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NFL Films “A Tale of Two Cities”: A 2-Part Look Into The Rivalry Of The Cowboys & 49ers

RJ Ochoa

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Cowboys Blog - NFL Films "A Tale of Two Cities": A 2-Part Look Into The Rivalry Of The Cowboys & 49ers

It would take more than 30,000 football fields to span the gap between Dallas, TX and San Francisco, CA. But all that distance and the disparate lives of each city’s citizens may have only served as a catalyst for what NFL Films Senior Producer Paul Camarata dubs the greatest rivalry in the NFL since the merger.

I’m talking about the gold standard of excellence throughout all of History – the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.

Practically half of NFL History belongs to this rivalry. A total of 41 Hall of Fame inductees made either Dallas or San Francisco home for at least part of their careers, but what else are those cities home to?

Dallas, TX

San Francisco, CA

The identity of Dallas has evolved quite a bit over time. From President Kennedy’s assassination and the bad reputation that followed on a national scale, to “Dallas” the tv show personifying a life of glitz and glamor for all those tuning in. And oh yea… the Dallas Cowboys won 5 Super Bowls. They’re no stranger to assassinations either. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were taken far too soon in 1978. The Band Played On when the AIDS virus appeared in the Bay Area in 1981. Amidst city-wide tragedies, the 49ers also have a hand full of Super Bowl rings.

 

Outside of football, the two cities couldn’t be any further apart. California is as blue as the Cowboys’ jerseys and Texas is as red as the Niners’ jerseys. Even still, the legacies of both teams seem to mimic each other throughout history.

Consider that 49 Super Bowls have been played to date and that 10 of those World Championships belong to this rivalry. Now consider that of those 10 Lombardi Trophies, half have been earned (3 for Dallas / 2 for San Francisco) after playing each other in the NFC Championship Game.

This is more than a rivalry. It is, in the words of Dr. Harry Edwards (49ers Special Consultant), “An ongoing intergenerational feud.”

Why is this important?

It’s important because the fantastic people over at NFL Films have started a new series that you can watch on NFL Network called The Timeline. This series is inspired by different moments throughout the great history of the National Football League.

Their first episode encapsulated the career, retirements, un-retirements, and football life of Brett Favre. It revolved primarily around Favre’s return to Lambeau Field and induction into their Hall of Fame… and the well-deserved retiring of his iconic #4 on Thanksgiving night, 2015.

How do you top ‘Ol Gunslinger? With the greatest rivalry since the merger, of course.

Their second episode, a two-parter titled “A Tale Of Two Cities,” delves into the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, including moments that mattered most to fans of the two franchises, whether political, cultural, or on the football field.

NFL Films Senior Producer Paul Camarata was gracious enough to take some time to discuss this film, an education of rivalry, NFL History, and what makes both football and films great.

Here’s my conversation with Paul.

RJ: What was the inspiration for “A Tale Of Two Cities”? Why this subject matter?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): I think that when we were looking for topics for the new series… we knew that A Football Life was our biography series. We’d done some conceptual shows (The Immaculate Reception, Cleveland ’95, Houston ’93) and we wanted The Timeline to sort of be inspired by those concepts and by moments rather than players and coaches.

The Timeline is a series that is going to be about the moments that changed history. This particular rivalry emerged as almost one big moment – there were so many individually great moments. We thought… what if we drew a circle around Cowboys/Niners? The whole exchange of personalities and events… it was almost like one singular moment.

It is in my opinion, the greatest rivalry since the merger. Once we went beyond the field that’s what really synched it. The cultural distinctions between the two cities and the evolution that they went over the main 25 year period (1970-1995)… it gave us this whole other rich backdrop.

The relationship that the football teams forged with each other kind of became like mile markers for the cities and the experiences that they were having. There was an antagonist within the other city and other team. The uniqueness, the epic nature of it, and again this notion of it being this enormous moment which is made up of singular moments enormous unto themselves is what drew us to it.


