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NewsOK.com: Even Parcells Won't Be Enough


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Tue September 7, 2004

Even Parcells won't be enough for Dallas

By Berry Tramel

The Oklahoman

The important question to ask about an NFL team's potential success is not who's quarterbacking or who's defending or who's owning.

It's who's coaching.

No other sport is so determined by coaching. No other sport, college or pro, so painstakingly lays out an equal landscape. Revenue sharing, payroll cap, scheduling system. All work to bring teams' talent and record to the center.

But no such parameters exist on coaching. Get the best guy you can get, and a select few are the difference between losing and winning.

Dick Vermeil, Dan Reeves, Bill Parcells. It is no coincidence that winning football follows those guys around the league like star-struck groupies.

The 2004 Dallas Cowboys will test that theory.

Riding shotgun for Dallas is Parcells, the league's No. 1 talent, with the possible exception of Bill Belichick. Forget Peyton Manning. Sorry Ray Lewis. Parcells and Belichick and their like mean more than quarterbacking and defense.

But can even Parcells win with this Dallas team?

In his maiden Cowboy voyage, Parcells produced his usual magic. An 11-5 record and a playoff berth, which ended quite quickly in Carolina. That 29-10 loss to the Panthers looked better and better as Carolina won first in St. Louis and then in Philly and scared the muskets off the Patriots in Super Bowl 38.

The same can't be said of Dallas' roster. It's looking worse and worse.

The '03 Cowboys won with defense, which is the only option when your quarterback is Quincy Carter and your mailman is Troy Hambrick.

Defense remains the only option, even though Carter and Hambrick were dispatched to other addresses. Vinny Testaverde at quarterback and Eddie George at tailback are tall cotton in a senior-tour flag football league; in the NFL it smacks of the Arizona Cardinals.

Let's look at it this way. Just to finish second in the NFC East, Dallas is going to have to beat either Philadelphia or Washington (the Giants are taking a year's sabbatical).

Is Dallas' offense a threat to match either the Eagles' or the Redskins'?

Philadelphia still has playmaker Donovan McNabb at quarterback and Brian Westbrook at tailback. Advantage Eagles.

Washington sought new blood at quarterback and ballcarrier and came up with Mark Brunell and Clinton Portis. Brunell, like Testaverde, is past his prime but, at 33, unlike Vinny he's not standing in the social-security line. And Portis, 23, is a star just reaching his prime.

The 'Skins even trumped Dallas' Parcells edge by hiring Joe Gibbs, 11 years retired from coaching Washington to great heights (three NFL titles). If you think Gibbs has lost his touch, remember that Vermeil sat out 14 years before riding back from the sunset to lead the Rams to the pinnacle.

So we're back to defense for Dallas. The Cowboys were ranked No. 1 in the league last year, but that status was a little iffy. A soft schedule provided Dallas with a series of shaky offenses.

The Cowboys played no opponent that finished among the league's top nine offenses. They played only three games against offenses that finished in the upper half of the NFL. They played against four of the six worst offenses in the league.

This year, that changes. The Cowboys get Minnesota, Green Bay and Seattle, all of which finished in the top six in NFL offenses.

Worse yet, Dallas has major holes in the secondary; cornerback Pete Hunter and strong safety Tony Dixon are unknowns.

Playing against Randy Moss and Brett Favre is dicey with veteran defenders. Dueling such foes with a weak cornerback is recipe for failure.

That leaves the pass defense up to pressuring the quarterback. The Cowboys need Greg Ellis' improvement to continue (possible) and newcomer Marcellus Wiley to be the second coming of Charles Haley (unlikely).

Otherwise, the Cowboys seek to climb the NFC hierarchy on the back of their coach. That's a mighty mission, even for someone as capable as Parcells, which is why Dallas is headed for an 8-8 season.

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