The Dallas Cowboys have had a wild, heart attack inducing first four games of the season. There have been some remarkable performances and some crushing disappointments. But all in all, the team is not in a bad spot with a 2-2 record and a schedule that looks very manageable for the rest of the year.
I've given out a weekly game ball to an outstanding performer each week. But with no game, I want to look at the team differently and recognize some units or groups on the team that I think deserve some time in the spotlight. Once the games start back up, I will again be largely talking about single players, but this week I acknowledge that it is a team game, and one individual does not accomplish anything by himself.
So here are the nominees and winner of the Bye Week Game Ball.
The receivers. Not because of their numbers, but because of their determination. The big three, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, have all been hurt. Dez and Miles have spent almost no time on the field together, but all have played a big role in the games this season. With the bye week to get healthy, Tony Romo can finally look forward to having a full set of targets to throw to, including a new target, Laurent Robinson. Laurent is one name that figures in more than one group, since he is also in the next bunch.
The next guy up. Looking over the injury reports from the first four weeks, I really am amazed at how many people have stepped up. When someone has gone down, the next person on the depth chart has just gone out and done the job, and largely done it very well. All the players who have kept this team competitive despite who was out deserve a big shoutout. It has affected almost every part of the team, but none more than the next unit.
The secondary. At the beginning of the season, this was one of two things that everyone was concerned about, and I think it was the one perceived as being the biggest problem. Both starting cornerbacks have been injured, and no one had a stellar year in 2010 which you would not expect to add up to good news. Then Orlando Scandrick went down, and all the pieces were in place for a total disaster. But this bunch has not folded, it has not given up, and while it has not been spectacular, it has done a credible, even admirable job. I really thought this unit would be shredded early on, and I am just thrilled that they have hung together so well. Mike Jenkins has shown some of his 2009 form, Terence Newman is finally contributing, Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh are looking to be solid, and the backups have fought and scrapped.
The defensive front seven. You can't run on them. Your quarterback is at risk facing them, and from almost any direction. It is a combination of Rob Ryan's coaching and some good to great talent, but this is the one unit that has lived up to my expectations. DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, and especially Sean Lee have gotten off to great starts, and Bruce Carter is still waiting in the wings. And I can't pass up mentioning the next great kickoff return star, Sean Lissemore, who, in all seriousness, may have more good plays per opportunity than anyone else on the team.
All of these units/groups deserve some special mention for the first quarter of the season. But I think most of you can see where this is going. So here it is, the winner of the Special Bye Week Game Ball:
The offensive line. Call 'em Yuglies or Youglies. They were the biggest risk of the season. The veterans were discarded and Jason Garrett decided to put his star quarterback's health and the outcome of the season in the hands of a line that included two rookies and a second year player. If the secondary could have been a disaster, this group could have been a catastrophe. But they have held together well, and in pass protection are actually grading out as one of the better units in the league, at least according to some metrics out there. The big news is Tyron Smith, the youngest player in the NFL and already making a case that he is one of the best tackles in the league. But Bill Nagy has also done fairly well, showing up as the 11th best at his position by the same standards that show Tyron 6th. And all signs are that they are just getting better with experience. They are not perfect, but did anyone seriously think they would be handling things this well this early? Imagine what they can be by the end of the season.
So congratulations to the O line. They have earned the Bye Week Game Ball. In the first quarter of the season, they have stepped up as a group and made us proud.