 

RJ: How do you begin to structure a story like this? With so many parallels to pop culture and political influence across multiple decades, what goes into building the story that you ultimately want to tell?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): In many cases what starts to emerge is that some of the intersections are obvious. Football sort of inspires something in the city that is completely off the field. You look at the context of what was going on around the football games here.

The Moscone/Milk assassinations… The notion that there was a Monday Night Football game played the same day as that, suddenly you look at that and you go, “Wow those two things are married in history.” In looking at the broadcast of the game you see the prism of people.

The Howard Cosell Open, the empty stadium seats… they lost the game and that is in some sense a metaphor for the city. The game and the success or failure of the 49ers at that moment were such a reflection of the cultural history of the city at that point. They just fit together in terms of telling the story.

You look at the Cowboys… everything was going so well in Dallas in the 70s. Everyone knew Dallas and the economy situation from Dallas the tv show. It became this world-renowned television show that put a spotlight on the city and kind of spotlighted glamor, wealth, and fame. It was through this prism of pop culture and it started the same year as the “America’s Team” nickname (1978).

You see this mirror and this metaphor and you start to track how the success of the team is relative to what’s going on in the city. The spirit of what’s going on in the city can be traced back to certain events whether they’re political, cultural, or sports related.

Look at the Nike commercial with Deion Sanders for example. Jerry signs Deion and it’s this huge news story because of the finances of football and how Jerry was able to make those moves. Then it becomes this huge national thing due to the Nike of it all. The cast of characters in the commercial (Deion, Jerry, Barry Switzer, Kevin Smith) are all in that commercial. There’s a cultural ripple that goes all the way back to Dallas the tv show.


 

RJ: In “A Tale Of Two Cities” Lawrence Ross compares the Cowboys/49ers rivalry to that of the Lakers and Celtics. Was there any inspiration from that rivalry or any other across sports?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): We saw pieces of a litany of great sports rivalries reflected in this rivalry. Cowboys/49ers encompasses all of those pieces in one.

In sports you have geographical rivalries (Packers and Bears), rivalries that are individually based (John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors), rivalries of longevity (think Kobe and Father Time), and rivalries that are culturally based (Yankees and Red Sox).

In the NFL the Cowboys/49ers rivalry has all of those elements. You’ve got geographical, cultural, political… Dr. Harry Edwards said it best in the episode. It’s an “ongoing intergenerational feud.”

You even have personality rivalries. Guys like Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, even Jerry Jones and Eddie DeBartolo.


 

RJ: It seems that throughout all of their battles that the 49ers wore their classic red uniforms while the Cowboys wore their classic whites. As a producer/filmmaker, does a detail like that add anything to the story? I’ve always felt that it’s added to the consistency of the rivalry in terms of what we’re used to seeing visually.

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Great observation! Haha.

It’s a bit of a happy accident. There’s a montage at the end where you see red and blue through the years. The players change but the colors stay the same. It adds this sense of contrast to it. Think about how in Civil War movies there’s always a blue side and a gray.

I remember when I was a kid… I liked GI Joe. GI Joe always shot blue and the Cobra shot red, haha. In this rivalry it’s always red and gold versus blue and silver.

There’s a moment in the film that we actually uncovered through the process of interviewing Jerry Jones where he talks about his Norman Rockwell painting. That whole idea personifies the visual contrast present in the rivalry.

News & Notes - NFL Films "A Tale of Two Cities": A 2-Part Look Into The Rivalry Of The Cowboys & 49ers

I have a Norman Rockwell painting… it’s called, “The Toss.” It’s his most famous football painting. And it has two football players there – one is named Jones. It’s in blue and the other is in red. Every time I look at it I see the 49ers and I see the Dallas Cowboys.” -Jerry Jones

It gives this visual continuity to it to where you could pick up any clip from any era and you would know immediately that the two sides are at odds.


 

RJ: Were there any specific players or coaches that you felt you had to get for the film? Obviously guys like Charles Haley and Deion Sanders played roles on both teams, was there anybody that was a must-have?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Deion, Haley, and Ken Norton are certainly huge characters in this story.

The thing that’s unique about all of these people is in building the framework… who were the people driving the story? When did they get there and when did they leave?

