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Up, Down or Sideways

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We're still clinging to hope here at Cowboys' Blog, but it seems some Metroplex scribes have thrown in the towel, with Randy Galloway opining that this team "is simply not good enough."

Not good enough to do what, precisely? Win a Super Bowl? That's not news. Make the playoffs? That remains to be seen. The reality today has the team at 8-6, two games better than last year with two games left to play. A reversal of recent fortune could put them at 10-6, the equal of the 2003 team.

Are they in fact the equal of 2003, better, or perish the thought, worse? I found a tape of the Cowboys regular season win over the Panthers from '03, a win that put them at 8-3, their high water mark for the season. I watched a little to see how much or how little Bill Parcells has improved the team.

Offense:

Backfield
2003: QB -- Quincy Carter; FB -- Richie Anderson; RB -- Troy Hambrick/Aveion Cason
2005: QB -- Drew Bledsoe; FB -- Lousaka Polite; RBs -- Julius Jones/Marion Barber

Big edge for the current team. Say what you will about Bledsoe, but he can throw anywhere on the field. Carter's game was an outside-the-yard-markers game: he had poor accuracy on crossing routes, seam routes and most anything in the middle of the field. At fullback, I'll give an edge to Anderson, who could run much better, catch much better and blocked no worse than Polite. At RB, give me today's team. I'll leave it to the posters to debate the virtues of Marion vs. Julius. Both are better than Troy Hambrick, whom Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman once described as a back who could go half a season without making a cut.

Receivers
2003: SE -- Terry Glenn; FL -- Joey Galloway; Slot -- Antonio Bryant;
2003: SE -- Terry Glenn; FL -- Keyshawn Johnson; Slot -- Patrick Crayton;

The '03 unit was a track team, but it was not a unit that liked going over the middle. It's skills completmented Quincy Carter well, however. They ran deep routes and out patterns effectively, which played to Q's strenghts.

Keyshawn has proven to be a fine completment to Jason Witten in the red zone, adding a dimension the '03 unit lacked. Crayton is producing, in catches and yards-per-reception average, as well was Bryant did in '03 with none of the drama. Edge to '05.

Tight ends
'03: Jason Witten, Dan Campbell;
'05: Jason Witten, Dan Campbell;

In the Carolina game, Campbell was still the starter, with Witten coming off the bench. This may have been due to Witten's mid-season broken jaw. Witten's better now, but Campbell, who had a serious foot injury in '04, is slower. I'll call it a wash.

Offensive line
'03: LT - Flozell Adams; LG - Larry Allen; C - Matt Lehr; RG - Andre Gurode RT- Kurt Vollers;
'05: LT - Torrin Tucker; LG - Larry Allen; C - Al Johnson; RG - Marco Rivera; RT - Rob Petitti;

The '03 team had a left side, barely. Adams was good but Allen had limped through the season with poor conditioning. His legs were shot, which made him suspect on passing downs. Lehr had trouble with big nose tackles. Gurode was an enigma; he had talent, but could not get it going, like a truck with a powerful engine and lousy transmission. Vollers was a band-aid, who could pass block serviceably.

When Adams was healthy, the '05 line was better, since Allen is in much better condition this year. Without him, this unit is worse than the '03 model. Johnson run blocks a little better than Lehr, but has the same problem -- handling big nose tackles. Rivera hasn't been any better than Gurode. His technique is better, but his mental mistakes and holding penalties are unacceptable from a big-ticket vet. And he may have a bad back to boot. Petitti may have a better future than Vollers, but his present is worse.

With Flozell, '05 would have a slight edge. Because he's hurt, '03 gets the nod.

Overall: The current team is much better at the skill positions. It has more youth, depth and better balance. It could still use a fullback and either a good young TE or WR. Of the line, I've said it before and will repeat it here -- Parcells biggest failing has been his inability to fix the right side of this unit in three years. He'll get another chance soon.

Defense:
DEs, '03: Ebenezer Ekuban, Greg Ellis, Erik Ogbogu, Kenyon Coleman
DEs, '05: Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Greg Ellis, Kenyon Coleman,

DTs, '03: LaRoi Glover, Willie Blade, Daleroy Stewart, Leonardo Carson
NTs, '05: LaRoi Glover, Jason Ferguson, Jay Ratliff (IR), Thomas Johnson

The '05ers win hands down. There is more depth, youth and talent here. The '03 team had a rotation, but it was merely to keep Glover and Ellis fresh. Those two were it on that team. If they didn't provide a rush heavy blitzes were needed to build pressure.

LBs, '03: Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen, Al Singleton;
LBs, '05: Demarcus Ware, Scott Shanle, Bradie James, Scott Fujita;

It's a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, since the '03 was strictly a 4-3 unit and the '05 mostly a 3-4. When the '05 unit had Singleton and Nguyen healthy, it was a decent group. I'm giving the nod to '03, since they were a smart, veteran group who stayed together all year and didn't make many mistakes. On the other hand, the '05 unit has bigger holes, but more upside with Ware and James, who is playing better -- and bigger -- now than anybody in '03.

CBs, '03: Terence Newman, Mario Edwards, Derek Ross, Pete Hunter;
CBs, '05: Terence Newman, Anthony Henry, Aaron Glenn, Jacques Reeves;

A slam dunk for the '05 group. When healthy, Newman, Henry and Glenn have shut teams down. Reeves is still learning, but has had his moments. He's better than either Ross or Hunter. The current team is better at every rank four deep.

Safeties
'03: SS -- Roy Williams; FS -- Darren Woodson; backups -- Tony Dixon, Lynn Scott;
'05: SS -- Roy Williams; FS -- Keith Davis; backups -- Willie Pile

The '03 unit gets the nod, since there is nobody on this year's model who can add what Woodson did. Overall, however, Parcells has upgraded this unit tremendously in the offseason, adding Henry and Glenn. The current Cowboys can cover. The '03 team could do so in spurts, but they needed constant blitzing to keep them from getting exposed. When teams did shut the Dallas blitz down the results were ugly. Think of the Thanksgiving Day meltdown against the Dolphins or the playoff loss to the Panthers.

One key indicator in the team's direction is what I'll call gold chip players, meaning quality starters and role players with four or fewer years of experience. The '03 team had four -- Newman, Williams, Witten and Bryant. The current team has nine -- Jones, Barber, Witten, Crayton, Canty, Spears, James, Newman and Williams.

Overall, the outlook is much better. The current defensive line and secondary are miles ahead of the '03 playoff team. The running back position has been upgraded, as has the QB position. The offensive line and linebacking corps still need work, but hey, let me tell you something you didn't already know.