Cowboys come to their own defense Overlooked and undersized, unit stops Eagles in tracks

January 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

IRVING, Texas -- It seems fashionable to talk about the Philadelphia Eagles' defense -- big, intimidating, always ready for the kill. The Dallas Cowboys' defense? Statistically, it ranked first in the NFL this season, but the players often were dismissed as comparatively small, relatively inexperienced and prone to error.

But no one was dismissing the Cowboys' defense yesterday, not after it manhandled the Eagles' offense in a 34-10 victory that propelled the Cowboys into the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Afterward, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt, spoke of his players like a proud father. Wannstedt may be a leading candidate for the head-coaching position with the New York Giants and several other NFL teams, but he has been able to stay focused on the immediate task.

"My No. 1 concern was stopping the run," Wannstedt said. "I felt we had to hold them under 100 yards rushing. People didn't give them enough credit for being second in the NFL in rushing. When they get the run going, that lets them get their passing and play-action going, and that's when they're dangerous."

Not to worry. The Cowboys held the Eagles to 178 yards of total offense, and 70 of them came in the last four minutes against the Cowboys' second-stringers. The Eagles rushed for only 63 yards. Herschel Walker, a 1,000-yard rusher for Philadelphia this TTC season, carried six times for 29 yards. Heath Sherman, who led the league's running backs with a 5.2-yard rushing average,

carried six times for 12 yards.

"We played awfully sound," Wannstedt said. "We didn't give up any big plays. We kept pressure on Randall [Cunningham] all day. The big thing was not giving him time to make big throws."

Cunningham, the Eagles' scrambling quarterback, was sacked five times and gained only 22 yards on five rushing attempts. His longest completion was 19 yards.

"Physically, this defense doesn't get credit, probably because of our size," Wannstedt said. "It came out earlier this year that we have the lightest defense in the league. But I know, to survive in the NFC East, that you have to be physical. We played 60 minutes. . . . . The best thing we did was starting that intense and keeping it up. We played well. Credit the players."

Those players did not seem surprised by the way they overwhelmed the Eagles. Many said they were well-prepared and knew they would win if they did what they were supposed to. Start with Russell Maryland, the defensive tackle, whose day included two sacks.

"We tried to get in Randall's face, get off our blocks and keep him in the pocket," he said. "It was just a matter of us not playing stupid. But we could have done better. We could have shut them out."

Jim Jeffcoat, a 10th-year pro now used as a pass-rushing defensive end, got one sack.

"We're the most physical defense in the NFL," he said. "If you don't believe me, just ask the Eagles."

Cowboys outside linebacker Ken Norton Jr. made three tackles, assisted on a fourth, knocked down a pass and forced a fumble and recovered it. He had an explanation for the Cowboys' defensive success that might have pleased engineers and psychiatrists alike.

"We're at home," he said. "We have our fans. It's the playoffs. We took it to another level. A lot of electricity took us into an unconscious state."

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