There’s Eddie DeBartolo, there’s Jerry Jones, there’s Deion getting into the fray and then switching sides. There’s Joe Montana getting hurt and Steve Young taking over. In terms of what we focused on we chose the players and coaches whose arrivals and departures catalyzed the rivalry the most.

For example, there’s Roger Staubach in the 1972 Divisional Playoff Game. Staubach changed that game. That’s a microcosm of one guy coming on the field and changing the course of the rivalry.

We saw that play out with individual games, whole seasons, whole eras in terms of the 90s. Things like that changed the direction of what the rivalry had been up until that point.


 

RJ: Is there anything that you took away from this project that you didn’t know about this historic rivalry? 

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): In terms of the 90s… I was a kid watching football. I remember those games and events, but I have a greater appreciation now because I can see that it was more than the guys that I was watching as a kid.

These are historical and colorful characters. There haven’t been many coaches since then like Jimmy Johnson. The same goes for Jerry Jones. Same for Eddie DeBartolo. Same for Barry Switzer.

I see it through the lens of time and distance… how incredibly both successful and colorful so many of these people were. You forget the notion of just how many incredible people were on the field at one time.

How many Hall of Famers were on the field for so many straight years against each other?

The Catch game itself… I would still see clips over the course of editing and just couldn’t believe it. It’s amazing how close it was to not even happening with where the ball was placed and how Montana barely gets it off.


 

RJ: Through putting “A Tale Of Two Cities” together, what would you say has been the most defining moment between the two teams?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): It’s gotta be The Catch.

The drama of that game, the drama of that play, the build up of the Cowboys torturing the 49ers…

It’s even the little things. The fact that Vin Scully was the play-by-play guy adds to the lore. The fact that Tom Brady is putting out photos from when he attended that game years later. 50 and 60-year old men are still debating whether Joe Montana was throwing it away. It’s incredible both in and out of the lives of athletics.

You could do a whole film on just The Catch in terms of the conduct of the actual game and how many turnovers there were. When you go back and listen to the play-by-play of that drive… all the language is geared around it almost like a boxing match.

The Cowboys are on the cusp of going back and the 49ers are constantly the upstart. The notion of them being this team coming out of nowhere… it’s fascinating to hear that there was a time when Joe Montana hadn’t done it yet.


 

RJ: What sort of influence does Steve Sabol still have on NFL Films and its productions?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): Steve… a lot of people in our department had the good fortune to work directly for him and have him look at our work and comment on it. It is because of that that we received an education in looking for stories and identifying them and figuring out ways to unfold them.

We’ve talked a lot about characters today… that’s because Steve tried to portray football as Hollywood portrayed fiction.

Because that was my education, I look for the characters, for the scene, for the conflict… that all comes from Steve Sabol.

Steve’s fingerprints are more than on these films. They wouldn’t exist without the passion that he had for documenting football as it was happening. So many things that we have… the B-roll of the Niners new facility that Jerry goes to visit with DeBartolo in the film, we could only do that because Steve’s Army was out there capturing it.

So much of the footage that Steve captured lets us relive those games and bring them back to life. So many interviews that were done off of the field really helped to capture a guy like Bill Walsh… who was unknowingly making history at the time. Those moments only exist in our library because of Steve’s passion for football.

A writer could study the Cowboys/49ers rivalry and write an incredible book, but because of what Steve captured we have all of this footage, sound, exteriors of stadiums and cities… those enable us to portray these cities off of the field and help us truly bring the story to life and allow us to share it with future generations.

Without Steve Sabol doing that, our films would not be what they are.


 

RJ: What would you say that you personally took away from this project? What are you most proud of?

Paul Camarata (NFL Films Senior Producer): For me the greatest thrill of every project that I’ve ever worked on here is… so for example this story starts about these two teams.

The joy of it all and the fun of it is the team that you’re on that’s making it. The producers here, the producers in Los Angeles… everyone pitches in so much. That’s the only way the film can be a success.

The privilege that I feel every day is to tell the stories of these other teams and other players with my team.

