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Just How Good Can The 2014 Dallas Cowboys Be?

The visit to Seattle was a great, perhaps signature, win for the team, but what should scare the league is that there is plenty of room for Garrett's Boys to improve.

Celebrate good times; Come on!
Celebrate good times; Come on!
Steve Dykes

The Seattle Seahawks are a damned good football team; they are, after all, the World Champions. They are a team that is tough to beat in any venue, let alone in their own house. There is little doubt that CenturyLink Field is the most intimidating place in the National Football League to play. The 12th man (a moniker owned, by the way, by the Texas A&M Aggies) has always given their team an added advantage and made even bad Seahawks teams tough to beat at home. The Dallas Cowboys knew that they would have to play like one of the best teams in professional football if they wanted to have a chance to win. That is exactly what they did.

One week ago I put virtual pen to paper and penned a few hundred words about how the Dallas Cowboys were able to reach down deep and find something extra to help pull out a game against a team that they were evenly matched up against. Being able to do that is a mark of a playoff caliber team. After that win I seriously began to consider the team to be a squad that might have the potential to have an impact on the NFC Playoffs. Still looming on the schedule was a trip to the Pacific Northwest that would give the NFL world an opportunity to see if the Cowboys were for real. Championship level squads win the toughest tests.

Jason Garrett's team went into Pete Carroll's house and made themselves at home in Seattle.

A Dallas defense that was projected to be worse than the dismal squad that the team was able to put on the field last year banded together to keep Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and Percy Harvin in check. They were able to get it done upfront. A unit that only has two name guys, both fighting their way back from serious injury, took over the line of scrimmage and dominated their opponents. Behind them the secondary was able to make several big plays in coverage, and the linebackers, led by Rolando McClain, owned the middle. In short, Rod Marinelli's defense owned the field. The Cowboys are buying in to what their coordinator is selling and that has made all the difference.

Rolando McClain has helped a good deal, but there's no doubt Marinelli has the group believing. No one is dominating, but a lot of guys are stepping up at key times. Orlando Scandrick, Henry Melton, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Spencer, Nick Hayden, Sterling Moore, Tyler Patmon, Brandon Carr and several others came up with some big plays on Sunday.

On the other side of the ball it was more of the same. Sure the Seahawks are known for their defense, but the best way to handle a bully is to smack him in the mouth, and that is what the Cowboys did. They took it as a challenge that the champs had the best run defense in the league and determined to meet the test. The beasts up front did a good job of ensuring that Tony Romo would have time to throw the ball and that the Dallas backs would have room to run. For the most part they were successful. Like their counterparts on defense, the offensive big uglies were in charge of the line of scrimmage. When they did not prove successful, Tony Romo worked his own magic (except for the slip-sack). When push come to shove, both he and DeMarco Murray took over and willed the team into the endzone.

Speaking of Murray, the Cowboys top back turned in his sixth consecutive 100 yard game to start the season. As is his norm, Murray credited his linemen, the tight ends, and the wide receivers with his success. Murray rushed for 115 yards while his back up, Joseph Randle, came up big for the Cowboys as well. He added an additional 52 yards on the ground. The third back, Lance Dunbar, shined in the passing game and made a couple big third down conversions for Dallas.

Still it was not all fuzzy bunnies and jelly beans for the Cowboys. The special teams play was atrocious at times. The Seahawks would have been blown out had Dallas won the battle in all three phases of the game. Seattle scored 14 points off of errors made by Rich Bisaccia's charges. The games first score came when Seattle blocked a Chris Jones punt and returned it for six points. Their second touchdown came courtesy of a Dwayne Harris muffed punt in the third quarter. It was the second consecutive week where the normally stellar Harris has made a critical special teams blunder. Take away the gifts from special teams and you have an idea of how Dallas dominated. Let's not forget that Jones also had a 35-yard punt as well.

At least Dan Bailey was magical, he kicked a 56-yard field goal, the longest of his career, to answer when the Seahawks took a three point lead  in the third stanza. The kick off coverage team also made three consecutive outstanding plays to hold the explosive Percy Harvin short of the 20-yard line as the clock would down to zero in the second half. Those efforts keep the Cowboys special teams from earning an "F" for the game. As it was, I give them a generous "C-" for the day.

The success that Garrett's team experienced Sunday in Seattle has me wondering what the ceiling is for the 2014 Cowboys. This group still has not played its best football, there are opportunities in all three phases of the game. The defense had a couple lapses but they are improving week by week, Romo and the offense had some mental lapses in the third quarter and the linemen took some unnecessary holding calls at critical times. Those are things that Rod Marinelli, Scott Linehan, and Bill Callahan will be focused on this week. Based on what we have seen so far this season, there is no reason to expect that their efforts will bear fruit as the season progresses.

Coach Bisaccia too will be putting in some serious work. We have seen what he is capable of doing with a special teams unit. No doubt his charges will also receive some special attention from the head coach. All three phases of the game will come under scrutiny this week, and the week seven Cowboys should emerge better than the team that flew to Seattle. There is still plenty of room for improvement, and Garrett & Co. know it.

The fact that Jason Garrett's team went into the NFL's most hostile environment and emerged with a victory should have teams around the league taking note. The fact that they were able to do so while not playing their best football in all three phases of the game should have everyone asking themselves a very important question.

Just how good can the Dallas Cowboys be?

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