Cowboys 'flexing' muscles; retooled Steelers

The Dallas Cowboys' flex defense, with the help of some off-season adjustment by head coach Tom Landry, is back doing what it was designed to do - contain the run and stop the kind of passes that lead to scores.

Landry, who got his 200th career win against the previously unbeaten Washington Redskins last Sunday, is on the threshold of having Dallas (4-1) in the National Football League playoffs for the 16th time in the past 17 years. Some of the same people who criticized the Cowboys' flex alignment last year have now become imitators. The difference is that none of Landry's rivals can rush two linemen the quality of defensive end Ed (Too Tall) Jones and defensive tackle Randy White. Jones is 6 ft. 9 in. and 272 lbs; White 6-4 and 250.

Even though Landry is conservative by nature (he still wears button-down shirts and a hat to games), Tom sometimes allows his key players considerable latitude. The latest example of this occurred Sunday with Dallas leading by only seven points midway in the final period and quarterback Danny White (who also does the team's punting) back to kick on fourth down at his own 21. When White noticed that the Redskins weren't rushing but were actually drifting back to provide extra blocking for the would-be punt return, he decided to take off downfield instead. Seconds later Danny had gained 20 yards for a first down that gave the Cowboys possession of the football for another two minutes. Overall, White completed 21 of 29 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile the Cowboy defensive line recorded seven quarterback sacks. Resurgent Steelers; Allen of Raiders

The Pittsburgh Steelers, off to their best start since the last of their four Super Bowl appearances in 1979, seem to have reversed the age process that made this team look like one with a lot of mileage on it last season. While many of the familiar Steeler names still jump out at you - QB Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, cornerback Mel Blount - Pittsburgh coach Chuck Noll also has some talented kids. ''We're winning on balance and execution and because we have people who fit together as a team,'' Noll explained. ''Basically we haven't been doing anything special or different, although we don't always wait until we're in a blitzing situation to use our five-man pass rush.'' Bradshaw, who has never gotten the credit he deserves for reading defenses and then changing plays at the last minute at the line of scrimmage, still has one of the most powerful throwing arms in the game.

Some Heisman Trophy winners have been less than wonderful once they reached the National Football League. Explanations for this vary, but the most popular has to do with so many great college players being just half-a-step too slow for the pros. In recent years, however, such Heisman winners as George Rogers, Billy Sims, Earl Campbell, and Tony Dorsett have made it big as runners, and rookie Marcus Allen of the Los Angeles Raiders appears to be following in their cleat marks. Last week Allen carried 24 times for 126 yards as the Raiders defeated the improved Seattle Seahawks 28-23. His most important safari covered only six yards. It came with only 1:06 showing on the clock in a third and five situation with the ball on his own 8 yard line. Allen got the first down that allowed the Raiders to retain possession until time ran out. This was the first time Seattle had lost since Mike McCormack replaced Jack Patera as head coach and reinstalled Jim Zorn as the Seahawks quarterback. Big-play Packers; Bum and Saints

Although pro football generally has been slow to accept head coach Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers as anything more than an ordinary strategist, the Pack has now won 10 of 13 games going back to the midway point of last season. Green Bay beat Buffalo 33-21 on Sunday to move that much closer to a playoff berth. Starr, who was Green Bay's quarterback when the Packers won Super Bowls I and II under Vince Lombardi, has built himself a big-play offense. The key to that offense is QB Lynn Dickey throwing to wide receivers James Lofton and John Jefferson and tight end Paul Coffman, all of whom complement each other perfectly. Going into this season, Starr's overall record with Green Bay (39-65- 2) was the worst of any NFL coach fortunate enough to remain with the same team for seven years.

Head coach Bum Phillips of the New Orleans Saints says there are only eight places where a man can run with the football, and if you cover all those you can generally shut down the running game.Of course that still leaves you the job of stopping the other team's passing attack. In New Orleans's 13-10 loss last week to Tampa Bay, Buccaneers' QB Doug Williams was 15 for 24 against the Saints. Asked how he sleeps after a defeat, Bum told reporters: ''Like a baby - for about 2 1/2 hours.'' Phillips says he has never objected to his nickname of Bum ''as long as people don't start putting a You in front of it!''

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