Reason to Believe
To watch the Cowboys from their week one debacle vs. San Francisco, to where they find themselves today, is like watching a team go from riding a bicycle on training wheels to handing a high-powered motorcycle. Only there’s no way all of this should have happened in just three weeks. Yes, there are cynics, and cynicism is understandable given what has occurred. And yet as they say in the investing game, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Indeed, the Cowboys are showing there just may be a reason to believe in them.
Let’s start with the QB. After throwing 37 passes in that wretched opener against the 49ers, Tony Romo hasn’t thrown more than 29 passes in each of the last three games. The Cowboys have won all three of those games. Indeed since that dreadful first half against the Niners in which he threw three interceptions, Romo has thrown but one pick since then in his last 104 attempts. Whether that is a matter of simply playing his way into shape after the back surgery, after basically doing nothing during the summer at training camp, can be debated. But this fact cannot be: The Cowboys are 31-9 in games started by Romo in which he throws 30 or fewer passes (not counting games in which he left early for injury).
For years we have heard Jason Garrett’s desires for a balanced offense and a punishing running game. We all know he was a part of the 90’s Cowboys teams that were the embodiment of the concept. And yet as a coach, he never followed through on those words, even with the presence of a runner in DeMarco Murray who averaged five yards a carry last year. Until this year. Until the arrival of Zach Martin to complete an offensive line that has had as much commitment in the form of first round draft picks this side of San Francisco, and most importantly until the arrival of his good friend, Scott Linehan to call plays. Now Linehan has had a history of chucking it all over the lot too, but four straight games of seeing Murray carry the ball 20 times, and not just in run out the clock situations, says there is a real commitment to running. And playing physically. And imposing your will on the opponent. You have the ball. Defenses should have to adjust to you, not you taking what the defense will give you. Again, back in the day, Norv Turner and Ernie Zampese didn’t have a lot of tricks. They maybe had four or five basic running plays; they could run out of various formations and player packages. Linehan is following through on that basic philosophy.
It’s also a credit to Bill Callahan, whose reputation as a master offensive line coach is being reinforced by the talent at hand. Remember Callahan wanted to leave after last season, and had an offer in Cleveland to become a play caller, but the Cowboys wouldn’t let him out of his contract. Normally, it’s a recipe for disaster to keep someone who doesn’t want to be there, but give Jerry Jones credit (I know, impossible to do); he wanted Callahan coaching this group of linemen, and the results do speak for themselves.
This is not to short the work of Rod Marinelli and his defensive coaches, in putting together a defense that has overachieved on every imaginable level. The Cowboys offense gave the defense no chance to succeed against the 49ers, but since then, despite the lack of a proven pass rush, despite linebackers in and out of the lineup because of injury, and with a secondary that features nothing resembling Pro Bowl talent, they have put together some exceptional work. If anyone had told you the Cowboys, after allowing 49 points, 40 first downs and 625 total yards to the Saints last year would hold them to three points and 241 yards through three quarters, on the way to a 21-point rout, you would have asked to have their heads examined. But it happened. And it’s happening. And now there’s a huge stretch of games in October for the Cowboys to build up some bank. Home games with Houston, the Giants and Washington sandwiched around a road game in Seattle. It’s safe to say the Cowboys aren’t going to go 14-2. But what is safe to say is that for the first time in a long time, it looks like they’re playing the right way. And if that means some are ready to trade cynicism for another ride on the bandwagon and a reason to believe, so be it.