Lost in the never-ending turbulence surrounding the
Cowboys--Troy Aikman's and Emmitt Smith's and Michael Irvin's
miseries last year, the imported consultants, the extra security
measures in camp--is the fact that the one area of the team that
has never really cracked is the defense.
It never gets much credit--or publicity. How can it, when three
potential Hall of Famers are putting up the big numbers on
offense, working behind a line that sent three players to the
Pro Bowl last season? But defensive coordinator Dave Campo's
unit has been awfully good, No. 1 in the NFL for 11 weeks last
It doesn't look so good now. There's too much missing, too many
Former coach Jimmy Johnson built his defense with a bunch of
no-names who had speed. He converted linebackers to down linemen
and defensive backs to linebackers; everyone ran and pursued,
and the formula worked. When Dallas lost, it was usually because
it got outmuscled up front, but that didn't happen often.
Maybe things will work out, but I get the feeling that this is
the year the defense cracks. The biggest off-season loss was
weakside linebacker Darrin Smith, 230 pounds, fast and a player
with great cover instincts. But the Cowboys don't believe in
paying big bucks to linebackers--eight have left since 1994--so
free agency took Smith to Philadelphia.
Star tackle Leon Lett will miss at least 13 games while he
serves the remainder of his one-year suspension for violating
the league's substance-abuse policy. Chad Hennings, a power
rusher, was a decent complement to Lett, but he'll be teamed
with 33-year-old Tony Casillas, whose best days are behind him.
Until Lett returns, the interior will be a target, meaning
31-year-old middle linebacker Fred Strickland will earn his
With the recently retired Charles Haley out for all but five
games last year, the outside rush fell to Tony Tolbert. He came
through with 12 sacks, but he's operating on bad knees, and his
playing time will be limited. No one else on this team is in his
The strength of the Dallas defense is the secondary, but what if
Deion Sanders can't make it? Under the terms of his contract
with the Cincinnati Reds, he can leave on weekends to play
cornerback, then return to the Reds. In August, however, he was
getting cortisone injections for a bulging disc in his lower
back and was sitting out games. "I'm going to be playing
football in two weeks, and I can't even run," he said last
month. Plus, at 30 he's no youngster anymore.
Darren Woodson is an exceptional strong safety, and the Cowboys
were lucky to keep free safety Brock Marion when it appeared he
would sign with the Ravens. The other corner is Kevin Smith, who
tied Woodson for the team lead in interceptions last year, with
five. But without Sanders, this isn't a unit that can carry a
Rookies? Well, the fourth-round draft pick, 6'6", 318-pound
tackle Antonio Anderson, could be starting by late September.
Then there's 5'9", 215-pound Dexter Coakley, a third-round pick
out of Appalachian State who's the new weakside linebacker. He's
a shrimp, but with 4.47 speed in the 40, he's a fast shrimp. "He
can run down anything that moves," Campo says. "Plus he's a
sharp kid. He's eager to learn. You see him sitting there in the
meetings, all bright-eyed, with his notebook open, and it gives
you a good feeling."
Coakley will see a lot of screens and flood patterns. And the
defense will be put to the test early. It's a well-coached unit,
but it won't be the dominating force we've grown accustomed to
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Marion (31) plays for one of the league's best secondaries, which on a defense with a suspect front will be under added pressure. [Brock Marion]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 10-6 (first in NFC East)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 102.6 (18) 195.1 (20) 297.7 (24)
DEFENSE 98.5 (9) 175.4 (2) 273.9 (3)
Jackie Slater spent his 20-year career with the Rams, the
longest stint by a player with a single NFL team. The active
players closest to that record are each embarking on their 15th
seasons with their respective teams. Two of them--the Cowboys'
Bill Bates and Mark Tuinei--entered the league in 1983 as
undrafted free agents.
Senior NFL Players Who Have Played Their Careers for One Team
Seasons Starts Pro Bowls Super Bowls
Bill Bates, Cowboys 15 45 1 2*
John Elway, Broncos 15 203 7 3
Darrell Green, Redskins 15 200 5 3
Dan Marino, Dolphins 15 197 9 1
Bruce Matthews, Oilers 15 212 9 0
Mark Tuinei, Cowboys 15 141 2 3
*Bates was injured and did not play in Super Bowl XXVII
The highlight is the Nov. 23 trip to Green Bay; the Cowboys have
won eight straight over the Packers, the last seven in Dallas.
The game comes three weeks after a crucial stretch in which the
Cowboys play four of five games on the road--against the Giants,
the Redskins, the Eagles and the 49ers, with a home date against
the Jaguars in the middle.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 1
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .559
Games against playoff teams: 7
The Lineup With 1996 Statistics
Coach: Barry Switzer
QB Troy Aikman 465 att. 296 comp. 63.7% 3,126 yds.
12 TDs 13 int. 80.1 rtg.
RB Emmitt Smith 327 att. 1,204 yds. 3.7 avg. 47 rec.
249 yds. 5.3 avg. 15 TDs
FB Daryl Johnston 22 att. 48 yds. 2.2 avg. 43 rec.
278 yds. 6.5 avg. 1 TD
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Michael Irvin 64 rec. 962 yds. 2 TDs
WR Anthony Miller[**] 56 rec. 735 yds. 3 TDs
WR Billy Davis 0 rec. 0 yds. 0 TDs
TE Eric Bjornson 48 rec. 388 yds. 3 TDs
PK Richie Cunningham*[**]15/15 PATs 8/10 FGs 39 pts.
KR Herschel Walker 27 ret. 28.9 avg. 0 TDs
PR Deion Sanders 1 ret. 4.0 avg. 0 TDs
LT Mark Tuinei 6'5" 314 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Nate Newton 6'3" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Clay Shiver 6'2" 294 lbs. 14 games 0 starts
RG Larry Allen 6'3" 326 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Erik Williams 6'6" 324 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Shante Carver 33 tackles 3 sacks
LT Tony Casillas 17 tackles 0 sacks
RT Chad Hennings 40 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RE Tony Tolbert 61 tackles 12 sacks
OLB Randall Godfrey 28 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Fred Strickland 103 tackles 1 sack
OLB Dexter Coakley (R)[**] 166 tackle 4 sacks
CB Deion Sanders 33 tackles 2 int.
SS Darren Woodson 78 tackles 5 int.
FS Brock Marion 51 tackles 0 int.
CB Kevin Smith 51 tackles 5 int.
P Toby Gowin (R)[**] 89 punts 44.3 avg.
Rookie statistics for final college year
*1992 college statistics