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Midseason Assessment -- Offense

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He's gonna party like it's 19-98....

How often can you find a Pro Bowl-caliber QB in the remainders bin? If you're Bill Parcells, the answer is twice. In 1998, he signed castoff Vinnie Testaverde as a backup QB and got lucky. The top pick of the '86 draft had shuffled through a pedestrian career at that point. He had never produced a QB rating over 90 and had led a team to the playoffs just once, that coming in '95 when he helmed Bill Belichick's Browns.

Testaverde became the starter in week three and was transformed by OC Dan Henning. By tightly scripting game plans around the things Vinnie did well and strictly avoiding those things he didn't, Henning turned Testaverde into an MVP contender. Vinnie finished his 12th season with a 101.6 QB rating. He outplayed John Elway in the AFC title game and had he not been let down by his fumble-plagued teammates, Testaverde might have won a title.

Fast forward to 2005. Parcells began the offseason renovation of his 6-10 Cowboys by signing Bledsoe, to a chorus of shrugs. Like Testaverde, Bledsoe was considered a has-been. His first 12 seasons had never produced a QB rating over 90 and he had not led a team to the playoffs since 1998. Buffalo considered him too immobile and mistake-prone and cast him off for second year prospect J.P. Losman. While Dallas fans considered Bledsoe an improvement over last year's group of QBs, there was not much enthusiasm for his game. Many worried that he would not survive the blitzes the Eagles would throw at him. His preseason work was not distinguished, though Parcells evoked Testaverde's transformation when he told the press, "we haven't started to game plan around what he does well yet."

What a difference eight games make. Like the Vinnie of '98, Bledsoe has been transformed by OC Sean Payton and QB coach David Lee. That miserable afternoon in Seattle aside, Bledsoe has kept his mistakes to a minimum. His 97.4 QB rating is tops in the NFC and fourth overall in the league. He and Terry Glenn are the primary reasons the Cowboys offense has risen into the top ten. Note the improvement over the previous three years:

2002, 30th overall, 109.6 yds/rush, 163 yds/pass, 13.6 pts/game;
2003, 15th overall, 124.9 yds/rush, 197 yds/pass, 18.1 pts/game;
2004, 14th overall, 110.0 yds/rush, 214 yds/pass, 18.3 pts/game;
2005, 7th overall, 122.0 yds/rush, 235 yds/pass, 22.6 pts/game;

The running game is not any better than the 2003 Cowboys. The Troy Hambrick Cowboys. But note how much better the passing game is. It's the primary reason scoring has jumped more than four points a game this year. Bledsoe has reversed the touchdown to interception ratios of his predecessors. Quincy Carter threw 17 TDs and 21 picks in the playoff year of '03. Testaverde went 17 and 20 last year. Bledsoe has 13 TDs and only six INTs as the halfway point. To give some perspective, Bledsoe's 97 rating, if maintained, would be the highest for a Cowboys' QB since the Super Bowl year of '95. What's more, Troy Aikman topped 97 only once in his storied career. That came in 1993, when he posted a 99 rating.

Bledsoe hasn't been perfect, but he's reminded our tired eyes of what good QB play looks like. For that reason, he's the Cowboys Blog's first half offensive MVP.

Notables:

Terry Glenn The Cowboys offense began to wheeze and cough after he was injured last year. Like Bledsoe, Glenn was forgotten by many outside the Cowboys Nation. Now healthy, he has shown the value of his deep speed. He's ranks fourth league-wide in receiving yards. His 18.9 yards-per-reception average is second only to Randy Moss'. Ask Charles Woodson, Shawn Springs and Lito Sheppard if the old guy can still run. He's beaten all of these former Pro Bowlers on bombs this year.

Jason Witten He was the unstoppable red zone player during camp. The coaches would sometimes play him with the second and third teams, to help Tony Romo and Drew Henson gain some confidence. But he's not a surprise anymore. Opponents have double- teamed him in every game this year. His increased pass blocking responsibilities have also cut his chances. Still, he's third among NFL tight ends in receiving yards, with only Antonio Gates and Jeremy Shockey topping him.

Keyshawn Johnson He's picked up the slack created by the Witten double teams. Johnson has five TD receptions, all coming in the red zone. He's the third member of a prototype three-headed passing attack:

Glenn: 36 receptions, 682 yards, 18.9 yd. average;
Witten: 35 receptions, 435 yards, 12.4 yd. average;
Johnson: 37 receptions, 430 yards, 11.6 yd. average;

Glenn stretches the defense and the bigger guys make hay running intermediate routes. Note the balance in receptions. Bledsoe is speading the ball evenly among the three.

Larry Allen The line is getting a lot of ink, but Allen isn't, which means he's doing something right. He's doing a lot of things right, actually. He's cut his mental errors down considerably and again shows the pulling skills that disappeared the last few years.

Patrick Crayton He was the fourth member of the receiving relay squad until he suffered an ugly sprained ankle against the Giants. His velcro hands and slinky-like moves made him a Bledsoe favorite on third downs. With Witten blocking more, Dallas has had fewer options throwing down the field since his injury, Peerless Price notwithstanding. Get well soon, Patrick.