I can’t believe the mid-way point of the NFL season has arrived already. Since I was little, I’ve always enjoyed this time because the days were getting shorter, the weather was getting colder and the football was getting more meaningful. Well, this year is certainly no exception, although to tell the truth, the weather here in Chicago has been pretty mild for this time of year.
Also, unlike most of the previous years over the past decade, my Dallas Cowboys are looking like the team to beat in the NFC, although I do believe that whoever wins the conference will just be road kill for either New England or Indianapolis.
In this light, I present to you my Dallas Cowboys mid-year report card:
Tony Romo has been nothing short of remarkable. If he has similar numbers in the second half of the season, he will obliterate almost every single-season team passing record. Even in the last second victory in Buffalo, it was Romo’s cool head and strong arm that brought them back from the brink of disaster. Backup Brad Johnson knows his place and has been a very positive support for the young QB.
Running Backs: B+
Although Julius Jones remains the starter, the bulk of the touches by the RB’s has gone to Marion Barber III. Barber has been the catalyst for waking up the team early in games where they have generally started off slow. With an incredible nose for the end zone, he has become one of the most feared short-yardage runners in the league. Jones works well in the tandem and together, they have rushed for over 900 yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+
While the injury to Terry Glenn hurts, the performances of Terrell Owens and Jason Witten have more than made up for. T.O. seems to have overcome the injury to his hand that caused his increased number of drops from the year before, and Witten has solidified his role and Romo’s go to guy. Number 2 receiver Patrick Crayton is better suited at the number 3 role, but has come through in a number of clutch situations. Sam Hurd and Miles Austin have seen limited action. Backup tight end Anthony Fasano has made a few plays and the number 3 tight end, Tony Curtis has caught 2 passes, both for touchdowns.
Offensive Line: A-
Perhaps the most improved area over last year, the o-line has been consistent and at times, overwhelming. By adding Leonard “Bigg” Davis, they increased their size and quickness and have become one of the leagues best lines. The biggest knock on the them is the frequency of holding and false-start penalties called against them. At least once, maybe twice a game, Either Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier of Andre Gurode are called for an infraction that kills a drive.
Defensive Line: C
Before the injury to Jason Ferguson, the front three were still not among the elite. Even though Jay Ratliff has played well in his place, the expected emergence of Chris Canty and Marcus Spears has still not developed. However, in the last two games, they have made some important plays. Adding Tank Johnson to this mix will help a great deal. Jason Hatcher has proven he can be an important cog as well.
Not even the great Adrian Peterson was able to gain a hundred yards on this crew. Demarcus Ware is a beast that requires constant double-teaming, allowing a good pass rush from Greg Ellis, and at times, rookie Anthony Spencer. Bradie James is the heart of the defense and is a playmaker at times. However, he can get overmatched in the passing game. Akin Ayodele is an above-average linebacker. The verdict is still out on 2nd-year linebacker Bobby Carpenter. Kevin Burnett is a big hitter who has made some plays in reserve.
Defensive Backs: B-
When all four starters are healthy and in the lineup together, this unit can be a formidable one. However, Terrence Newman and Anthony Henry have both missed significant playing time, which has led to big plays being made against them. Jacques Reeves has played better than expected, but he isn’t a shut-down corner. The addition of Ken Hamlin has allowed Roy Williams to move back to his natural free-safety position and cause more havoc in the running game. However, he sometimes goes for the big hit only to miss the tackle.
Special Teams: B
If not for allowing 2 kickoff returns for touchdowns against St. Louis and Buffalo, this unit would grade out as an “A”. Nick Folk has been a solid, clutch kicker, although it would be nice if he got a little more yardage on his kickoffs. Mat McBriar continues to be among the top 2-3 punters in the league and has tremendous hang-time on his punts. The Cowboys have been giving rookie wide receiver Isaiah Stanback the opportunity to bring some life to the return game, replacing the consistent, but unremarkable Tyson Thompson. Patrick Crayton, and sometimes Terrence Newman, handle the punt returns.
What criticism can you give when your team is 7-1 at the med-season point. Granted, Wade Phillips inherited most of the roster from Bill Parcells, but the team looks looser and more focused than in pervious seasons. Defensively, signs are already pointing to improvement and offensively, there may not be a more remarkable coach than Jason Garrett.
The Cowboys caught some breaks this season due to some starting QB’s missing games against them. However, these were still games that in previous years would not have been victories. The offense is on pace to break the single-season record for points and have the ability to score at will against anybody. While clearly out-matched against New England, they have been dominant otherwise. I predict that this team will do no worse than 12-4 and will appear in Super Bowl XLII. As far as winning it? Well, what is it they say about “any given Sunday”? However, I still stand by my pre-season prediction of New England winning it all.