DeMarco Murray surely is grabbing all of the headlines for the Dallas Cowboys these days, and rightfully so. The man just set an NFL record held by Jim Brown. One-hundred yards rushing in each of his first seven games of a season. Impressive.
But what is equally impressive is the Cowboys’ D. A laughing stock last year, and one picked to possibly be worse this year, Dallas’ defense has given this team a chance to win each and every week.
The Cowboys defense is allowing 6.1 yards-per-play this season. Would you believe that it is the same number as last year, when Dallas gave up a whopping 415.3 yards-per-game – the third-worst in NFL history? Dallas also has 13 fewer sacks through seven games than 2013. Gone is DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher from last year’s group. Sean Lee hasn’t played a down.
Yet this year’s Cowboy’s D seems (and is) much better. How?
Well, the aforementioned Cowboys running game is a big reason, tops in the league. Dallas has controlled the clock in virtuously every game this season, keeping the defense off the field much more than last year. And one player has made a world of difference in Rolando McClain, setting the tone for the entire group with his physical play. The guy hadn’t played in an NFL game since November of 2012 before this season and has 51 tackles and two picks. Having Anthony Spencer back also doesn’t hurt.
Dallas has jumped from worst defense in the league to literally middle of the pack at 14th overall (343.9 yards-per-game). They gave up 27 points-per-game last year and have yet to give up more than 17 this year (not including points the offense has given up directly from interceptions, fumbles or returns for touchdowns).
Oh look – more good news; Bruce Carter returns to the Cowboys D tonight after a three-week absence. And second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to come off the injured reserve list next week, having practiced the last two weeks.
Back to the offense, where Murray is the straw that stirs the drink. The offensive line is a true strength of the team where it used to be a huge weakness. A big impact of Dallas’ success in running the ball has meant that the Cowboys have not had to depend completely on Tony Romo to be the catalyst for the offense. Opponents can no longer pin their ears back and rush the passer. Play-fakes are so much more effective. And with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams as effective options, this offense truly has become “Romo-friendly.”
Oh, by the way, Dallas leads the league in third-down conversions at 57.4 percent. Again, credit the running game giving them more manageable distances to convert on third down.
It has all added up to a league-best 6-1 record (tied now with Denver), and a real expectation to make the playoffs and win a few games then too. Glancing at the schedule – Washington tonight, Arizona next Sunday and a date in London vs. Jacksonville – it is not crazy to see a possible 9-1 record coming.
Of course none of this means jack squat if injury comes along. But no matter – the focus is on Washington tonight. Get to 7-1 before you can look at the next step. Do not underestimate this Redskins team either. They have moved the ball and can score points. There is a lot of talent on this team. The turnover bug has ruined a few contests for them, and the Cowboys need to play well tonight to beat them.
The recipe is easy, and familiar: give DeMarco the rock. It’s about time that a Monday Night Football game between the Skins and the Cowboys means something again. It’s still October. The real fun is yet to come.