Cowboys' 3-4 looks the same, but it's not Big Bill's anymore Print
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Wednesday, 22 August 2007 13:12
NFL Headline News

 IRVING, Texas (AP) -Nothing really looks different when Dallas Cowboys defenders get set for a play. Basically, the same players from a year ago are lining up in the same spots.
Then the ball is snapped and it becomes very clear - this isn't Bill Parcells' 3-4 defense anymore.
``Nah, it's totally, totally different,'' linebacker Bradie James said. ``You see the smiles. I think you can see from our body language, we're actually having fun.''
While the base formation hasn't changed, new coach Wade Phillips brings an attacking philosophy with his 3-4 defense. Phillips adjusts the scheme to fit the players, freeing them to make plays instead of forcing them into set roles that can shackle them.
``You've got an opportunity to move around and run places and not have to worry about technique all the time,'' Marcus Spears said. ``You're just trying to get in gaps, stunt and make plays.''
In their two preseason victories, the defensive starters didn't allow a touchdown against Denver or Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.
Denver's first-team offense went 0-for-5 on third-down conversions. Some Broncos even grumbled afterward that Dallas blitzed too much for a preseason game.
After the Cowboys' first practice this week since beating Denver, the good-natured Phillips wasn't even prompted when he cracked that the team ``decided to put in a blitz this week since we hadn't had any.''
Dallas plays at Houston on Saturday night, when the starters are expected to play into the second half.
When asked Wednesday what differed about the ``Phillips 3-4'' from other three-man fronts, the grinning coach responded, ``Beside being better?''
``It's not really the scheme itself,'' he said. ``It's always the players.''
Phillips said so many 3-4 defenses ``play it only one way ... and you have to plug in a player that can play that way. ... Ours, we have the players and then we plug in saying this is what we're going to do with the 3-4 because you can stunt, or you're stronger, or you're quicker or you can rush the passer.''
Spears and Chris Canty each had only one sack while starting on opposite ends last season. That's because they were forced by Parcells' system to read or react instead of attack and often got stuck at the line of scrimmage dealing with offensive tackles or tight ends.
``There's a lot more opportunity,'' Spears said. ``You may not make a tackle, but if you've pushed your guard back or put the tackles three yards in the backfield and the running back has to bounce and somebody else tackles him for a loss, you're pretty much affecting that play. That's what this scheme is.''
Canty had Denver's Jay Cutler in reach before the quarterback ducked away from him Saturday night. But nose guard Jason Ferguson was right there to get the sack. He didn't have a sack last season, when the nose guard was preoccupied with opposing linemen and rarely would have been in position for one.
``I didn't even know I got a sack. I thought it was a tackle for a loss,'' Ferguson said. ``It was a sack. I forgot to dance.''
Phillips isn't so sure of the characterization that it's a blitz-blitz-blitz scheme. Aggressive and attacking doesn't only mean blitzing - even if that's what Dan Reeves used to think when Phillips was his defensive coordinator in Denver and Atlanta.
``You only have three down linemen. Always with us, there's going to be a fourth rusher,'' Phillips said. ``Some people call that a blitz. Dan Reeves used to call anytime you brought a linebacker, that was a blitz. ... If you call that a blitz, then we blitz coming out of the dressing room.''
The Cowboys weren't horrible on defense in Parcells' final season, finishing 13th while allowing 323 yards and 22 points per game. But over the final four games of the regular season, they blew a great chance to win their first NFC East title since 1998 by going 1-3 and allowing 425 yards and 33 points per game.
Opponents seemed to figure out that defensive formations weren't changing much.
``That really doesn't matter,'' James said. ``This is a new year.''
 

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