IRVING (AP) — Nothing really looks different when Dallas Cowboys defenders get set for a play. Basically the same players from a year ago are lining up in the same spots.
Then the ball is snapped and it becomes very clear — this isn't Bill Parcells’ 3-4 defense anymore.
“Nah, it’s totally, totally different,” linebacker Bradie James said. “You see the smiles. I think you can see from our body language, we’re actually having fun.”
While the base formation hasn’t changed, new coach Wade Phillips brings an attacking philosophy with his 3-4 defense. Phillips adjusts the scheme to fit the players, freeing them to make plays instead of forcing them into set roles that can shackle them.
“You’ve got an opportunity to move around and run places and not have to worry about technique all the time,” Marcus Spears said. “You’re just trying to get in gaps, stunt and make plays.”
In their two preseason victories, the defensive starters didn’t allow a touchdown against Denver or Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.
Denver’s first-team offense went 0-for-5 on third-down conversions. Some Broncos even grumbled afterward that Dallas blitzed too much for a preseason game.
After the Cowboys’ first practice this week since beating Denver, the good-natured Phillips wasn’t even prompted when he joked that the team “decided to put in a blitz this week since we hadn’t had any.”
When asked Wednesday what differed about the “Phillips 3-4” from other three-man fronts, the grinning coach responded, “Beside being better?”
“It’s not really the scheme itself,” he said. “It’s always the players.”
Phillips said so many 3-4 defenses “play it only one way … and you have to plug in a player that can play that way. … Ours, we have the players and then we plug in saying this is what we’re going to do with the 3-4 because you can stunt, or you’re stronger, or you’re quicker or you can rush the passer.”
Spears and Chris Canty each had only one sack while starting on opposite ends last season. That’s because they were forced by Parcells’ system to read or react instead of attack and often got stuck at the line of scrimmage dealing with offensive tackles or tight ends.
“There’s a lot more opportunity,” Spears said. “You may not make a tackle, but if you’ve pushed your guard back or put the tackles three yards in the backfield and the running back has to bounce and somebody else tackles him for a loss, you’re pretty much affecting that play. That’s what this scheme is.”