The Myth Of The 3-4

Part of being entertained is being willing to suspend one's reality and stretch one's imagination.

As a kid, I had to stretch and suspend to believe Elizabeth Montgomery would marry those two Dick guys. I knew in my heart that Nazi prison camps were in reality a little short on comedic commandants. I figured out all by myself that if Mr. Brady were truly an architect, he wouldn't have designed a home for nine people featuring just one bathroom.

But I've grown up now. No more childish whims. And so I hereby proclaim: I am no longer the pre-pubescent child who believes in "The Myth of the 3-4 Defenders' Necessary Dimensions.''

"The Myth'' goes something like this: 3-4 defenders must be something different from 4-3 defenders. And the extended logic: The Cowboys, morphing into more of a 3-4 look, are now seeking out different-sized athletes than those who would've fit into last year's 4-3.

My grown-up thesis: If Demarcus Ware can excel at OLB in a 3-4, then he can excel at OLB or DE in a 4-3. Oh, and if La'Roi Glover can achieve 17 sacks in an NFL season in a 4-3, then he damn sure better get on the field in a 3-4.

Let's do an experiment: Remember the NFL Team of the '90's? That would be your Dallas Cowboys.

Remember the AFC Team of the '90's? That would be those Buffalo Bills.

Those Cowboys played a 4-3, of course, and did so brilliantly. The Bills did the same with their 3-4. According to the "experts'' who are now clamoring for alterations in height and weight for Dallas players who are part of the 4-3-to-3-4 conversion, 3-4 players simply MUST be larger.

To the Cowboys-Bills Super Bowls of a decade ago, and to the training-room scales, gentlemen! The Bills' front seven: DE Phil Hansen (5-5, 275), NT Jeff Wright (6-3, 270), DE Bruce Smith (6-4, 273), OLB Cornelius Bennett (6-2, 238), ILB Marvcus Patton (6-2, 225), ILB Mark Maddox (6-1, 233) OLB Darryl Talley (6-4, 235).

Abominable Snowman from the Great North, right? Well, yeah! An average height of 6-2 1/4. An average weight of 249.8 pounds. Impressive! Now, how about those pip-squeaky little Cowboys? The Cowboys' front seven: DE Tony Tolbert (6-6, 263), DT Tony Casillas (6-3, 279), DT Russell Maryland (6-1, 279), DE Charles Haley (6-5, 250), OLB Dixon Edwards (6-1, 222), MLB Ken Norton (6-2, 240), OLB Darrin Smith (6-1, 227). Pipsqueaks. Right? Southern Gentlemen with finesse, right? Well, no.

Dallas' average height was 6-1 1/2, a smidge shorter than Buffalo's. Dallas' average weight was 251.4, a smidge heavier than Buffalo's. Buffalo and Dallas played two different defenses. ... with almost the exact-same-sized athletes.

You think Haley couldn't have excelled in Buffalo's 3-4? (Before you answer, do some research on his explosive days as the "Elephant'' on those old Bill Walsh/George Seifert 49ers teams). You think Bruce Smith couldn't have starred for the Cowboys? You think Tony Casillas was, what, too heavy to be the Buffalo nose tackle? That Darryl Talley was, what, too tall to be a linebacker for the Cowboys?

I'm not excited about the Cowboys' 2005 defense because Ware "fits'' or Chris Canty "fits'' or Marcus Spears "fits'' or Kevin Burnett "fits''; I'm excited because it's possible that in one draft, the Cowboys may have re-made their defensive front seven with a quartet of kids who can play -- and who would've been able to "fit'' on any team and in any system.

Point is, now that you're no longer in sixth grade, you don't have to believe all the pablum you are fed. Suspending reality once helped me believe that the "Gilligan's Island'' gang could create WMD's out of coconuts, bamboo and one of Mrs. Howell's brassieres.

But believing in silly conceits does nothing to help me analyze the Cowboys' implementation of the 3-4. Nor do the raw dimensions of the athletes preparing to execute it.

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