Monday, December 7, 1998
Mike Ditka's brand of football too much for
By FRANK LUKSA
The Dallas Morning News
NEW ORLEANS -- When the One Great Scorer came to mark against
the Cowboys here Sunday all he needed was the stub of a pencil.
Plus ability to count to three.
The Cowboys went to record lengths while losing to the New
Orleans Saints, a team its coach accused of playing to a "pathetic"
level seven days ago. It was a word Chan Gailey could have borrowed
to describe his team.
The Cowboys managed a feat never accomplished in 38 years
of franchise history. They rushed for less than the distance
of a first down during the entire game.
The new club record is eight yards. Or 24 feet. This meant
that on 18 times the Cowboys ran the ball they gained 0.4 yards
on average. Or nine inches, less than the length of their shoe.
The Cowboys tied another team record for futility, humiliation
and being kicked aside like empty feed sacks. In doing so, they
lost more than a 22-3 game. Dallas lost the last illusion of
its relative strength when forced to compete outside the NFC
East, a division populated by ground squirrels.
The Saints went to Shred City against a Cowboys offense that
asked not to be identified until next of kin had been notified.
The short version: Dallas was physically manhandled and mentally
challenged to deal with a variety of unexpected blitzes. So the
Cowboys fell to 8-5 and made a sound like a tomato dropped from
a tall building.
Zaven Yaralian, who sounds like a symphony conductor, visited
grief on the Cowboys by revisting the past. The New Orleans defensive
coordinator dusted off tactics from the Bears' 46 defense used
by the world champions of the mid-80s. Mike Ditka coached those
Assisted by two artificial hips, a lineup of try-hard youth
and his intimidating persona, Ditka has energized the 6-7 Saints
to an ornery level. His players in turn remind Ditka of the fierce
way Chicago played defense for him and coordinator-rival Buddy
"This is the best defensive game I've seen in a long
time," said the long-ago Cowboys tight end and aide to Tom
Landry. "You've got to take me back to the '50s...or the
'80s. This is the best I've seen."
Ditka made another flattering comparison when asked if this
was the biggest victory of his second-season term with the Saints.
"Definitely, because we went up against a quality opponent,
a well-coached team. It wasn't like we tricked them. It was just
football. We came to play football and probably did it a little
better than they did."
To Ditka, "just football" amounts to knocking the
other fellow down and stepping on his neck. The Saints left lots
of cleat marks on the Cowboys who appeared timid and passive
in comparison to the hard-charging hosts.
Much of the Cowboys' muddled state can by traced to confusion.
They never got a handle on the blitz package that Yaralian prepared
late last week. Some of his stuff didn't enter the game plan
until last Thursday.
Yaralian's theme bore the subtlety of being struck on the
head with a bed slat. Pressure and penetration were his objectives.
Unprepared for game-long kamakaze assault the Saints had shown
only in brief moments, the Cowboys were left to grope and guess
about who'd block whom.
"Nobody had done it to the Cowboys," said Yaralian
of his scheme. "We wanted to hit Emmitt Smith in the backfield.
Move around and not let their front line come off the ball and
drive us back. Get penetration. We were in an attack mode more
than anything else."
Smith suffered a career-low rushing output for a game in which
he carried more than 10 times. He got six yards in 15 attempts,
which means Smith covered more ground getting out of bed to brush
his teeth. The quality of the Cowboys' addled blockers was best
illustrated by seven rushing plays where Smith was tackled for
"The key was to throw them off balance," Yaralian
went on. "We didn't want Troy Aikman to settle his feet
and throw the ball. If he does, he's one of the most accurate
passers in the NFL."
Aikman settled into a routine of ducking and dodging. He got
tagged for a safety on the game's third play when rushed into
intentional grounding from the end zone. He was hurried and harassed
thereafter into a 16-for-32 chart worth 192 scant yards.
The Cowboys ended the game in befitting style. Aided by penalties,
they ran eight plays between the New Orleans 14 and 1-yard line
and failed to score. By then, the One Great Scorer had fallen
All content copyright 1998,
AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News
and Reporter OnLine
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