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Cowboys News: Why Rookie-Led Cowboys Have Bright Second-Half Outlook

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With the chance for eight victories in a row, the Cowboys are looking to match the best run in team history. Also, Sturm's report on the offense, midseason grades, comparisons between 2014 and 2016, the continued uncertainty around Tony Romo, and a look back six years to the day Wade Phillips was fired and replaced by Jason Garrett.

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Dallas Cowboys' midseason grade: Near perfection - Todd Archer, ESPN

Archer gives the team an A, makes Dak and Zeke the co-MVPs, cites the best moment as the win over Philly, the worst moment as Romo's pre-season injury, and calls Romo the player to watch. He ends with this.

Second-half outlook: Given their style of play, it is difficult to see a game that would automatically be called a loss. If Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plays this week, then the trip to Heinz Field might be the Cowboys' most difficult game. A Dec. 1 trip to Minneapolis would follow as the most difficult, but the Minnesota Vikings are struggling right now. The Cowboys have followed their 2014 blueprint to perfection, even without Romo. In that 12-4 season, they closed the year winning six of their last seven games. There is no reason to believe they can't end 2016 in a similar fashion. And who would have ever thought that after Romo went down Aug. 25?

How a rookie-led Cowboys team stands on the brink of franchise history - Tim Cowlishaw, DMN

Tim Cowlishaw gives some historical context for the upcoming game with the Steelers, as the Cowboys have a chance to match their longest winning streak in team history at eight games.

So now the Cowboys head for Pittsburgh, a rich rivalry for older fans but not one today's players would easily recognize. It has been 21 years since the third and most recent Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowl, so there's only a handful of Cowboys who could possibly remember watching.

But regardless of what this team achieves in January, a record-setting streak for a franchise that has done enough winning to reach eight Super Bowls would serve as a fitting tribute to head coach Jason Garrett and the rookie leadership of this team.

Garrett refuses even to acknowledge his team is 7-1 and appears to be running away with the NFC East. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott buys into this one-day-at-a-time thinking and the team follows his lead.

The Cowboys are listed as a two-point underdog to an uneven Steelers team that just lost in Baltimore. More fuel for the fire. The streaking team tied for the NFL's best record is being ignored. What better way for Garrett to convince his team that it has achieved nothing, even on the brink of Cowboys history.

Sturm: Uncanny! How Dallas Cowboys' offense continues to make history - Bob Sturm, DMN

Sturm's breakdowns of the Cowboys' offense and defense are always good reading, especially after a win. Bob is having a hard time coming up with new superlatives, as he's been blown away with the start of the Cowboys behind the two star rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. As always, he gives great play breakdowns and charts.

It's easy for everyone to reduce this performance down to just "the Browns are bad," but I think that is only half the story. If you scheme your guys wide open because they are too worried about Zeke or Dez, or the threat of Dak moving the chains with his feet again, that is not defensive incompetence -- it's offensive might being realized. In other words, it is what an offense that is well-coordinated and well-staffed with talent dreams about. Everything works because everything works.

Do not reduce this to the opponents being Keystone Cops. They don't look like that against everyone, but the Cowboys are so powerful and balanced that it makes teams react poorly as a matter or routine.

He also adds a comparison of the 2014 and 2016 seasons (linking to an article where he argues the Cowboys need to shoot higher than where they ended 2014).

For fun, since everyone hails 2014 as the season to end all seasons (see what I wrote yesterday about the over-glorification of that season being a bit much), I thought I should compare the two seasons through eight games.

SEASON Points Rush Yds Pass Yds 1st D 3rd D TOP Turnovers
2014 213 1,289 1,921 182 59 of 106 32:52:00 15
2016 223 1,322 1,970 199 46 of 99 33:33:00 6
Advantage 2016 2016 2016 2016 2014 2016 2016

Pretty crazy how close everything really is -- 2016 has a slight edge everywhere but third-down conversions. Those first eight games in 2014 were off the charts and in 2016, the Cowboys are still near the top in third downs -- just not quite to those same heights.

Uncanny and unexpected that two rookies could roll in and match arguably the Cowboys' best season in two decades.

Dallas Cowboys' offense showing force and efficiency - Todd Archer, ESPN

Archer echoes the comparison numbers Bob Sturm laid out between 2014 and 2016 to show how this year the Cowboys have been better.

They have done it with a rookie quarterback in Dak Prescott, not Tony Romo. They have done it with a rookie runner in Elliott. They have done it with left tackle Tyron Smith missing two games because of back spasms. They have done it with left guard La'el Collins missing five games with a torn ligament in his toe. They have done it with Dez Bryant missing three games with a tibial plateau fracture in his right leg.

"I mean, it's 2016, so hopefully we can keep this rolling," right guard Zack Martin said. "We're taking care of the football. The defense is playing lights out. If we can keep this up it's going to be a fun year."

Aikman Efficiency Ratings 2016, As of Week 9 > Aikman Enterprises

The Cowboys remain atop the Aikman ratings, though they are now second on offense to the Saints.

