At least somewhat surprisingly, the Cowboys sit alone atop the NFC East at 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. Overcoming a sluggish 2-2 start in what appeared to be heading for another disappointing season, the Cowboys reeled off their 4th straight victory, the last 3 of which were impressive in every facet of the game and included wins over the Falcons and Eagles, two playoff teams from a year ago which certainly have eyes on the post-season again this year.
With another potential December swoon looming (especially with 3 out of 4 in December on the road before finishing with Philly at home), it’s good to know that the Cowboys likely only have to play .500 ball during the second half to end at 10-6. It might even be good enough to host a game at the new stadium. Now, wouldn’t that make Jerry happy.
4-4 in the second half is definitely realistic with the lowly Redskins twice and the putrid Raiders on Thanksgiving. Given the state of Green Bay’s line, the Cowboys should roll even at Lambeau, making it a 7-game win streak and a 9-2 start heading into the Meadowlands on December 6. The Giants recent performance and narrow victory earlier this year despite an awful game by the Cowboys make it an imminently winnable game as well, and nothing should worry this team about a mediocre Chargers club at Cowboys stadium despite the fact that Norv always seems to have San Diego streaking into the play-offs in December. With another game against Philly at home, is not inconceivable that Dallas’s finishes at 13-3, assuming they lose to the Saints in New Orleans.
The light has seemed to go on for this team over the last 4 weeks, but there is still more work to do. There is no doubt the Cowboys can improve in the second half, so let’s go Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down for the season to date (other than the stadium of course):
1. More & Less Romo: Maybe turning his cap around has finally made it click for Romo. Maybe he used some of his big pay check to feng shui his house, thus balancing his chi. I don’t know what it is, but I hope it continues. He finally seems to have re-discovered his Jedi nature but has also managed to limit his mistakes and, most importantly, virtually eliminate his killer turnovers. Perhaps even better, he seems to be having fun again. That’s certainly a lot better than the guy who appears to want a pro golf career better than a pro football one, and he is reminding us again of the first year starter that got us so excited as the Cowboys roared to an NFC best 13-3. If this is the real Tony Romo, then this team can challenge regularly for NFC supremacy and a Super Bowl crown.
2. He Can Run for Miles: Training camp had us hear everything about Miles Austin from he is pushing Crayton for a starting job to he is the fourth WR behind Sam Hurd. His combination of size and speed always had coaches intrigued, but injuries and inconsistency seemed to keep him relegated to special teams. Finally given the opportunity with Roy Williams out with injured ribs, Austin exploded against the Chiefs and hasn’t looked back, setting records along the way. His 7 TD’s tie him for the NFL lead among WR, and he is top 10 in receiving yards. Those are the kind of statistics that will help land him in the Pro Bowl and lead a lucky few to fantasy football championships. The Cowboys may finally have found their first homegrown #1 WR since Irvin. Now, they just have to re-sign him in the off-season.
3. Finally, a Ballhawking Corner: I had my doubts about Mike Jenkins, and for most of his early career, he has seemed to be more bravado than performance, often outplayed by draft mate Orlando Scandrick. However, since entering the starting line-up, he has consistently shown improvement and seems to have a knack for the ball we haven’t really seen on this club since pre-Achilles Kevin Smith. His 3 interceptions leads the team and he is consistently in the right place at the right time. Maybe the Cowboys finally have the shut down corner they though they had when they took an already 25-year old Terrance Newman with the fifth pick in 2003.
4. Don’t Worry, It’s Kosier: The offensive line, and particularly Flozell Adams, continues to be plagued by penalties, but for the most part, the unit has been extremely solid and, at times, dominating. Leading the charge has been left guard Kyle Kosier, who has been an absolute beast, especially at run blocking. He likely won’t get it over Steve Hutchinson but he deserves to get the starting Pro Bowl nod. I failed to realize how much of an impact his injury had on last year’s squad until watching him dominate through the first half this year and provide the glue for what is often a mistake-prone group.
