> No, theTuna wasn't canned. But after guiding the Cowboys to a 34-30 record in fourseasons and extending the franchise's streak of years without a playoff victoryto 10, Bill Parcells and his domineering act had clearly worn thin in Dallas,and he resigned in January. Enter defensive guru Wade Phillips, late of theChargers, who will seek to ramp up the Cowboys' 3-4 defense and turn25-year-old linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whose 11 1/2 sacks got him into the ProBowl, into a Shawne Merriman-like force.
> "I'mnot making any comparisons," says inside linebacker Akin Ayodele, whenasked to discuss the differences between Parcells and Phillips. And Phillipshimself, when encouraged to describe how his philosophy might diverge from thatof his predecessor, says, "I really don't compare myself to anyone."Most Cowboys, in fact, profess to have no interest in comparing the notoriouslycantankerous Parcells with the mild-mannered Phillips.
Then thecomparing begins.
"You don'thave Bill yelling at you, bearing down on you," says quarterback Tony Romo."There's some truth in what Bill did, and there's some truth in what Wadedoes--it's just a matter of approach. Wade's going to treat you like a man.He's not going to call you out in front of the group. But if you make amistake, he's going to pull you aside and talk to you." Even a certainmercurial wideout seems enthused about Phillips. "He calls me Terrell,"the gentleman formerly referred to by Parcells as the Player said in August ona Dallas radio show.
But don't thinkthese Cowboys will be kinder and gentler. In three years at San Diego, Phillipsmolded his defense into one of the NFL's most fearsome--last season he got moresacks (35 1/2) from just three players (Merriman, Shaun Phillips and LuisCastillo) than Dallas had as a team (34). "Also, Merriman didn't play fourgames, and Castillo was out six," notes Phillips. While Parcells's 3-4scheme relied on outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback, the pass rushin Phillips's system can come from any defender. "It gives everybody achance, so we're not so predictable," says a suddenly less comparison-shyAyodele. Adds linebacker Bradie James, "We know without a shadow of a doubtwe'll have more sacks than we had last year. We'll have more game-changingplays."
An aggressivefront seven should create opportunities for a pass defense that ranked 24thlast year and had just three combined interceptions from its skilled startingcornerbacks, Terence Newman and Anthony Henry. The arrival of hard-hitting freeagent Ken Hamlin, 26, should provide stability in the backfield; since DarrenWoodson last played in January 2004, six safeties have started next tofour-time Pro Bowl selection Roy Williams. Hamlin's range will also allowWilliams to play closer to the line, where he's effective on blitzes and in runsupport.
The Dallasoffense will undergo fewer changes; it ranked fifth in the NFL last season andwill continue to benefit from the field position produced by Australian punterMat McBriar, whose 48.2 gross average in '06 was the fifth best of all time.The Cowboys also bring back a Pro Bowl quarterback (Romo) and tight end (JasonWitten); two 1,000-yard receivers (Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn); a 1,000-yardrusher (Julius Jones); and the NFC leader in rushing touchdowns (MarionBarber).
First-yearoffensive coordinator Jason Garrett vows not to fiddle much with the balancedattack and will continue to split the carries between Jones and Barber.However, the 41-year-old Princeton graduate, who spent eight years as a backupNFL quarterback, will try to harness Romo's improvisational tendencies. "Wetalk about this all the time: Your greatest strength can be your greatestweakness," says Garrett. "He's a very spontaneous player; he's a guywho can get himself out of jams. But the trick is to play within the system,and then when things break down, you're able to tap into some of thoseabilities." Says the 27-year-old Romo, "The older and more experiencedI get, the better I'll be at it."
Romo will benefitfrom a veteran offensive line into which owner Jerry Jones poured $30 millionin guaranteed contracts during the off-season. "On paper--and you have toget a big piece of paper because these guys are huge--we've got an awfully goodline," says Phillips. Leonard Davis, a free agent from the Cardinals, willmove from left tackle to right guard, where he excelled early in his career."I feel better at guard because guys have got to take me on," saysDavis. "They can't run away from me."
The Cowboys areone of the few teams with a proven starter at every position (if you includeRomo, who earned the job midway through '06). Should they stay healthy, theirstring of years without a playoff victory won't enter a second decade.
COACH WADEPHILLIPS (48-39 in NFL), first season with Cowboys
HT 6' 8"
LEONARD DAVIS(NEW ACQUISITION)
HT 6' 6"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 7"
SACKS 11 1/2
SACKS 4 1/2
KEN HAMLIN (NEWACQUISITION)
> 2006 RECORD9-7 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 13/5/5 DEFENSE 10/24/13
9 N.Y. GIANTS
16 at Miami
23 at Chicago
30 ST. LOUIS
8 at Buffalo (M)
14 NEW ENGLAND
4 at Philadelphia
11 at N.Y. Giants
22 N.Y. JETS (T)
29 GREEN BAY (T)
9 at Detroit
22 at Carolina (S)
30 at Washington
NFL rank ... T21
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage ... .496
Games against playoff teams ...¬†7
(M) Monday (T) Thursday (S) Saturday
Instant access to the latest and best Cowboys stories,stats and blogs from across the Web, handpicked by SI's editors.
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE COWBOYS
> This team has good players. What it comes downto is how the new coaching staff handles everything else that comes with thefranchise: the ownership, with Jerry Jones; anything that arises with TerrellOwens. But you look at the roster and it's strong. Tony Romo went to the ProBowl, the offensive line is solid, and I think Andre Gurode, the center, isoutstanding. T.O., you know, he just wants to catch the ball and win. It's notas if he's smoking stuff and drinking and getting into trouble with women.Defensively, DeMarcus Ware is a perfect 3-4 outside linebacker, Terence Newmanis a solid corner, and Roy Williams is Roy Williams. The most interesting thingto watch is how Wade Phillips handles everything with these guys, because theycan win a lot of games.
THE KING 500
> DEFENSIVE END
No Cowboy is happier about Wade Phillips's arrivalthan the '05 first-rounder out of LSU. The 6' 4", 298-pound Spears had just2 1/2¬†sacks in two years under Bill Parcells, during which he mainly keptopposing tackles engaged while the outside 'backers attacked the passer."Now I have a chance to do my thing," says Spears. "I'm finallygoing to be able to use my quickness to beat guys and make plays."
¬†REININGIN¬†Dallas needs oft-rambling Pro Bowler Romo to be lessimprovisational.