Aggressive Cowboys defense making things happen

Updated: October 15, 2003, 7:59 PM ET

IRVING, Texas -- When the outcome was still in doubt, the Dallas defense was still being aggressive. And it paid off -- quarterback sack, fumble, game over.

This isn't last year's defense that seemed to live by the "bend, don't break" philosophy. Yet, it's most of the same players with eight starters from last season.

"We're a little bit more aggressive. I'm seeing it moreso this year than in the past, especially in crucial situations," 12th-year safety Darren Woodson, the only remaining Cowboy with three Super Bowl rings, said Wednesday.

In Sunday's 23-21 win over Philadelphia, the Eagles started their final drive near midfield with a minute to go. Instead of being careful, the Cowboys blitzed three straight plays -- two incomplete passes, the first with Donovan McNabb under heavy pressure, before the game-clinching sack and fumble.

"We're not sitting back and waiting for them, for the offense to dictate what they are going to do to us," said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, who recovered the fumble. "We're attacking the line of scrimmage. ... That is an attitude change, and that's a mentality change."

Three blitzes in a row with the game on the line.

"It was a gutsy call," Woodson said. "You really have to have some confidence in your players to call it."

With four straight wins, the Cowboys (4-1) are feeling confident. They play Sunday at Detroit (1-4).

Dallas is second in the NFL, and leads the NFC, allowing just 259 yards per game. The Cowboys have five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Last season, Dallas lost seven games after leading or being tied in the fourth quarter and finished 5-11 for the third straight year. They opened this season with a 27-13 loss to Atlanta, which without quarterback Michael Vick clinched the game with a late 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 8{ minutes.

"From that point on, we've gotten a lot more aggressive and played better," Woodson said.

Coach Bill Parcells talks every week with fourth-year defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, one of only a handful of carryovers from the previous staff, about the philosophy of the defense.

"I've got to get a sense of a team, and I'm sensing the team likes to be aggressive now," Parcells said. "He knows I want some pressure defenses ready in the game."

Second-year safety Roy Williams keeps coming up with bone-crushing hits. NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith left in his return to Dallas with a broken shoulder blade after taking a hit from Williams.

The Cowboys are also being able to be aggressive because of the continued development of cornerbacks Terence Newman, this year's No. 1 draft pick, Mario Edwards and Pete Hunter. And they hope soon to get Derek Ross back from a knee injury.

"Some of it is a mindset. When we've got a team down, go for the throat," said Edwards, who in his fourth season is the second-oldest player in the secondary. "The coaches had to get comfortable in the corners before blitzing like this, like we wanted to do."

Game notes
TE Jason Witten (broken jaw), DT Daleroy Stewart (ankle) are listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Detroit. TE James Whalen (strained leg muscle), a key special teams player, is probable after missing last week, ... If Witten and Whalen are both available, it creates a problem for Parcells filling out his 45-man active game roster if he carries only four receivers. The coach would have to chose between speedy kick returners Zuriel Smith and Randal Williams, who had the game-opening onside kick return for a touchdown against Philadelphia.

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