By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Dominant Beat Writer
Halfway through the season, the Cowboys played much like their 4-4 record. Sure, they gave the 49ers their lone loss of the season so far, but Dallas needed a double-digit comeback to get the win in overtime. Meanwhile, the Cowboys suffered near misses against top-tier teams like the Jets, Lions and Patriots. Other than that, there are wins against lower teams (Rams, Redskins and Seahawks) and the blowout loss against an Eagles team coming off their bye week (where they never lose).
As it now turns to the second half of the season, the Cowboys finally made a big statement win. Dallas Cowboys 44, Buffalo Bills 7. It looks awful good now for the fans of Big D.
How much excitement should Cowboys fans show after this win? As we look at the five lessons from this game, the proper level of excitement should show itself.
1. The Cowboys offense is running on full cylinders, particularly in the first half.
Any fan who showed up late to Cowboys Stadium in the last two weeks made a huge mistake. In the first half of wins against Seattle and Buffalo, the Cowboys totaled 621 yards of offense. That includes consecutive first halves of at least 300 total yards of offense. That's certainly no easy task, especially considering neither team is playing like the 2008 Lions or 2011 Colts on defense.
Obviously, the difference from this week and last week came on the scoreboard:
First half v. Seattle: 304 offensive yards, six points
First half v. Buffalo: 317 offensive yards, 28 points
Despite similar offensive performances in the two weeks, the Cowboys outscored their 23-13 victory in Week 9 in the first half yesterday. And this had very little to do with the Bills, as Buffalo's sixth-ranked Bendability
is 15 spots higher than Seattle's rank.
The difference clearly came from the red zone offense. After last week's failures in goal-to-go situations
, the execution looked much better yesterday. There's no need this time to show the drive chart, because the results are very predictable: four touchdowns, one halftime maker.
The Bills blitzed a defensive back. While DeMarco Murray picked up the block, the blitz seemed to affect Romo's deep pass to Dez Bryant. However, Bryant won the jump ball over Leodis McKelvin in the end zone for a highlight-worthy 34-yard touchdown. Bryant leaped at the perfect time, while McKelvin didn't, so it bailed out Romo's worst pass of a near-perfect first half. (More on that later.)
The Cowboys faced a third-and-goal. Romo picked up a Buffalo blitz, spun away from the unblocked blitzer (Bills safety Bryan Scott) and nailed a pass to wide-open Laurent Robinson for the touchdown. Credit completely goes to Romo. Go check out the highlight
for this play. You'll hear Romo yell "Jason stay" as an audible to make the tight ends block for the blitz. He then shurgged away the overload from Buffalo. It may be Romo's best play of the half.
Romo and Robinson pick up where they left off -- with a touchdown. Romo goes deep to Robinson with a throw in stride for the receiver who has a step on the Buffalo secondary. One play, 58 yards, six points.
In perhaps the biggest win of the day for head coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys finished off a strong drive with Murray. On a first-and-goal from the Buffalo seven-yard line, Murray gets a four-yard gain. Add in a hold by Bills defensive lineman Torell Troup, which was designed to finally make a stop against the red-hot back, and the gain goes to one-yard line. On the next play, Garrett calls upon the best man to finish the job. Murray runs in for a one-yard touchdown.
The Cowboys end the half with a kneel down, but this drive still featured a 25-yard run by Murray. Even when the design isn't for a big run, Murray can make plays.
It's quite amazing to think about how awful the Cowboys played in the first half two weeks ago in Philadelphia. After being so brutally beat down in the first 30 minutes against the Eagles, the Cowboys are outscoring their opponents 34-13 in the first half. This includes an even nine yards per play offensively, as opposed to the 4.73 yards per play allowed defensively. All that makes a scary proposition for opposing defenses.
2. It’d be tough to be much better than Tony Romo was in the first half on Sunday afternoon.
While Colonel Comey raved about the performances from Tom Brady and Drew Brees
yesterday, he had equal reason to go crazy about Romo's first half.
Romo's first half line: 18 of 19 (94.7%), 237 yards, 12.47 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT, 158.22 passer rating. Romo tied the season high for 13 consecutive completed passes to start the game, and the only incomplete pass was a short pass intended for Jason Witten. Meanwhile, he took no negative play against a turnover-causing secondary and led the team to seven third-down conversions. Romo was nearly perfect in the first half, as the stats prove.