5. D’Ware Gets D’Money: I was worried as he made it through the first five games without registering a sack, apparently slowed by a stress fracture in his foot. Although not always as obviously dominating as last year, I think he has actually improved against the run and seems to be around the ball at the line of scrimmage. His continued development as an elite all-around linebacker has been critical for a defense littered with former first rounders to finally start playing up to its potential. Say what you will, but Jerry is a loyal guy and is not afraid to spend his money. I am glad he has rewarded one of the best defensive players in the game with a new contract, all but assuring he will spend his entire career as a Cowboy and become the first defensive player since Cliff Harris and the first linebacker since Lee Roy Jordan to make the Ring of Honor.
1. Double Tight Failure: During the pre-season, we were led to believe that this team would consistently create mismatch problems with its two very talented TE’s, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. Bennett was even touted as a potential fantasy football sleeper. So far, this really hasn’t materialized. Bennett has largely disappeared from the offense. Witten is still a stud, but the years of blocking and punishing hits on LB’s and DB’s may have finally caught up with him. He is still Romo’s favorite target, but he just looks a step slow to me and remarkably only has one TD on the season.
2. Not this Roy Williams Too: There must be something about being named Roy Williams that has you disappoint Cowboys fans. I am not as disenchanted with him as many people I know. Some of that may because I am also a UT grad and have fond memories of him from college, but I have also been impressed with the way he seems to play hard every down and is probably the best blocking WR on the team. What he is not and has never been is a great route-runner. Despite his size, he doesn’t seem to impose his will on CB’s to regularly put himself in position to make a catch ala Michael Irvin. I am not saying he should be Irvin, but, after a year in the offense which included training camp and multiple OTA’s where we heard he and Romo were working tirelessly together, there is no longer an excuse for not being on the same page. If Miles Austin is going to continue to perform at the level we have seen over the last 4 weeks, Roy may not have to play up to his #1 WR contract, but he is definitely going to have to be a better #2, certainly better than the kind of #2 we have in Patrick Crayton.
3. Surprise, He Might Still Be Here: Smart money would have bet this would be Wade Phillips’s last year as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. This is the last year of his contract, and he is often seemed out-coached and his team ill-prepared and undisciplined during his tenure. But something funny may have happened on the way to the Sonic for the brown bag special: Wade the DC has the defense dramatically improved and playing better, and the team seems to have responded to Wade the head coach since the stinker at Kansas City and the bye week. I think Jerry genuinely likes Wade coaching the Cowboys so if Wade wins a playoff game, he is quite likely to bring him back. That may be the case even if Wade merely wins the division or makes the play-offs. That might be bad news for those of you who want Wade gone, but great news for those of us who can’t wait for the fake Wade and Jerry show on The Ticket every Monday morning.
4. Scratch the Cat: Notwithstanding the play of Miles Austin, Felix Jones is the Cowboys most electrifying player and its biggest homerun threat. Alas, he has yet again missed time to injury. Despite his many talents, he still seems under-utilized by Garrett, and, for some reason, local media questioned using him on kick-off returns. He may average close to 9 yards a carry, but he still only has 1 TD on the season. Ultimately, this team needs more of and from him.
5. Bobby the Bird Man: Ok, this is a bit of a cheap shot, but I don’t care. I really just don’t like Bobby Carpenter. Watching him flap his arms up and down to try and pump up the crowd during the first two home games drove me crazy. If that wasn’t enough, he actually also did it in against Kansas City, which was on the road. He has shown flashes of mediocrity during his 4 year career but not much else. His sack against Seattle was the best play he has made as a Cowboy since his efforts in the playoff game against Seattle as a rookie. Sadly, after it was over, we had to watch him bounce up and down in celebratory high fives with his teammates. It was like watching the end of the bench or special ed kid in high school who finally got to play at the end of a blow out game but without any of the attendant inspiration. The most I can say is that for the most part, I didn’t notice him in Eagles game, which is, perhaps, a step in the right direction. Maybe he if finally taking my open letter to heart