Cowboys' defense did its level best No Dallas defenders going to Pro Bowl, but they have the Super Bowl in sight

January 11, 1993|By Bob Rubin | Bob Rubin,Knight-Ridder News Service

IRVING, Texas -- The No. 1 defense in the NFL will send no representatives to the Pro Bowl.

"I really don't care," said Cowboys defensive tackle Russell Maryland, who used to terrorize running backs and quarterbacks for the University of Miami. "We may not have the names, the individuals, but it doesn't matter as long as we play together as a unit."

As a unit, the Cowboys shut down Randall Cunningham and the Eagles yesterday in a 34-10 victory. Dallas advances to Sunday's NFC championship game against the 49ers in San Francisco.

The Eagles had only 12 first downs and 178 yards. They converted only one of 11 third-down opportunities. Their touchdown came at garbage time. They were dominated.

"We took it to the next level," Maryland said. "We had a lot of time to prepare, and we wanted to deliver a message."

The next-level line was the theme of the defense. You heard the phrase everywhere in the Cowboys' locker room.

Maryland attempted to explain it.

"The playoffs are the next level, and now the NFC championship is the level after that. Our level best is the next level. It sounds kind of confusing, but it makes sense to us."

Funny, it was the Eagles who came into the game with the reputation for defensive ferocity. The Cowboys were well aware of that, and used it as a motivational tool.

"I think it was in the back of a lot of guys' minds," Maryland said. "You wanted to get more sacks than Reggie White, more tackles than Clyde Simmons."

White had one sack for the Eagles. Maryland had two for the Cowboys, after getting only 2 1/2 all season.

"They've been tough coming for me, but I made a conscious effort this game to go after them," Maryland said. "I watched a lot of film. I watched my man Cortez Kennedy. He had a field day against the Eagles, seven tackles, two sacks, two blocked passes, and I wanted to try to do better."

Kennedy, a defensive tackle for the Seahawks, was Maryland's friend and mentor at Miami. The two speak often by phone. "I didn't speak to him this week," Maryland said. "He's too big time -- defensive player of the year and all that. But now I can call him and say, 'Hey man, look at me now. I'm taking it to the next level.'"

The University of Miami-Cowboys defensive connection can also found in the person of Dave Wannstedt, coordinator for Jimmy Johnson at both stops and now rumored to be a candidate for coach of the New York Giants. He says he will not address that issue until the season is over, which he hopes isn't until after the Super Bowl.

Wannstedt is as proud of his Cowboys defense as he was of the ones he fashioned at Miami.

"We studied films of the first game against the Eagles this year, a 31-7 loss, and saw we got burned on a couple of blitzes," Wannstedt said. "So we got a little more conservative and forced them to make plays to beat us. We put steady pressure on them all game. There's a lot of pride and character in this group."

But no Pro Bowlers.

Johnson shrugged. The starters on defense average 25.5 years old. Recognition will come if they continue to make plays.

"We always look for playmakers," Johnson said. "That overrides whether a guy is big or fast enough. If you're a playmaker, we're interested in you."

Was yesterday the best effort of the year?

hTC "I hope not," Wannstedt said. "But it was as good as any."

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