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The principal defect in sending in every offensive play via a guard or tackle is that the recipient of the play—the quarterback—has no time to consider it, nor does he have any way to relay whatever tidbits of information he has picked, up on the field of play back to the resident genius on the sideline.
Landry's system of messenger quarterbacks remedies both defects: the quarterback coming off the field can tell Landry the nuances of what he has discovered in action and the quarterback trotting from the sideline to the huddle to call the new play has time to reflect on it and decide what audible he should use if the defense has crossed him up and what warnings he should issue to his teammates to insure the success of the play. This moment of introspection, according to both Meredith and LeBaron, is invaluable.
"I don't think we will always use this system," says Meredith, who is an ardent admirer of both Landry and LeBaron and a semiardent admirer of the shuttle. "But it works now and it has been a big help to me. Landry is a living IBM machine. He knows every defense in this league cold, and he never forgets anything. The time I spend on the sideline with him, analyzing the play I have just called and watching the development of the play Eddie is calling, is great experience. There are two kinds of experience in this league. You can get the kind of pressure-cooker experience Norm Snead got with the Redskins last year, where they threw him in and let him take everything that came his way, or you can get the more conservative kind of experience I'm getting. I don't really know which is better."
Landry himself does not consider his innovation the be-all and end-all of offensive strategy. It requires special circumstances to be successful and Landry recognized those circumstances.
"We use a more varied offense than a club like, say, Green Bay," he points out. "The Packers can overpower a defense more often than not. They don't have to be tricky because their offensive linemen can take you out of whatever defense you're in. They adjust instinctively because they have been playing together so long. Our players haven't; we change our offense more from week to week than any other club in the league, probably."
The infinitely varied Cowboy offense is another reason for Landry's calling all the plays and sending them in by his quarterbacks. "I know all of the offense," Landry says. "The quarterbacks haven't had time and don't have time, week to week, to assimilate it. Also I have a lot more information available to me when I call a play. I have what the quarterback coming off the field has to tell me about the situation on the field, and he is in the best position of any player to tell what the defensive reaction is. I have the report from the coach in the press box, who has a good overall picture. And I've watched the play from the sideline with the other quarterback, checking to see if the defense is still keying the way we thought they would.
"I also know what play the quarterback has called, and I can watch it knowing every assignment. If the play breaks down, I can tell whether it broke down from poor execution or from a super-effort by a defensive player, and the quarterback with me sees it, too. Thus he recognizes that the failure was not because of the play itself and, consequently, he doesn't lose confidence in it. If he were on the field and this information were not available to him he might drop that play for the rest of the game. Knowing the failure was because of execution, he'll go back to the play and we'll gain with it later on."
Meredith, a young man whose insouciance has sometimes been mistaken for carelessness, appreciates the value of these briefing sessions on the sideline.
"You learn to analyze plays more quickly," he says. "I think it helps me with the big problem a quarterback has—gaining confidence. Tom always explains to us exactly why he is calling a play, and he's never wrong. He is a fantastic man. Most people don't know exactly what they want, but Tom does—in every facet of this game. When he points out something to you and tells you what to look for, he's right. I'm a very lucky guy, with a coach like Landry and with another quarterback like LeBaron."
LeBaron, almost as much as Landry, has contributed to the education of Meredith as a pro quarterback. Eddie is a small man—5 feet 7 and 168 pounds—but very strong. He has never, in his 10-year pro career, missed a game because of injuries. He rooms with Meredith and LeBaron has been unsparing in his efforts to make Don a topflight pro.