You couldn't blame a Cowboys fan if their belief in this team has wavered all over the place this offseason. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the questions that have felt unanswered and how that equates to building a contending unit. Is Dallas a contending unit? We certainly don't know but they could be. The issue here is that everyone wants them to be their 2014 version but remember, that team didn't get it done either for one reason or the other. I'm certainly looking at you, Dean Blandino.
Regardless, watching the team has illustrated that in some cases they can be better than 2014. Maybe, just maybe, Stephen Jones wasn't spending too much time at Burning Man when he suggested this to be the truth. From all appearances this 2016 version will play their hearts out because heart is one thing they will not lack. This epiphany occurred to me as I sat at AT&T Stadium this past Friday watching them stomp the daylights out of the Dolphins.
First and foremost, let me extend a huge thank you to a friend for these tickets. A little personal note, my mother, perhaps the biggest Cowboys' fan I know, was diagnosed with colon cancer last October. After many months of chemotherapy and overwhelming support, she has beaten it. Now that her energy is way up and her smile fills the room, it was only right that I take her to her favorite place; Jerry World. Even though it was just an exhibition and the fact that we got rained on, my mother had a blast and could not be more excited. I even bought more tickets to bring my Grandmother (her mother) to the event, too. So to my friend with the tickets, thanks on so many levels. Now, back to this epiphany.
Watching this game was a reminder that this is a team that looks focused on their goals. Dez Bryant is on a mission, Alfred Morris is on a mission, Morris Claiborne is on a mission and you can see this when they play these otherwise meaningless games. Let's run through some observations:
-- Penalties are something that this team really needs to clean up on offense. Their entire first drive was just laughable with how many penalties they had. Some of them could be reviewed and found to be unjust but still it was something to take away and fix. Chaz Green played better in this game but when Bryan Broaddus said first thing you need to learn is to hold, trip, and clip - Chaz, we are fully aware that you know all of these but can you try to be a bit more discreet?
-- Speaking of Alfred Morris, he's becoming a real favorite to watch as he looks almost perfect for this scheme in Dallas. The way he handles his business is the mark of a true professional. Morris made some electric cuts to get that first touchdown drive. If not for a silly holding call, he would have had well over 100 rushing yards and two scores. He sees and he conquers which is exciting because when Ezekiel Elliott takes over, Morris is perhaps the best insurance policy in the NFL.
-- Tony Romo had a few miscues but he was outstanding on his touchdown drive and looks to be getting warmed up. It was great to see the best quarterback/tight end duo back at it again as they continue to trip up defenses. When Romo and Witten are out there it as if they are two kids playing in the backyard. Much will be made about the backup quarterback situation but Romo is still the man and he's on his own redemption campaign.
-- What more can you say about Dez Bryant? After watching Deep Blue's 88, Drew Pearson told Bryant to use all the mess from last year to motivate him to come back and terrorize the league. Dez doesn't care if it is practice or just preseason, he's going to roast some folks. This may be that year where we see him finally see him not let defensive backs into his head and just completely destroy defenses. Everyone would love to see Linehan use Bryant in the way Atlanta uses Julio Jones. Dez Bryant is so physical that there is just nothing you can do once he's fired up.
-- Yes, Dak Prescott has been the story of preseason and he's been very good. Let's preface that by not promoting him to Romo's successor just yet. Perhaps the best thing about this situation is that Dak is keeping this staff from making a move to get a veteran presence right now. We all hope that he's the guy that can back up Romo because he's got that "IT" factor and the team certainly believes in his abilities. If all else, he's looking more and more like a guy that could lead the team if something were to happen. That in itself is something that they never could say last season.
-- It's all about the term "WeFense" and that's what the Cowboys' have come to use as a description of their defense for the past few seasons. Everyone has a role to playand if they play it well, good things will come of it. Again, this is preseason, but you saw the pass rush step up and make plays. They had three sacks and a forced fumble. They held their opposition to 14 points, which is exactly what you want out of your defense.
-- Morris Claiborne is a confident man. His coverage has been outstanding as well especially when asked to go man-to-man on 4th down near the goal line. He has been about as good as you could ask him to be and he carries over his practice mentalities to the game.
-- Byron Jones looks natural playing free safety and he has the abilities to lock it down. Multiple times he made a good read and was able to bail out his comrades in coverage. It's been a long time since you could be excited about the safety play from this team. As long as J.J. Wilcox isn't playing, the pair of Jones and Barry Church could be a really solid duo.
-- In back-to-back weeks, the Cowboys have been able to get some pressures and turnovers. That is a sight for sore eyes and will be the determining factor in this defense making a jump to be better than their 2014 version. Taking the ball away is the single most catalytic way for this team to win. If their offense is as good as advertised, you want this defense to take advantage of desperate opposition. If they can continue to progress and ride into the preseason as hungry as they've played, this defense may get the last laugh in 2016.
All in all, this is a team that has mental toughness and grit. You want to see what these young guys can show against some more formidable opponents and they'll get their chance against Seattle this week. That's the environment that we need to see Dak Prescott and others attempt to conquer. It'll be even more difficult for them without Tyrone Crawford and Dez Bryant this week as they enter the concussion protocol, but that's life in the NFL.
These guys have shown that they all have their motivations for this season. Maybe it's everyone writing the defense off or it's players coming back from injuries or perhaps its rookies that feel they're better than the position on which they entered the league. Whatever it is, this team thus far is building toward something. Let's all hope that something is as big as the heart in which they've shown just in two exhibition games.