Something specific like that in terms of “A Tale Of Two Cities” is that we had dueling narrators. We liked the idea on paper and it was a challenge that I gave to the segment producers. At first it was a little bit uneasy… I didn’t know how to give them specific direction.

The guys embraced the challenge and did it fearlessly in sort of writing a different style. Two guys and two voices… linking them into characters unto themselves gave each team in the film an individual feel.


 

“A Tale of Two Cities” is a 2-part, 2-hour long film. The first part originally aired on Tuesday, December 15th and the conclusion airs this Saturday after the Cowboys play the Jets on Saturday Night Football. Also featured in the film are Jeremy Renner and Sam Elliott narrating as representatives of each fan base in San Francisco and Dallas, respectively.

For many young fans of the two teams, this rivalry is the sort of thing heard debated and analyzed by our fathers, uncles, and grandfathers. It’s almost fully disconnected from today’s NFL. But thanks to men like Steve Sabol and the wonderful team at NFL Films, this rivalry has never been more vivid than it is in this series.

It has been said that Steve Sabol was the “keeper of the flame” in terms of NFL History. It’s thanks to him, thanks to Sabol’s Army, and thanks to the incredible producers like Paul Camarata that we can re-live different moments across the timeline of it. I cannot thank Paul enough for sharing his time, knowledge, and enthusiasm. This film is fantastic in every way and it is because of the effort that he and his team put into it.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow night after the game to NFL Network. See how the success of one team existed only in opposition to the other from 1972 – 1996, the passion these guys felt every time they suited up for battle, and the years-later commentary by the veterans who actually lived through this war, this tale of two cities.

Tell us what you think about “NFL Films “A Tale of Two Cities”: A 2-Part Look Into The Rivalry Of The Cowboys & 49ers” in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

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I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

The Dallas Cowboys clearly had a specific role in mind for Ryan Switzer when they drafted him 133rd overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Come to find out, that role didn’t include being involved much on the offensive side of the ball, at least not as a rookie.

After watching the way the Cowboys utilized Ryan Switzer in 2017, it’s pretty obvious the sole purpose he was drafted was to improve the special-teams play in the return game.

They clearly didn’t envision him being a part of the game plan on offense, despite the continuous outcry from fans.

Like most rookies, Ryan Switzer didn’t really get off to a fast start, and took a while to get used to the speed of the NFL. But, once he calmed his nerves and regained his confidence, he proved to be an upgrade in the return game.

Switzer ended up ranking third in kickoff returns, averaging 25 yards per return in 2017 and 12th in punt returns with almost 9 yards per return.

He also became the first Dallas Cowboys player to return a punt for a touchdown since 2013. He accomplished this against the Washington Redskins, in Week 13 when he took an 83-yarder to the house.

Surprisingly enough, using Ryan Switzer solely as a return specialist wasn’t enough for a lot of Cowboys Nation. A lot of fans wanted to see his talents utilized more on the offensive side of the ball as well, but were only left disappointed.

Ryan Switzer

Dallas Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

Getting Switzer involved in the offensive game plan just wasn’t in the cards in 2017.

He only managed to catch six passes for 41 yards and rushed four times for 5 yards. This isn’t exactly what Cowboys fans envisioned after hearing Switzer was opening a lot eyes in training camp and organized team activities (OTAs). That was the main problem.

He was hyped up so much heading into the season that fans expected to see him involved much more on offense.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, had something else in mind, but I doubt that’s the case for the upcoming 2018 season.

I really think we’re going to see an increased role for Ryan Switzer next season.

The Cowboys coaching staff should have a much better understanding of his strengths and weaknesses now that he has a year in the system under his belt. And, they’ve seen firsthand how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands.

What the Cowboys coaching staff will have to determine this offseason is just how big of a role Switzer will have next year.

Should Switzer take Cole Beasley‘s job?

Cole Beasley, like the rest of the Cowboys receivers, had a down year in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that his job is safe, especially with someone like Ryan Switzer waiting in the wings. But, is Switzer ready to take over full-time?

Tough decisions will have to be made eventually, but such is life in the NFL.

Will Ryan Switzer see an increased offensive role in 2018?

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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