3. Third down made a huge difference in the first half.
Dallas led 28-7 in large part due to its offensive domination. However, if a few changes are made on third down, the Bills would be feeling much better at halftime. In the first half, the Cowboys converted in all seven of their third-down opportunities, while defense stopped the Bills in all three of Buffalo's third-down tries. In addition, the Cowboys made a stop on third-and-1 that was whiped away by a penalty.
While the defense was asked to do very little in this game, it stepped up to the challenge to earn a dominating win.
4. Cowboys fans officially have no shot at Kelsi Reich.
If any fans were hopeful that Bills wide receiver David Nelson would play so bad, his Cowboys-cheerleading girlfriend would dump him, they are out of luck. Nelson caught the only Buffalo touchdown, then ran down the sideline to hug his girlfriend, Kelsi Reich. Sorry trolls, that 0.01 percent just went up in smoke.
5. Jason Garrett needs to announce his newest starting running back already.
With no intended disrespect to Felix Jones, there's no reason the former Arkansas running back should start for the Cowboys anymore. Since Jones went down with a high ankle sprain, DeMarco Murray so far ran for 601 yards on 75 carries in four games. That adds up to 8.01 yards per carry and 150.25 yards per game.
The biggest difference between Murray and Jones shows up on film. Jones struggles to find holes through the line due to a lack of lateral vision, something that was called to the table
way back in Week 3. Murray's best stength is his vision, as he routinely finds seems and holes and smoothly runs through them by any means necessary. In that respect, Murray is easily the best Cowboys running back since Emmitt Smith. Like Smith, Murray is a threat to take any carry for a big gain, simply due to his strength, vision and fluidity.
Still, the film says more. The offensive line looks more comfortbale making blocks for Murray. Perhaps it was proven best by the perfect finish
to the 34-7 win against the Rams. From an offensive lineman's perspective, it's much easier to block for a running back that can find the hole and hit it quickly. The Texans certainly will agree, with all their success running the ball with Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the zone-blocking scheme.
Most importantly of all, Murray's recent success makes the Dallas offense extremely tough to defend. The last two first halves provide great statistical proof. Perhaps this may be the toughest Dallas offense to defend in the Tony Romo Era, simply because the running game is such a threat on a per-carry basis.
Obviously, the team's success will come down to offensive execution. Yesterday, the Cowboys were nearly flawless. Two weeks ago, the offensive rhythm wasn't there while the defense had a rare bad game. Last week's game against the Seahawks was somewhere between the two. With Murray as the starter and primary ball carrier, the Cowboys should be somewhere between the Bills and Seahawks game for most of the remaining games.
Bottom line, Jason Garrett gives the Cowboys by far their best chance to win by making Murray the starterfor the forseeable future.
Bonus: The NFC playoff picture
Besides the blowout win against Buffalo, the Cowboys were happy to see the New York Giants lose in San Francisco. With that loss, the Cowboys now own a better record against common opponents:
San Francisco 49ers: Cowboys win, Giants loss
Washington Redskins: Cowboys win, Giants loss
New England Patriots: Cowboys loss, Giants win
St. Louis Rams: Cowboys win, Giants win
Philadelphia Eagles: Cowboys loss, Giants win
Seattle Seahawks: Cowboys win, Giants loss
Buffalo Bills: Cowboys win, Giants win
Next week, the Cowboys can earn a tie for the NFC East lead with a win at Washington and a Giants loss against the reeling, yet dangerous Philadelphia Eagles. (As of 12:10pm today, Michael Vick suffered two broken ribs against the Arizona Cardinals, according to Andy Reid. There's no word on how that impacts his playing status for next week.) More importantly, that sets up the Cowboys for a two-game advantage against common opponents. While currently down by one game, the Cowboys have a more-than-realistic chance to win the division if they earn at least a split against New York.
Meanwhile, the wild card picture, the devastating fall-from-ahead against the Detroit Lions remains one of the conference's biggest outcomes. While both the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are now only game ahead of the Cowboys, there's a solid chance that the Chicago win over Detroit was the biggest blow for the Cowboys. The Bears play the entire AFC West in the next four weeks. The Cowboys will be lucky in the Bears are worse than 9-4 when it's all said and done. That may make a Green Bay Packers sweep over the Lions a necessity.
For now, the focus is clearly on next week's game at Washington, which we'll break down this Saturday.