Predicting Perked Up Ears

insulating against turnovers and overexposing his defense, then this had better be a lock-down defensive bunch. 

"I think if we play well, we can hold our own," Parcells frankly said of his defense. "You can't tell what's going to show up. The safety position? The corner position? Whatever it is, you can have plays that will affect the game. But I'm pretty confident, especially in our young defensive linemen that they can go in and help us. 

"I'm pretty sure about that." 

If that's the case, and this defensive front should be the strength of this team, and if we can agree this secondary is significantly better than last year's, which is not exactly a reach, then the key will surround how well the Cowboys transition to this 3-4 alignment, and how much of a pass rush they can generate off the edges, i.e. DeMarcus Ware, Al Singleton, Scott Fujita and for the time being Eric Ogobgu, along with how well these guys play the run. 

"This is a defense in transition," said five-time Pro Bowler La'Roi Glover when asked for a self-scouting report. "Lot of playmakers at each level. Two ball-hawking corners, one hard-hitting safety. Smallish linebackers inside and a real potential playmaker at one outside linebacker, and depth on the defensive line with pretty good players. 

"Is it all going to be pretty? No, but I feel confident." 

Now this does not absolve the Cowboys from playing efficiently on offense or from scoring at least 21 points a game, which they have not done since 1999, the last time they scored more than 300 points in a season (352). And if we should learn from history, only once between 1991 and 1999 did the Cowboys fail to score at least 300 points in a season, that occurring in 1996 when Michael Irvin was suspended for the first five games of the season. 

Also, and even though Parcells is adamant about running the ball, this does not absolve Drew Bledsoe from playing efficiently at quarterback, either. He must, as Parcells has said a thousand times, take care of the football. He must play with the self-control of a 33-year-old quarterback that he is. 

But, to prevent from what happened last year offensively, to guard against getting seduced into Air Parcells, especially with the four receivers they now have and Witten, then the Cowboys must play zesty defense. Give up 25 points a game this season, and forget about it again. 

"I've put last year behind me," Glover said. "That doesn't exist, and I've done that already. We have better players, talent and depth. I feel pretty good." 

And if the head coach is hopeful and Glover feels pretty good - and neither is known for being Pollyanna's - then you should feel pretty good, too. Really. 

Folks keep pointing out "the schedule" as a reason for the Cowboys stumbling again this year. The schedule? Have you looked at those first eight games? Other than Sunday's opener on the road and Oct. 9 against Philadelphia - and that's at home - which of those other six opponents do you fear? 

Come on, of those six, only Seattle won more than six games last year, and didn't the Cowboys, with a lesser team, beat them Seahawks up there? 

Now granted the second half is tougher, but again, of the eight, only Philadelphia and Denver had better than 8-8 records last year, and St. Louis was the only other team to win at least eight games. 

So what's the big deal? That's only five games against teams coming off winning records last year. And even if you lost all those games, which is not going to happen, that leaves 11 others, no? 

"People should want to see what we can do," Glover said. 

And what they'll see is a Cowboys team go 9-7 and be more than paper tigers in the first round of the playoffs this year. 

See there, Bill promised no droopy ears.     

MICK SHOTS

 
  Beware the San Diego linebacker. Donnie Edwards, their weakside middle guy in the 3-4 defense, not only led the team in tackles (151) last year, but also in interceptions (five). And Chargers outside linebacker Steve Foley led them with 10

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