Consider This

IRVING, Texas -- Possibly stashed somewhere in a Valley Ranch closet is a piece of history that Bill Parcells might want an underling to dig up.

It used to hang on early-90's defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt's office wall. Wannstedt, a Pittsburgh boy who of course grew up a fan of the mid-70's Steelers, had over his desk a sheet that listed the scores of the Steel Curtain's games in 1975. To Wannstedt, all those 0's and 3's and 6's and 7's represented defensive excellence. They represented the goal.

A little more than a decade later, coach Parcells and staff rules the area that Wannstedt used to occupy. And coach Parcells has his own ideas of defensive excellence. The idea, by and large: employ a defense so dominant that games can be won by allowing 13 points or fewer; meanwhile, control the ball offensively knowing that doing so might mean not scoring too many more than those same 13 points.

The concept is viable -- assuming this Cowboys defense is reminiscent of the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers. Or the 1985 Chicago Bears. Or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

We choose that trio of defenses because of our memories; that Pittsburgh team, that Bears team, that Ravens team, seem to our memory to have been incredibly dominant defensively.

And now we wonder whether the 2005 Cowboys defense is great enough to accomplish what they accomplished.

Some history from the fine seasons posted by those clubs:

  • The 1975 Steelers did it in nine of 14 regular-season games (including scores allowed of 0, 6, 9, 3, 13, 3, 9, 7 and 10) and then did again in the playoffs, giving up 10 to the Colts and 10 to the Raiders before allowing 17 to Dallas in a 21-17 Super Bowl win.

  • The 1985 Bears did it in 11 of 14 regular-season games (including scores allowed of 7, 10, 10, 7, 9, 10, 3, 0, 0, 10 and 6) and then did it again in the playoffs, giving up 0 to the Giants, 0 to the Rams and 10 to the Pats in a 46-10 Super Bowl win.

  • The 2000 Ravens did it 11 times in 16 regular-season games (including scores allowed of 0, 0, 0, 10, 10, 9, 7, 0, 7, 3 and 7) and then accomplished the four-pack in the postseason, giving up 3, 10, 3 and 7 respectively, including the 34-7 Super Bowl win over the Giants.

    Impressive. And again, can these Cowboys do that?

    There are signs of excellence here. Washington scored just 14. Oakland scored just 19. Philadelphia scored just 10. New York scored just 13. Seattle scored just 13.

    Impressive. ... but Steelers/Bears/Ravens impressive?

    We say that Parcells' over-reliance on this defense is causing QB Drew Bledsoe and the offensive to have to play virtually error-free. Plan on holding the opponent down, plan on edging past them, and one mistake can kill you. (Bledsoe. Interception. Setting up a game-losing field goal. In Seattle. A 13-10 loss. One mistake.)

    We also say that "planning'' on winning games 13-10 means precision in the kicking game. Parcells said as much on Monday, when he explained the release of kicker Jose Cortez by saying, "Anyone needs to have a reliable kicker in the NFL. It's just too many games that are too close."

    Well, yeah. ... of course, sometimes the games are close because conservatism makes them close.

    Nevertheless, if the kicking game is essential, and even more essential in today's NFL, and even more essential still if the plan is to win 13-10, um, why did Parcells order the dismissal of highly successful kicking coach Steve Hoffman, decide to employ a revolving door of long-snappers in place of reliable Jeff Robinson, and hand over this "needed'' role to a bunch of ordinary Joses, the latest being someone named Shaun Suisham? (Not that Shaun doesn't have skins on the wall: He was, after all, a second-team All-MAC selection his senior year at Bowling Green.)

    Another history lesson on what happens when you flirt with scoring just 10 points in a game:

    In the 45-year history of the Cowboys, Dallas has scored 10 or fewer points 118 times. It's a tremendous history, right? Featuring great defenses in every era, defenses capable of contending with Steelers/Bears/Ravens, right?

    The Cowboys' record in those 10-points-or-fewer games? It's 9-109. That's right. Flirt with 10 points, you win seven percent of the time.

    Unless, of course, you are the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers. Or the 1985 Chicago Bears. Or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

    Then you are Super Bowl champions, among the greatest of all time.

    Which begs the question: Is Bill Parcells justified in this approach because the 2005 Dallas Cowboys are destined to be Super Bowl champions, among the greatest of all time?

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