We are still not to the halfway point of the season, so be cautious about how much you read into the Dallas Cowboys' 17-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It is only a step, and there are at least nine more to make.
OK. Now that you have reflected on things and curbed your enthusiasm appropriately, there is still no denying that this was a big win for Dallas. The team accomplished several things it needed.
It is perhaps a little overlooked but this is the first time all season the Cowboys have been able to put together consecutive wins. There was no letdown for the team after last week's win. Although the offense was sporadic and had a very hard time getting started, and special teams were not as special as last week, the defense played its the best game of the season. Statistically, the game against the St. Louis Rams may have been somewhat better, but even the Rams managed a touchdown. With Nick Foles starting in place of Michael Vick, who is dogged by injury yet again, this was a total domination by Monte Kiffin's bunch. LeSean McCoy came into the game as the leading rusher in the league, and he was outrushed by rookie Joseph Randle (55 for McCoy, 65 for Randle). Sean Lee in particular was a roving marauder, leading the charge that repeatedly bottled McCoy up. And the entire front seven was balling. I saw one play where the defensive line came charging across the line of scrimmage, and almost as one, they stopped in their tracks and redirected to pursue Shady after Foles handed the ball off. He was thrown for a loss and it was not the only play he did not make it back to the line of scrimmage.
At least as important was the way Brandon Carr took DeSean Jackson out of the game, limiting him to a paltry 21 yards on three catches. Carr is becoming the shutdown corner Dallas expected him to be when he was signed. And he had a good bit of support. Nobody in the Cowboys' secondary was burned, and a team that was leading the league in pays of 20 or more yards was held to only two, and obviously they did not really hurt.
Meanwhile, Marinelli has rediscovered the magic with the Replacement Rushmen, harassing Foles all day and finally knocking him out of the game at the end of the third quarter. It is hard to say what exactly happened with Foles, he was pretty much horrible all day and held the ball far too long. That last sack that sent him to the locker room was reminiscent of the steamroller scene from Austin Powers, because he had plenty of time to throw the ball away but he just seemed to freeze mentally. Despite totally clean hits from George Selvie and newly hired Jarius Wynn, he wound up banging his head on the turf and left the game.
The offense was not exactly scintillating but it did get the job done. Tony Romo had one of the most unimpressive 300-yard games of his career but the team also found out two very important things. First, with Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley in the lineup, they can get by just fine with no production from Miles Austin. And second, Joseph Randle is quite capable of filling in for DeMarco Murray. In addition to the 65 yards on the ground, he added 28 yards receiving. That 93 yards of offense is plenty good enough.
In addition to stringing two victories together, the Cowboys are, of course, 3-0 in the division and all alone in first (and the only NFC LEast team above .500). In getting there, they helped the Eagles keep a streak alive as well - they have now lost their last nine home games. Hopefully, the New York Giants can find a little life in their season as they travel to the City of Brotherly Battery Throwing and the streak will continue.
But Dallas does not have to depend on Eli Manning overcoming his sudden case of football jersey color blindness to achieve success. A leader in the standings by definition is in control of their destiny. Keep winning and you stay in first place. It would be nice to have some more room open up between the Cowboys and the rest of the teams but that will take care of itself as long as the team keeps taking care of business.
First place is very, very nice, but we are still coming up on the halfway mark of the season. The team still needs to win several more games. They need to keep on displaying several traits they have shown the past few weeks, and one that cannot be overestimated is their resilience. They have come back from bad performances, and have overcome things like the difficulties the offense had against the Eagles. If the team can ever get all three phases of the game operating in concert, they could be very difficult to beat. Until then, they do seem to be finding a way for one unit to step up when another one needs some help.
After this win, no one should get overconfident. But there is not a thing wrong with feeling very, very good about it.
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