The 2014 Cowboys Are a Lot Better Than the Last 6-1 Cowboys
If you've read anything about the 2014 Cowboys, here or elsewhere, you've seen it repeated multiple times: The Cowboys are off to their best start since 2007. That team, which at 13-3 had the club's best regular-season record since the Super Bowl-winning 1992 team, is easily forgotten. It faded down the stretch, losing to Washington and the Eagles in December, and laid an egg at home against a Giants team it beat twice during the regular season in its single playoff game.
For comparison's sake, we thought it was worth a look back to that Tony Romo-, Terrell Owens- and DeMarcus Ware-led squad, the last Cowboys team to be judged a real Super Bowl contender, before we got too far ahead of ourselves.
Quarterback Physically, there's no doubt that 2007 Tony Romo was the better player. It was his first full season as a starter and the height of his elusiveness. The 2007 Romo can make all the throws confidently, which is also his biggest fault, as the 19 interceptions he threw can attest.
The 2014 Romo looks like he is in pain after most throws. When he gets up after being hit, it looks like he's pausing so his spine can reassemble itself. Still, for the most part, he isn't making mistakes. He's thrown six interceptions but only two of those have come in the last four-and-a-half games. He is making smart throws, especially on third down, helping Dallas to an incredible, and perhaps unsustainable 57 percent conversion percentage.
Edge: One gets the feeling that this season may be Romo's last opportunity to be something more than a 21st century Danny White, so we'll take the Romo we've got over the Romo who got away.
Running backs Occasionally, the 2007 Cowboys could run the ball. Marion Barber and Julius Jones made a decent two-headed attack, but this was Jason Garrett calling plays at his peak Jason Garrettness. The run was inevitably abandoned. Through seven games, the 2007 team had 609 rushing yards. The 2014 Cowboys have 1,118.
The 2014 Cowboys have the best rushing attack in the league. The offensive line, painstakingly built with three first-round draft choices, blows opponents off the ball, making Demarco Murray's job much easier. Before Sunday's game against the Giants, Murray had 474 yards before contact, more rushing yards than four teams had total. Murray's durability is a concern, but many of his yards come before anyone touches him, giving hope that he can stay healthy for a full season for the first time.
Edge: This one's easy. Murray, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, the offensive line and the tight ends are as cohesive a unit as any Cowboys team has had since at least 1995. 2014 wins again.
Wide receivers: Terrell Owens was fantastic in 2007. He had 1,355 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Jason Witten tossed in 1,145 and seven and Patrick Crayton added another 697 yards and seven touchdowns. It was a dynamic attack that bore too much of the offense's weight, something that caught up with Romo and company at the end of the year. Three of the 2007 Cowboys' last four games -- including the playoff loss to the Giants -- ended with Romo throwing for less than 200 yards.
For now, this year's passing game is reaping the benefits of the running offense's dominance. Dez Bryant has been engaged, blocking well on the outside and making spectacular catches when given the opportunity. Terrance Williams has been a spectacular, Alvin Harper-esque complementary piece and Gavin Escobar is emerging as a red-zone stalwart. Witten as a pass-catcher is a shell of his 2007 self, but these guys do everything that they need to do for the team to succeed.
Edge: A closer call goes again to the 2014 Cowboys. The numbers will not end up at the same level -- fewer targets means fewer yards -- and Witten is not even close to his 2007 level, but I'll take Dez and Williams over TO and Crayton.
Defense The 2007 Cowboys defense was good, not great. The Demarcus Ware-, Bradie James- and Terrance Newman-led unit ended up ninth in the league in yards allowed and finished the season with a plus-five turnover differential. Ware had 14 sacks and four forced fumbles in one of his best seasons.
Like the 2013 Cowboys defense, the 2014 Cowboys defense is not any good. It is, like it did last year, giving up an awful 6.1 yards per play. Fortunately, it is not on the field nearly as much as the Cowboys are second in the league in time of possession. Fewer plays means fewer yards, but it doesn't mean the performance is actually any better. Rolando McClain's comeback has been fun, at least.
Edge: Finally, one for the 2007 'Boys. Giving up a full 1.2 fewer yards per play than the 2014 and having better players gives the Brian Stewart-coached unit the nod.
Overall The 2007 squad didn't lose its second game until its 14th contest of the season, but it benefited from a weak schedule and a league that took a few months to adapt to Garrett's play calling. Once they did, the team was exposed. There isn't anything to expose with the 2014 edition. They are going to run Murray, then run Murray some more and then throw it to Dez on third down. It's a formula that's worked since the forward pass was legalized, there's no reason to expect it to fail now.
We joked early in the season about the series of false dawns the Cowboys have put fans through over the last four seasons, but we're ready to drink the Kool-Aid. This team has found a winning formula that it can repeat, against teams as good as the Seahawks and as bad as the Titans. We may be just setting ourselves up to get our hearts broken (again), but we're in.
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