While the Cleveland Browns won't be confused with a dynasty anytime soon, they came to Dallas and gave the Cowboys one heck of a fight. The Browns have competed well in a lot of games this season and had they closed out some of those games, they would be sitting with a much better record than 2-8.
After the Cowboys looked dead in the water just a few weeks go, they have managed to fight their way back to 5-5. With the New York Giants allowing the rest of the NFC East a chance at winning the division, the Cowboys now find themselves only one game out of first place.
The game on Sunday was basically the Cowboys' season. Get used to that feeling because every game for the rest of the season is going to have that must-win vibe for the Cowboys. During halftime, it looked doubtful that the Cowboys could pull out a win, but despite their struggles on the offensive line, the Cowboys managed to grab a victory. As usual after a win, let's take a closer look at the individual performances that deserve some recognition.
Dez has the talent to become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. During his three-year career, we have watched him give us flashes of brilliance, but he has also had his fair share of blunders. The mistakes have hindered Bryant from entering the elite category.
Against the Browns, Bryant had one of the best performances of his brief career. 12 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown are very good numbers, but an under thrown pass by Tony Romo and an early whistle early where Dez broke through a gang tackle prevented him from having even loftier statistics. The 145 yards were a career-high for Bryant, but that wasn't the most important stat of the day. Dez has been criticized for his failure to perform in the second half. As rabblerousr pointed out, Dez did most of his damage in the second half.
Outside of the reception where he ran out of bounds a yard short, Dez had a nearly flawless game. That was the only miscue on the afternoon for #88. With Joe Haden out, the Browns attempted to cover Bryant with a combination of Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown. Skrine was consistently beaten all afternoon and he even got away with a few more penalties that didn't get called. The biggest play of the day for Bryant once again came in crunch time. Romo connected with Dez on a perfectly executed 30-yard touchdown pass with just 6:46 remaining in the game.
Dez looked like the dominating player that the Cowboys thought they were getting back in the 2010 NFL Draft. Make no mistake about it, he is going to be a key piece in the success or failure of this team. Right now, he is on pace for a big season statistically. If he keeps it up, we could be talking about him by the end of the season as one of the elite wide receivers in the league.
I feel like I say this in every win, but Romo could get a game ball every single week. Right now, the Cowboys aren't clicking offensively. They aren't firing on all cylinders and continue to find themselves out of rhythm for the entire first half of games. In my opinion, blame most of it on the lack of talent on the offensive line, but also blame some of the coaching by Jason Garrett.
We really cannot run the ball effectively and consistently. The Cowboys have shown in spurts that they could be run the ball well, but for the most part the running game has been abysmal. Once Garrett abandons the run and goes to a spread shotgun, the Cowboys find success and get into a rhythm. Obviously we still want to run the ball, but the up-tempo offense has shown to be successful for the Cowboys the past few weeks.
Romo also became more dangerous when Garrett dialed back the deep routes and went to quicker passing routes. While the offensive line allowed Romo to be sacked a career-high seven times, we never saw Romo cave in and give in to the frustration that he was feeling. Was he frustrated? Obviously Tony wasn't happy about the play of his line, but he stood in there and gave this team a chance to win.
Losing Tyron Smith to an ankle sprain is going to be one of the biggest obstacles that the Cowboys face going forward. Smith has committed a lot of penalties this season, but this is just his second season in the NFL. Also consider that he is learning a completely new position at left tackle. Smith is the best lineman the Cowboys have, so his loss was a big one, but in comes Jeremy Parnell.
Parnell was converted basketball player who played just a few games for Ole Miss on the defensive line. The New Orleans Saints signed him in as an UDFA, but the Cowboys were the team who saw his talent and brought him in to be developed. Big kudos to the scouting department on this find. Even if Parnell never amounts into a quality starter, at worst he can be a backup swing tackle.
Left tackle is one of the hardest positions in all of sports. When his number was called, Parnell was the next man up. He had some troubles when he first arrived into the game, but settled down and gave the Cowboys a decent performance at a very hard position. If Smith can come back soon, I would seriously consider taking Doug Free out of the lineup and inserting Parnell at right tackle.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Spencer