Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys won another close game that was full of dramatics. Let's take a closer look and reward the individuals who impacted the outcome of the dramatic win.
Jason Garrett began to change the culture immediately when he was announced as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Some managed to make fun and criticize Garrett's style, but after everything this team has been through Garrett has silenced many of his critics. He has brought a fundamental change to the entire organization and the results are finally starting to show up on the field.
No offense to Wade Phillips, but he never would have won the last two games as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It's hard to have a lot of confidence in the Cowboys because of all of the injuries and lack of talent on the offensive line, but they just find ways to win games. Great football teams overcome adversity, they just get it done when it matters most. The Cowboys may not be a great team yet, but they are on the right path.
I have been attempting to narrow down the individual game balls to three players, but you could really hand out game balls to multiple players. Alex Albright was all over the field. Every single time #55 was out there, he made a contribution. Anthony Spencer continues to prove me and a lot of other people wrong. Dez Bryant didn't have his best game, but once again he delivered a touchdown in the clutch. DeMarco Murray's running has brought a complete change to the offense.
This was a team win, but a lot of players contributed to this win.
If Romo weren't the starting quarterback, I doubt the Cowboys could win five games. He is easily the most valuable player on the team and he continues to show that he is a great quarterback. I understand the Steelers were missing players in the secondary, but so are the Cowboys.
Romo was pretty much flawless against the Steelers. He took his chances, but he didn't force anything that wasn't there. Phil Simms pointed out during the broadcast of how accurate Romo is. Romo was deadly accurate in this game and he was nearly perfect on every throw. When Romo plays that type of game, he is going to be very hard to stop.
Give a lot of credit to the offensive line. Romo had to scramble for his life on a few plays, but for the most part Tony had time to throw the ball. It was a big difference from last week where the Bengals smacked him around for nearly the entire game. Our wide receivers and tight ends were allowed to run deeper routes. Against the Bengals, we really couldn't run deep passing routes because the pass protection broke down too fast.
Romo threw for 341 yards, two touchdowns and completed over 71 percent of his passes against the #1 rated defense in the NFL. If that isn't a good day, then I don't know what is. The priorities for the Cowboys in the upcoming offseason should be clearer than ever. Jerry Jones needs to give Romo his money and more talent on the offensive line.
I really debated back and forth on this game ball. Part of me wanted to give this one to Dez Bryant, but we all know how good Bryant is. It just felt right acknowledging Harris' contribution against the Steelers. Harris has gone from an afterthought to the future as the #3 wide receiver. The Cowboys may have got a steal in their 2011 sixth-round pick, he just needed a year to mature as a football player.
During his rookie season, Harris was just too raw and out of shape to make any contributions for the Cowboys. After a year of working on his body and route running, Harris has developed into a reliable receiver. Romo targeted Harris just four times, but Harris caught all four passes for 46 yards. Harris is a shifty wide receiver that can make people miss. He continues to make the most out of his limited opportunities, but he is gaining Romo's trust.
Harris' impact on the punt return unit has been a huge upgrade as well. Bryant is superior to Harris in just about every physical aspect, but Harris is the better punt returner. He's safer with the football and makes better decisions. Harris fielded a punt with just under a minute remaining and took it back 39 yards. Had the Cowboys moved the ball into Dan Bailey's range, the game-winning field goal would have been set up by Harris' big return.
Kevin Ogletree may have received more snaps, but Harris is going to be taking his job in 2013. The investment on the wide receiver from Eastern Carolina University is beginning to pay off.
In the offseason it came down to Cortland Finnegan or Brandon Carr. The Cowboys chose to go with the younger cornerback and that decision is looking like a great strategic move by the front office. Carr may not have had the big statistical season many were expecting, but he has shown us flashes of what he can do for us when he is playing at his best.
With so many injuries on the defense, Rob Ryan has had to turn away from running press coverage. Earlier in the season, Ryan was dialing up press coverage across the board and his cornerbacks were locking down the wide receivers to a point where nobody could really pass on them. We saw this until Barry Church was lost for the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After the Cowboys lost Church, the cornerbacks couldn't be effectively used in man-to-man coverage.
Carr is at his best in press, but he is effectively beginning to learn how to play zone and press-bail coverage. His decision making is aggressive and he is perfecting his breaks on the ball at just the right time. Carr did it last week when he was covering A.J. Green, and this week he did it against Mike Wallace. Carr read what Ben Roethlisberger was doing, but he really didn't have to jump the route because the pass was thrown behind Wallace.
When you make a throw like that, it better go to the outside shoulder. As a quarterback, you're supposed to use the sideline as a buffer against the cornerback. If it goes too far inside, the cornerback will have a great opportunity to dive and intercept the pass. That's exactly what Carr did and his 36-yard return set the Cowboys up for the game-winning field goal. Carr continues to play his best football, exactly at the right time.