Cowboys Huddle-Up: Ascension To The Top

Somehow, the 2014 Dallas Cowboys sit atop the NFL standings all by their lonesome. Can we solve the 'somehow'?

New York Giants (3-4)0140721
Dallas Cowboys (6-1)7771031

Once again, the 2014 Dallas Cowboys have passed the test placed in front of them, winning their first divisional game of the season over the rival New York Giants, 31-21. Dallas was able to combine a dominating offensive performance with an opportunistic defense to win their sixth straight game on the season and ascend to the top of the NFL standings. This is something not even the Cowboys dynasty of the ‘90s were able to claim.

Of course, those teams were able to lay claim to being the best in a much more important position on the calendar. While many are comparing certain facets of the 2014 team to the glory years, there is still plenty of work to be done for this iteration. Until they get the chance to prove it over the long haul, however, Dallas is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the league right now.

For the second time this season, the Cowboys combined a DeMarco Murray 100+ yard rushing game with a Dez Bryant 100+ yard receiving game. The balance achieved matches Dallas’ run/pass ratio over the course of the year; a ratio that has reached a Zen-like level of level. With 35 runs and only 23 pass attempts, Dallas now runs the ball more often than they throw it over the course of the season, 51% of the time. Compare that to 65% pass in 2013, 66% pass in 2012 and 60% in 2011.

First Downs2020
3rd Down Efficiency9-14-64%5-13-38%
Net Yards423352
Passing Yards267248
Rushing Yards156104
Time Of Possession33:4926:11
Red Zone Efficiency3-3-100%2-2-100%

Tony Romo continued his masterful play of late, finishing the game 17 of 23, for 273 yards and three scores. Despite his interception, thrown when Bryant slipped, Romo accumulated his season-high passer rating of 135.7. This was Romo’s fifth straight game with a rating of at least 98 or better.

Dallas appeared to be the more talented team top to bottom, and on this day they were once again able to overcome the flaws of the day. Romo’s lone interception was immediately converted into seven points by the Giants and briefly gave the lesser team the lead. New York was able to score 21 points on the day primarily because Eli Manning had ridiculous amounts of time in the pocket. Dallas’ 10 combined QB pressures tied for their worst pass-rushing performance of the year, with the opening game against San Francisco. It was the third time on the season that Dallas failed to record a sack.

Granted, the Giants were making a concerted effort to get the ball out of Eli Manning’s hands quickly, but this is the same line that allowed eight sacks at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles the week prior. Outside of Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford, pressure is sporadically applied.

Anthony Spencer continues his roller coaster performance following microfracture knee surgery; a surgery very difficult to overcome. Last week’s exhilarating output was dampened by only recording one tackle on 29 snaps and getting no recorded pressures, per Pro Football Focus.

However, what the unit lacked in pass rush, they more than made up for it in the remaining facets of playing defense. For the second consecutive game, Dallas held their opponents to just 5 for 13 on third down conversions, a measly 38%. The Cowboys were effective and efficient in their third down opportunities, converting 9 of 14 for 64%. Dallas continues to lead the league in conversions, and that directly has an effect on the defense’s production by keeping them off the field and fresh.

Dallas forced three turnovers, though one was robbed of them by a too-early declaration of a player’s forward progress being stopped. There were several questionable calls by the officiating crew, this might have been the most egregious. Terrell McClain had met RB Andre Williams in the backfield and the force from the initial blow jarred the ball loose. Inexplicably, the play was whistled dead as the two moved backwards, and even though McClain had possession of the ball when it was blown dead, his body shielded him from the referees. Rules state that the play could not be challenged and Dallas lost a turnover.

They did, however, get credit for the other two turnovers, both strips of TE Larry Donnell. Dallas converted the first into Demarco Murray’s touchdown and a 28-14 advantage. The second one sealed the game, and gave Dallas its first positive turnover margin since the New Orleans game.

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