The Dallas Cowboys once again are one of the most talked about teams in the NFL. It started during the 6-0 run in the first half of the season and kept going through the struggles Tony Romo had with the broken transverse processes in his back. The focus has ebbed and flowed, with the talk prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles being about whether the team could win a big game or wind up shut out of the playoffs despite finally getting past the 8-8 doldrums they had been mired in for three seasons. Now it is all about whether they can continue to win against the Indianapolis Colts as the next step to fight their way into those playoffs.
The last two games will of course determine how the season ends for them. Given the importance of the next game, the talk is continuing. The Cowboys still equal ratings, of course, and they always will be part of the discussion. Being so relevant just increases it. For many loyal fans, though, the best part is all the things that we are not hearing. So many of the tired talking points and memes of the past few years have fallen blessedly silent.
Some of them could easily start up if things go badly the next game, but even if that happens, getting to double-digit wins and opening the last month of the season 2-0 will mute most if not all of them. Most of the regular readers here will be familiar with these, but while we have the chance, I rather think you will enjoy going over them. Here are some of the things that are deafening in their absence.
Dez Bryant is too immature and emotional. Bryant has become one of the premier receivers in the league. He is only tenth in total yards, but that is more a byproduct of the new focus of the offensive game plan (more on that later). He leads the league in touchdown receptions with 13, and his first three touchdown performance of his career against the Eagles led to him being named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, another first for him and the first time a Cowboys receiver has done that in the final month of the season since a certain supporter of Bryant named Michael Irvin did it way back in 1991. Along the way, it has finally started to filter through the perceptions spread in the past by the media that his animated behavior on the sidelines is not seen negatively by his teammates or coaches. They understand it for what it is, an expression of his passion and trying to fire up the team. Many players call him the most popular guy on the roster, and say he takes time to talk to everyone on the roster in the locker room. The kid from Lufkin, Texas has certainly grown up well.
The Cowboys won't stick with the run. I don't know how often a head coach successfully makes a drastic change in the way his team plays. I doubt it happens very often. But Jason Garrett brought Scott Linehan in and did just that. It is even more surprising given Linehan's history as a pass first coordinator. Now, the Cowboys have become dedicated to the run. No longer are we cursing as they abandon the run late in games, often to their detriment. They are making a very successful (to date) argument that power running is still a viable approach in the NFL. There are games where DeMarco Murray has ripped the other team apart, but even when a team manages to stifle him like the Eagles did, the Cowboys keep feeding him the ball and use the run to open up the passing game for Romo. Murray is questionable for the Colts game due to the fracture he suffered in his left hand, but whether he can go or not, the Cowboys will run the ball. It is who they now are.
Tony Romo will choke when the games really matter and the team will fade in December. This was always a misconception. Romo has been very strong late in games and in December. The issues were largely due to an over-reliance on him to carry the team when the chips were down. He actually succeeded a lot, as evidenced by the phenomenal number of fourth quarter/overtime comebacks he has led, but when he was the only game in town, there were going to be failures. Those would then, fairly or unfairly, be laid on him. Now the commitment to the run is allowing him to play much more efficiently, and his totals of 28 touchdowns with only eight interceptions and second in the league passer rating are the result. He is even getting some much deserved mention as an MVP candidate, although the presence of Murray will probably keep that from happening. A look at the impact he has had (all four Cowboys losses involved some kind of limitation for him, from the short week disrupting his usual "Romo Wednesday" schedule to missing the Arizona Cardinals game) would indicate that he may be much more deserving of consideration than he will probably receive.
A 2-0 start has quieted the talk about the annual fade, especially with the Eagles win. It is the one thing that could most easily get started up should Dallas stumble in the last two games. But that isn't going to happen. We devoutly hope.
The Cowboys will never succeed with Jason Garrett as head coach. In general, there are two kinds of winning head coaches. The win now coaches, who can have short-term success but who usually don't maintain it (or their job) in the long run, and coaches who build the team in a sustainable way. Garrett is clearly the latter type. It took four seasons for his process to bear fruit, but it puts the three years of .500 ball in a different light. He did not break through until this season, true enough, but he also managed to build this roster without letting the team slide into the lower reaches of the standings. As I keep mentioning, since he was given the permanent promotion after the 2010 season, he has never coached in a meaningless game. The Cowboys were in playoff contention going into every single game since then. There are few coaches that have managed to maintain that level of relevancy during that period, or for four years in a row, period. That's why there are always vacancies to fill after every season.
Jerry Jones is a terrible general manager. He took the blame for two decades of playoff futility. Now those with any sense of fairness are admitting that he has done a much better job the past few years. Undoubtedly Garrett has been the key ingredient in those years, putting his stamp on the organization. But remember who hired him, and who has supported him the entire way. Every season began with discussions of just how hot the seat was under the head coach. The "expert" opinion was that it was somewhere between warm and scorching. That of course turned out to be wrong, which in the long run should be a very good thing for the Cowboys.
Jones is far from perfect. For one thing, he still has way too much of an inclination to trade up in the draft. And of course he talks - incessantly. But no GM is perfect. And with the supporting team of Garrett, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay, he is doing a much, much better job.
Those are the big memes that have driven many of us (like me) crazy over the years. Some of them, as I noted, could be resurrected yet, but others are pretty much beaten down already with the 10-4 record. We still have a few more days to enjoy them before the coming game.
And hopefully we will still be enjoying them after that.