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Even though the Cowboys didn't manage to come away with the win against the Ravens, there were some performances that deserve to be recognized.
The Dallas Cowboys go to Baltimore and come up short in a close game. The loss to the Baltimore Ravens really hurts because the Cowboys looked very good in this game. Mistakes and mental errors weren't as prevalent as they were against the Chicago Bears, but the Cowboys did make some huge mistakes in this football game.
The New York Giants (4-2) now stand on top of the NFC East after going on the road and destroying the San Francisco 49ers. Then there are the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins sitting in front of the Cowboys at 3-3. The Cowboys are fortunate to only be a few games out of first place. In my opinion, this is still the hardest division in the NFL, and Dallas still has a chance to compete for the NFC East title.
It's been a difficult season for the Cowboys, but I wanted to take the time and reward some of the positives against the Ravens. Don't get me wrong, this was another heartbreaking loss, but the Cowboys did show that they can hang with an elite NFL team.
The Offensive Line
Wow, where was that all season long? The offensive line easily had their best game of the season and they did it against a very physical defense. The Ravens may not be what they used to be on defense, but the o-line played well. It's very hard to dominate a physical defense the way the Cowboys' offensive line did to the Ravens.
The running game hadn't had a profound impact on a game since the season-opener in New York. The pure physicality of the offensive line was really amazing to watch because we haven't seen this offensive line do that all this season.
Jason Garrett didn't implement the passing game into the running game (which was my silly suggestion). Instead of using more finesse techniques, Garrett went with a power running game. I've been extremely hard on Phil Costa during his entire career in Dallas. Costa easily had the best game of his career against the Ravens. His presence solidified the entire running game, but he was also able to protect Tony Romo.
I usually never blame officiating for a loss, but the Cowboys were on the receiving end of too many bad calls. Tyron Smith's two holding calls were a little ticky-tacky for me, otherwise Smith was dominant in this game. Doug Free also improved his blocking and was mentally and physically prepared. He still hasn't found his best game yet, but he may be back on the right track.
Improvements in the guard play had a lot to do with the success of the running game. Nate Livings looked dominating and powerful nearly the entire game. He managed to keep his balance and didn't get caught reaching or overextending. Mackenzy Bernadeau played his best game as a Dallas Cowboy. This is a big and powerful offensive line that is beginning to find their identity. If the Cowboys can block like this more often, then they will be a lot more dangerous offensively.
The Running Backs
With the offensive line dominating the Ravens on the line of scrimmage, the running backs were able to use their athleticism to run the football. The Cowboys ran the ball 42 time for 227 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. The successful ground game allowed the Cowboys to possess the football for over 40 minutes.
DeMarco Murray was well on his way to having a huge day statistically. It's really unfortunate that he was lost to an injury because Murray is a catalyst on the Cowboys' offense. Murray nearly had a 100-yard game in the first half. He rushed the ball 14 times, picking up 6.6 yards per carry and racking up 93 yards. We have all been waiting for a breakout game from DeMarco, and he was going to have that game had he stayed healthy.
Perhaps the most surprising performance of the game was the return of Felix Jones (18 carries for 92 yards). Felix hasn't looked the same so far in 2012. The acceleration and quickness vanished from his game, but Felix managed to find his former self against the Ravens.
Even Phillip Tanner (9 carries for 31 yards) and Lance Dunbar (1 carry for 11 yards) looked very good when they received an opportunity to make a play. With injuries to Murray and Jones, we may see more of Tanner and Dunbar. The Cowboys are very fortunate to have depth at the running back position with four very good running backs on their roster.
I will probably take some heat for rewarding Dez Bryant for his performance, but Bryant had a huge game for the Cowboys. We needed to see Dez respond in a big way after his controversial game against the Bears. Bryant was the wide receiver that the Cowboys wanted to get the football to in this game. It was clear that Tony Romo has not lost any trust in Bryant, and that is very important going forward.
Dez had a great game statistically (13 catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns) and he was involved in the game from the beginning to the end. Bryant is such a difficult receiver to bring down and his pure strength allowed him to break tackles and make plays that kept the Cowboys in the game.
The fade pattern and back shoulder throw to Bryant are nearly impossible to stop, unless Dez drops it. Unfortunately for Bryant and the Cowboys, that is the play that people will talk about and remember.
Up until that point, Dez played an outstanding football game. Let's not forget the positives that Bryant had yesterday because he is making progress. This performance shows that Bryant can dominate a football game and be a #1 wide receiver. The talent is there, he just needs to continue getting the mental aspect of the game down pat.