What's this? Tom Landry, Mr. Cool of pro coaching, communicating with his Dallas Cowboys? Landry often unknowingly has intimidated his players, but he tried to create a "together" atmosphere in camp this summer by encouraging his athletes to talk to him and to each other. That may be what's needed to push the talented Cowboys past the Redskins, a team built on communication and togetherness.
Those clubs are the class of the NFC East. Each has had contract and drug problems, the major internal woes in the league these days. If both have trouble handling those distractions, the New York Giants could sneak into the race.
A year has made a stunning difference in the Redskin-Cowboy rivalry. Now that Washington is the Super Bowl champion, Dallas must prove it is a better team. The Redskins know they aren't invincible, but they are much more efficient than Dallas, which made too many turnovers during an 8-4 season to play up to its capabilities.
Danny White remains Dallas' starting quarterback, but Gary Hogeboom is more gifted. Tony Dorsett, a talented group of receivers and a solid offensive line are the Cowboys' strengths. Their front four is growing old (all are 30 and over) and the linebacking hardly is sensational. Everson Walls makes the secondary a cut above most others.
Yet the key to the Cowboys could be Landry's attempt to veer away from the computer-cold approach of the past. The talent always has been there; perhaps a bit more informality around the locker room and less complacency will end their streak of three defeats in NFC title games.
There are several NFL teams this year with quarterback duels. The Giants (Scott Brunner and Phil Simms) have one of the most publicized. It's crucial to the team's future that whoever starts plays exceptionally well. Otherwise, the Giants (4-5) will be hurt by a so-so offensive line and nonthreatening receivers. Under new Coach Bill Parcells, a defensive specialist, the defense should be top-notch, unless all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor lets down.
Keep an eye on St. Louis. Under Jim Hanifan, the Cardinals (5-5) have improved steadily and quietly. There is more stability in the front office and adding end Al Baker will help the pass rush. Much depends on the development of quarterback Neil Lomax, who was kept under tight reins last season, his first as a starter.
You might want to watch Philadelphia, too, as the Eagles (3-6) continue their descent from a 1980 Super Bowl team to an also-ran. Marion Campbell, a quality defensive coordinator, failed as head coach at Atlanta; he won't be any more successful as Dick Vermeil's replacement this year.