I know that even after a victory there are those that are grumbling that the Cowboys are still 3-3, on the road to 8-8 and this is the "same old team". It is possible that this team will wind up at 8-8, but it should be pointed out that this is not the same old team. The players on this team are changing rapidly and meanwhile it is getting some monkeys off of its back.
Look at all the new faces
Most fans probably think of Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Bruce/Lee when they talk about exciting young players, but last night was a time for some really new guys to shine. The number of snaps from players picked up since the 2012 draft has been amazing. Some of these new guys are vets, but most are all solidly in their twenties.
First let’s recognize the rookie class. Travis Frederick, Joseph Randle, Terrance Williams, and JJ Wilcox were either outright starters, playing like starters, or thrust into a starting role. That still leaves out Escobar who has looked pretty darn good already, but inexeplicably disappeared this game. That is an unbelievable contribution from this class. I think when we add up the number of snaps played by the rookies, we might have a record year on our hands.
Then we’ve got the second year crew: Cole Beasely (our *gulp* leading reciever last night), Ronald Leary, Morris Claiborne, and Kyle Wilber. Obviously, Claiborne does not look like a 6th overall pick right now, but he is starting to improve his play. Overall, the 2012 draft in particular hasn’t looked good, but the unexpected contributions from Beasely and Leary means we continued to get an infusion of new talent. And who knows, maybe Wilber will start to shine now that injuries are clearing a path for him.
Now throw in the "no-name" rushmen: Rayford, Selvie, Nevis, and Hayden. These guys aren’t superstars, but they are playing with intensity. Late in the 4th quarter last night it looked like those guys all had motors.
Don't forget about the named free agent contributions of Brandon Carr and Brian Waters (the only greybeard of the bunch) and you see how important these new guys really are.
So that’s 15 new players over the last two years that aren’t just starting or playing significant snaps, but overall they are changing the nature of this team. And right below those players are still more up and coming players that look ready to contribute soon.
Now I know that some would still say something like, "yeah the faces are different but the results are the same". I beg to differ. If the performance from this year continues, we are going to get a number of monkeys off our backs. Let’s take a look at some seemingly age old problems that have defined these Cowboys for the past 3 years or so.
"Our offensive line is garbage"
I think it’s already been established that the offensive line has changed dramatically and most fans are pretty enamored with the results. This isn’t a big revelation in itself, but it’s important to list it in context because this has been a sore spot since the Cowboys got destroyed by the Vikings in the playoffs.
"We kill ourselves with penalties"
We actually had some dumb penalties last night, but overall after 6 games we have improved our ranking significantly. Here is where we’ve placed ( listed from highest number of penalties to lowest)
This is a team has started to get out of its own way. Yes penalties can still affect the game, but we are playing slightly better than the league average instead of being one of the worst.
"Our defense never gets turnovers"
It seemed like the Dallas Defense couldn’t buy a turnover last year. This year it seems like multi-turnover games are becoming expected. After being near the bottom in 2012 (30th), we are now slightly above average (13th). We’ve actually been pretty average before 2012, but I still expect us to climb into the top 10 when all is said and done this year.
"We never get our offense going fast enough"
This may be one of the early signatures of Callahan calling the plays. This year, the Dallas Offense has scored on its first possession in 5 out of 6 games. In 2012, Dallas scored on its first possession only 1 out of 6 times. Night and day, folks.
"The offense gets yards but can’t punch it in"
This year, your Dallas Cowboys are currently punching it in to the tune of 65.22%, good for 4th place in the league. In my book this is probably the single biggest contribution of Callahan.
The 2010 ranking was actually respectable, but ’09, ’11 and ’12 show that this really was a problem for a while.
Now, with all of that said, there is one sore spot that Dallas is still having problems with: the running game. There have been signs of hope with Murray having some good performances, but now that Murray’s hurt, it’s not really clear if the running game will improve over last years bottom of the barrel rankings.
Dallas is also experiencing new problems on defense with the attrition on the line. The "no-names" are performing suprisingly well, but they are dependent on getting that extra second or so from the secondary in order to actually get sacks. It looks like the Defensive line is experiencing what the offensive line went through a few years ago. It’s finally aged to the point of falling apart.
So while there are reasons we still only have three victories, this is a new team with more upside and a different identity. The biggest monkey of all right now is of course "8-8" and we don’t have solid evidence we are going to escape that yet.
However, our performance in some key statistical areas is convincing me that we will be able to get past that last hurdle. We are currently in 7th place in net points and 10th place in turnover differential.
Let’s look at net points in our division:
New York: -106
The record just isn’t enough to reflect the quality difference in teams just yet. The division and up to 4 more division victories are there for the taking. When you also consider that we’ve had two close losses to 6-0 quality teams, you can start to see how there is reason to believe we can break out of this funk.
I still think the arrow is pointing up for this team. A 10-6 record and the NFC East championship are within our grasp.