The Cowboys took one lead and lost another in the calculation of the Aikman Ratings after Week 9.

Dallas displaced idle Arizona and opened up a 3.2-point lead in the Aikman Combined Ratings while upping its record to 7-1 with a victory at Cleveland.

But in Aikman Offense, the surging Saints scored 41 points in a turnover-free romp at San Francisco and saw their Aikman Offense Rating surge past the Cowboys to the top at 97.2.  The Cowboys are 2nd, with the Falcons, Raiders and Patriots rounding out the top 5.

Top ten NFL rookies entering week 10 - Pro Football Focus

Zeke and Dak are #1 and #2.

1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys

The decision to go Ezekiel Elliott over Dak Prescott or Carson Wentz at this point comes down to consistency. After a rocky start to the season, Elliott now has seven straight games of at least 4 yards per carry, with four of those games topping 5 yards per carry. He’s also started creating much more on his own in recent weeks. In the Cowboys’ last three outings, Elliott has 16 broken tackles on the ground. If this hot streak is more trend than aberration, the Rookie of the Year award is Elliott’s to lose.

2. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

The quarterback flip-flopping continues at the No. 2 spot. Dak Prescott soundly shredded a hapless Browns’ defense in Week 9, going six-for-seven for 115 yards on intermediate throws (between 10 and 20 yards downfield). As long as he protects the ball, the Cowboys will be in every game this year, and Prescott will maintain his advantage over Carson Wentz in these rankings. For all the flak Prescott has received for not throwing the ball downfield, 58.9 percent of his yards have come through the air, the 10th-highest rate in the NFL.

Dez Bryant content with targets and role because Cowboys keep winning - Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPN

Taylor caught with Dez and captured some team-oriented quotes, even though you'd have to think the injuries and the missed calls and the fits and starts in his connection with Dak have to leave him a bit frustrated. Still, one would think that this is something that will improve in the second half.

"We're chasing something. It's not a one-man show," Bryant said after the Cowboys’ 35-10 destruction of Cleveland.

"What do you call it when you have more than two threats? We got triple threats. What do you call it when you got more than four threats? Turbo threats?

"What’s so good about our offense is that regardless of what the defense does, we can adjust to anything. It can be anybody’s day to have a big game."

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones playing quarterback quandary 'by ear' - Todd Archers, ESPN

There were multiple versions of this story, trying to sort out Jerry Jones' often cryptic statements on the Dak-Romo situation. At the moment, Tony Romo is increasing his practice time, but the Cowboys aren't committing to anything, from whether Romo is ready to suit up as a back-up in Pittsburgh (unlikely) to when he might be ready.

"The key thing that I want to emphasize [is] that we probably are never going to have this totally sorted out," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. "We're going to play it by ear, play it as it comes. We can do that. And to do it really right for the advantage of the team, which we deserve, he's really got to be ready to go at the top of his game.

"We have the luxury of getting him that ready. And when we do that, we've got an edge that can take us a long way. I think what you're going to have is you're going to see Tony playing really well at practice, really being what he can be -- which is in my mind, when he's healthy, I don't know that I would trade him for anybody."

Barry Church will need surgery on broken forearm, return timeline hasn't changed - Jon Machota, DMN

Church is having surgery on his forearm, but his timetable for return is still 4-5 weeks.

Hard to believe how long Sean Lee has gone without a penalty - Brandon George, DMN

A number of interesting tidbits in George's post, but I found this the most interesting. Sean Lee, despite playing every down on defense when he's healthy, has been called for only one defensive penalty in his career!

You're probably having a hard time coming up with the last time you remember linebacker Sean Lee drawing a yellow flag. It's certainly been a rare sight. Lee has built a reputation as a player who is as well-prepared as anyone. He spends countless hours studying his next opponent each week. That shows up every Sunday in many ways, especially in his ability to avoid mistakes. Lee has now gone 28 consecutive games without a penalty enforced against him. For a player who is in for just about every snap, that's an incredible streak. His last penalty came in Week 5 in 2013 vs. Denver. He was flagged for a 21-yard pass interference penalty in the second quarter. Since Lee became a starting linebacker in 2011, it's the only defensive penalty he's had enforced against him. The only other penalty he's had marked off since 2011 was a 10-yard holding penalty on the punt coverage team at San Francisco in 2011.

Flashback: 6 years ago today, Cowboys fired Wade Phillips, paving the way for Jason Garrett - David Moore, DMN

We finish with a very interesting piece going back six years to the November 8th firing of Wade Phillips. It's an assemblage of articles from that period. It's been a long time coming, but it appears that the Cowboys made the right choice.

Garrett also has been part of the problem this season.

***

Still, Garrett, wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans, stood at a lectern and spoke clearly and confidently about his ability to lead this pathetic team Monday evening.

He looked those asking questions in the eye, and responded in an authoritative tone.

Garrett showed more presence in those 10 minutes than Wade ever did.

It was a terrific first impression. Garrett definitely won the news conference.

But it won't matter if he doesn't win football games.