The Dallas Cowboys handily defeated the St. Louis Rams on Sunday 31-7 at AT&T stadium. It was more of a lopsided win then most expected by this team after they were defeated last week by the Andy Reid led Kansas City Chiefs. But this victory may actually spur more questions than answers about the team then a lose would have. Who exactly are these Dallas Cowboys?
The Dallas defense looks dominate. Monte Kiffin’s transition from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense is an unquantifiable success as they only allowed 18 yards of offense by the Rams in the first half. The Cowboys players are swarming to the ball like never before and the turnovers are flowing with seven so far this year.
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware looks healthy and energetic. Ware became the Cowboys All-Time sack leader in this game, adding two more to his 113 sack total. With 115 sacks, he bypassed Cowboy great Harvey Martin in the record books, a stat that has been unmatched for 30 years.
On the other side, journeyman defensive end George Selvie is making fans forget about All-Pro Anthony Spencer being out. The same could be said for the play of defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who is proving his worth and replacing the lost production of All-Pro Jay Ratliff.
And it also appears the Cowboys defensive backfield has been shored-up with the addition of rookie safety J.J. Wilcox. The third round pick out of Georgia Southern made his impact felt on the defense in his first start in the NFL. Wilcox finished the game with three tackles and an interception that was called back due to Hatcher hitting Ram’s quarterback Sam Bradford in the face during the throw.
The question marks really surround the Cowboys’ offense. Running back DeMarco Murray exploded for over 200 yards of total offense against the Rams. He had 175 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 attempts. Murray also had three receptions for 28 yards. This is a stark difference from the 111 rushing yards on 32 attempts gained by Murray in his first two games this season.
Of course, Murray is no stranger to having big games against the Rams in AT&T stadium. It was just under two years ago that the then rookie Murray rushed for a Dallas record of 253 yards against this same Rams’ team. One of those runs went for 91 yards and the game became a coming-out party for the former Oklahoma Sooner.
The up and down play by wideout and special-teamer Dwayne Harris is also a big question. For example, in today’s game against the Rams, Harris fumbled and lost his first punt return attempt. He would later score a 24 yard touchdown on a brilliant pass by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. It’s that kind of inconsistency from Harris that made the Cowboys draft wideout Terrance Williams out of Baylor in the third round this year.
And here’s the surprise of the week: wide out Miles Austin injured his hamstring in today’s game. Stop the presses! He also had a dropped pass on a 3rd and 2 in the second quarter which forced the Cowboys to go three and out for the first time in the game. That’s not something you’d expect from a veteran receiver. Unfortunately, it’s an all too often occurrence with Austin.
Speaking of veterans, 36 year old free agent signee guard Brian Waters got his proverbial feet wet today as he committed a holding penalty that negated a big gain by Murray in the third quarter. That should be considered an official welcome to the team for Waters. You’re not really a Cowboys offensive lineman until you commit a penalty! Overall, the offensive line did a wonderful job protecting Romo and providing Murray with big enough holes to run through.
Second round pick tight end Gavin Escobar redeemed himself with his first touchdown catch of his NFL career. It came when Rams’ linebacker Will Witherspoon had to scramble back onto the field to cover him. Romo saw the weakness in coverage and lofted the ball to Escobar for the 24 yard score. The young tight end out of San Diego State had an earlier attempt at a touchdown waved off when he failed to get both feet down in the endzone.
Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan relived some of the pressure he faced via the media for a few play-calling blunders he made in last week’s loss to the Chiefs. The Cowboys made a real commitment to the run this week and the balance on offense was key to the Cowboys’ victory. The question still remains, what happens when Dallas faces a stiffer defense and the running game is again stalled? Callahan still has more to prove if he is indeed the right man for that job.
The win plunges the Cowboys into the early lead in the struggling NFC East. The Cowboys have played well at home, which has been a pleasant surprise. Now they go back on the road to face the 1-2 San Diego Chargers next weekend. After that game, we should have a much better sense of who this team really is, especially on offense.
Just as a personal side note: I really do hope these are the real Cowboys. If so, this season is going to be fun!