It's amazing how many things there are to discuss after a game like we witnessed on Sunday afternoon between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills. When you consider what happened with the rest of the NFC East -- the Cowboys were the only team in the division to win yesterday -- then the meaning of what has happened with this team over the past few weeks becomes much more clear.
In fact, consider just the past six quarters as compared to the previous six, when a complete meltdown in Philadelphia carried over to a sloppy and nearly demoralizing first half against the hapless Seattle Seahawks. At halftime against Seattle, it almost seemed as if this season was on the brink of destruction and all of the optimism that existed in the hearts of Dallas Cowboys fans at the start of the season was quickly fading away to nothing.
Instead, the Cowboys come out of halftime last week like a different team with a new mentality. The frustration of seeing a team and a coach playing it safe no longer existed and suddenly the attacking offense that we came to love five years ago was back. This game against Buffalo was supposed to be tough, against a good team that was one of the best in the NFL on offense in the red zone and a team that was scoring over 30 points a game.
Instead, the Cowboys went right at the throat of the Bills from the moment the game began and never looked back, taking a 28-7 lead into halftime. It was perhaps the best half of football from this team and this quarterback since Garrett took over the offense in 2007 and Tony Romo enjoyed about as perfect a football game as you'll ever see from a quarterback.
After the jump, some more observations on the Cowboys offense as well as some musings on what it all means moving forward.
** There are three factors that directly tie into the success of this offense and the Cowboys in general over the past six quarters, that should have fans feeling great about this team moving through a relatively easy November schedule:
The health of Tony Romo. Romo was badly injured in the first half of the San Francisco game -- the second game of the season -- and suffered a severe rib injury bad enough that it was reported he also had a punctured lung. He left the game before putting himself back on the field to lead the Cowboys to a miraculous comeback against a team that is now 8-1 on the season.
Since that game, Romo has steadily been recovering from an injury that generally takes around six weeks to fully heal. Considering the fact that Romo was still starting at quarterback in the NFL while trying to heal a broken rib is all the more extraordinary and this game against Buffalo was the first time he's been fully healthy since the start of week two. For those counting, that's seven weeks since the injury first occurred - right on schedule.
Yesterday we witnessed a Tony Romo that once again wasn't afraid to step up in the pocket and fire the ball downfield and who also had the ability to easily escape the rush. Consider the fact that in the past two games the Cowboys have not allowed a sack, something that can also be attributed to the health of Romo and his mobility finally returning.
Consider this: Despite the struggles against Detroit and some other games earlier this season, Romo is on pace for an even better season than his franchise-record seasons of 2007 and 2009. He's back to the 8.1 yards-per-attempt average that he's enjoyed at the heights of his career and while the Detroit game will always haunt him, the bad decisions seem to have gone away -- at least for now.
The state of the Cowboys running game. DeMarco Murray has been an absolute revelation for the Cowboys. Taken in the third round by the Cowboys in April, fans hated the pick and there were many discussions about how the Cowboys didn't need another running back and if they did, Murray was far from the ideal choice.
Now, with Tashard Choice sitting on the bench in Washington and Felix Jones still injured, Murray is looking more and more like the franchise running back every team would love to have. He's a lot like Arian Foster in Houston, a nifty back with great speed who loves contact and has the ability to run between the tackles. Against Seattle, Murray once again showcased his best asset as a runner: his vision. Since taking over the full time running back position, Murray has broken several long runs by seeing holes that weren't there or cutting back against the play to hit the open field on the backside of the offensive line.
When a running back is running like he is, it not only opens up the passing game and benefits Romo it also gives more and more confidence to the offensive line. Look at the resurgence of Montrae Holland at left guard and the difference he's making in the running game and look at how the line overall is growing confidence game after game with Murray playing behind them.
Finally, we can't forget to credit Tony Fiammetta with how well the rushing attack is doing these past few weeks. Fiammetta is the true, explosive full back every running game desires and while he's not the biggest or hardest hitting fullback out there he is one of the smartest and most athletic. He has the speed to get to the edge and the intelligence to determine who needs to be blocked in the hole. It's all coming together into one stout and dangerous running game.
Jason Garrett's newfound confidence in his offense. Today, Bob Sturm of KTCK The Ticket made a great observation: since the playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings, when the Cowboys offensive line fell to pieces, this offense began to play it safe. The passing attack that was so dangerous four years ago was gone and instead the Cowboys were playing it safe while trying to hide the inefficiencies of a struggling offensive line.
This offseason the Cowboys decided to overhaul that line, going with a young and undersized line that lacked size and experience. We knew there was going to be growing pains and there were; the Cowboys offensive playcalling also reflected this as well.
For all the heat that Garrett has been taking about the playcalling in the red zone, we have to remember the line he was working with; in the red zone, it's much harder to hide the shortcoming of a line that can be pushed around physically and who can't just fire straight ahead on the goal line. He tried to get creative and the offensive execution was sorely lacking.
These past six quarters, Garrett has not only shown a confidence to punch the ball in from the goal line but the offensive line has shown the ability to execute the plays that were being called. The Cowboys have found some red zone chemistry between Romo and Laurent Robinson and DeMarco Murray has shown he has a nose for the end zone as well.
When you combine some success in the red zone -- still a lot of work to do there -- as well as an offense that is once again attacking down the field then you have a team that can be dangerous an put points on the board in a hurry, which then takes the pressure off a good defense under Rob Ryan.
** There's really not much break down about the offensive performance against the Bills specifically; the Cowboys flat out dominated the line of scrimmage and found getting the ball downfield was ridiculously easy. Romo was 11-of-11 for 179 and three touchdowns before he ever had an incompletion. DeMarco Murray alone almost matched the offensive production of the entire Bills offense.
What we saw yesterday was a team that knew exactly what it wanted to do and it executed that game play to perfection. They attacked over the top early and often and then closed out the game with a rushing attack that was nearly flawless in the second half.
** So what does it all mean? Nothing, if the Cowboys can't beat a horrible and reeling Redskins team next week, then follow that up with a win against Miami on Thanksgiving Day. This win was great -- and the 44-7 score impressive -- but at the end of the season it's just going to be another "W" on the schedule and will mean no more than other win this season.
What the Cowboys must do is focus on what worked and continue to improve on what didn't; while this was an impressive win it was far from a perfect game. The Cowboys once again faltered at times in the red zone and the defense flirted with the "bend but don't break" philosophy that could have gone a bit differently if it weren't for a few terrible throws by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Let's feel good about a great win but we have to remember that this is just one win in the middle of a very long season.