October 22, 2014
Dave Brown serves as a special contributor to CHANNEL 5 Sports and produces his Overtime blogs on a regular basis for www.krgv.com/sports.
It has taken the Dallas Cowboys less than half of the current NFL season to make me look fairly foolish. Before the season started, I wrote in this space that fans wouldn't have to worry about a fourth consecutive 8-and-8 season. I declared the Cowboys wouldn't win five games because of a terrible defense, the NFL's worst a year ago, that had been depleted even further through injury and free agent losses, with little in the way of added improvement. Fans of the team don't have to be told that last Sunday's win over the Giants improved Dallas to an impressive 6-and-1 record. I don't have to be told either. Six will always be greater than five, so that's one more prediction down the drain.
If this team finishes 8-and-8 after this start, it will be a really gloomy holday season in Texas. It might be even gloomier than all of the recent seasons that this team has missed the playoffs. The expectations are huge now with a six-game winning streak that includes the skin of the defending Super Bowl champs on their noisy and raucous home field. Beating Seattle on the west coast may have been a season changer. If the Cowboys have a special year, we may all look back and say the win over the Seahawks was the turning point that ignited the franchise.
Lots of observers, especially those outside of Texas, have been surprised by the quick and successful start of this team. They saw many of the same flaws that I did. Besides the defense, there were questions about head coach Jason Garrett. And if you don't believe that to be true, remember that on pre-season Las Vegas betting lines, Garrett was the favorite as the first head coach to be fired in 2014. Most believed that both he and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, devotees of the pass first, run once in a while offense, would not be able to play to the team's strengths as constructed.
The Cowboys have a huge draft day investment in a quality offensive line. It makes sense that the blockers have been assembled to protect 34-year old quarterback Tony Romo. These same blockers have also proved to be effective in opening running lanes for DeMarco Murray and the other Dallas running backs. Murray has put himself in the record book by recording seven consecutive 100-yard rushing games. When the running game works (think back to the days of Emmitt Smith) pressure is taken off the quarterback to make plays.
Only so far, the running game has allowed Romo to be brilliant when he needs to be. No one has been harder on Romo than I have. This is a fact. The Cowboys' third down conversion rate leads the NFL at around 58 percent this season. That extends drives, and keeps a defense that, while slightly better than last year, is actually much the same, on the sidelines. The fewer plays the Dallas defense is on the field, the fewer times it gets torched.
Romo is a playmaker. So is Murray. Jason Witten. Dez Bryant has been spectacular, and led a group of emerging wide receivers in the right direction. Dan Bailey has only missed one field goal all season. It was a 53-yard attempt at the end of the Houston game. Dallas is scoring the points as expected, and by controlling the time of possession, keeping an inspired defense fresher for the times it is asked to perform.
So what could go wrong? Injuries, obviously. Murray is on pace for more carries in an NFL season than any back in the history of the game. There is still more than half of the season to be played. The win over the Giants was the first of six divisional games. The Cowboys still haven't seen the Eagles. Dallas, being Dallas, could stray from the game plan that has worked so well so far. However, contrary to popular opinion in the pre-season, your Dallas Cowboys are relevant in the NFL again. That's really all that matters to owner Jerry Jones.more »