matter who carries. And with Bob Hayes, who says he is faster now than he was when he won two gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, Lance Alworth, Ron Sellers and Parks, it doesn't much matter who throws the passes either.
The offense, however, may have to readjust some of its thinking. Dallas sends its backs out on most pass plays, putting added pressure on the line. Consequently, Cowboy quarterbacks get sacked plenty. Only six teams, none with a winning record, were worse at protecting the quarterback in 1970. Staubach's quickness helped improve that statistic a bit last year, but without him Dallas may have to become protection-conscious.
If the Cowboys have some offensive problems, their opponents have quite a few more. The Dallas Doomsday Defense returns, which means other teams still have to face up to Tackle Bob Lilly, not to mention the best linebacking in the conference. One wonders when age will start to be a factor. Lilly is 33, Chuck Howley 36 and five other defensive starters are over 30. Indeed, averaged up, the Cowboys' starting 22 is as old as, you guessed it, the Redskins. But no one in Dallas shows signs of slowing.
Washington has two candidates for the quarterback job, and both Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen (SI, Aug. 21) are making it perfectly clear that, as Redskin Coach George Allen will tell you—and tell you and tell you—experience counts. As long as Washington stays in contention for the playoffs, Kilmer will start, but Jurgensen's quick-striking ability makes the Redskin bench quite an asset.
Kilmer or Jurgensen can hand off to Larry Brown, as good as any in the league, or pass to the likes of Charley Taylor, Roy Jefferson and Jerry Smith, all ranked among the top 10 active receivers in football. Brown, who has had a tender knee, was held out for much of the exhibition season as a precaution, but George Nock, acquired in June from the Jets, and Bob Brunet spent that time proving that Brown needn't be used all the time anyway. Taylor is back after missing most of last season with an ankle fractured while scoring a touchdown against Kansas City. "Charley keeps the defenses loose, not only with his pass catching but also with his tremendous downfield blocking," says Assistant Coach Mike McCormack. "We were 5-0 when he got hurt, but after that a lot of teams played what amounted to a goal-line defense against us."
One drawback to Washington's offense is its weak-kneed line. Jim Snowden, the team's best lineman, has already succumbed to torn ligaments and, of the five expected to start, two will perform on previously unreliable legs.
Before George Allen arrived, the Redskin defense consisted of 40 points and a prayer. Last year it finished fourth in the NFL, giving up just 190 points, the first time since 1958 (and a 12-game schedule) that Washington has yielded fewer than 300. Age has become a factor here, although not on the defensive line where Verlon Biggs, Diron Talbert and Manny Sistrunk are under 30. It is the deep seven that verges on senility. The most crucial spots are Middle Linebacker Myron Pottios, 33, and Safety Richie Petitbon, 34, both of whom have to stretch their guile a long way to keep their positions. At safety Allen added depth by trading for Roosevelt Taylor of San Francisco. He is 34.
The Redskins' biggest asset came out of the league office. The schedule has Minnesota on the first Monday night, but George Allen has never, never lost an opening game. And there is Dallas twice, but the other eight opponents compiled a 38-69-5 record in 1971 and only one, Atlanta (7-6-1), had a winning record. The Cowboys could be playing catch-up all season, but that's bad? Allen teams have never, never won a playoff game.