An e-mail conversation in the immediate aftermath of the Cowboys victory last night.
Jonathan Tjarks: First off -- DeMarco Murray. He is such a complete player -- speed, power, vision, can catch balls all over the field and pick up the blitz. He's like the exact opposite of Felix Jones: he's got great patience and footwork to always churn out positive yardage. That one 50-yard run where he broke out of gang tackles twice was incredible, but what was really impressive was his lack of negative runs, which just kills an offensive drive. In the second half, Dallas went TD, TD, FG, TD, all on long drives. Without Murray keeping the chains moving, that's not happening.
Willie Funk: Loved his ability to find holes along the line, he has the patience and suddenness to get through holes Felix can't even see. He also seems like he's making a concerted effort to get his pad level lower when anticipating contact which should keep him on the field longer, though you worry about him dropping his head so often. His backfield mate Romo got a lot of attention for his night, as he should. After a truly awful interception, he turned in one of the best games of his career. It was his 3rd career game with 300+ yards, 75% completion and 3 TDs. So it might not be reasonable to expect that kind of effort every time out. However, for some reason, I feel like this will be the year everything comes together for him.
Tjarks: Last season, Romo completed 66% of his passes for 4,184 yards, 31 TD's and 10 INT's. Yes, the Jets and Lions losses were terrible, but do people not remember the Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe "eras"? At one point in the telecast, Al Michaels essentially said "If you ain't first you last". Being QB of the Cowboys is like being the President -- you get all the blame and all of the credit for what goes on under your watch. To be fair, both jobs are about equally important. Look at what playing with Romo did for Laurent Robinson's career: kind of looks silly to give a guy $32 million when he can be replaced by Kevin Ogletree.
Funk: I'd like to see Romo play better in the playoffs where the windows are a little smaller and the stage is a lot bigger. That having been said, he's a better quarterback than Eli Manning. Period. The wide receiver replaceability is interesting, because outside of 6'3"+ monsters (Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, etc.), receivers are very interchangeable (see Victor Cruz, Laurent Robinson). And it seems to be about that time for Miles Austin. Whether it's the hamstrings or something else, he struggled to get separation against the Giants' 3rd string corners while Ogletree and Bryant just made them look silly. He put up good numbers, but the majority of his yards came on a broken play and a great pre-snap read by Romo where he under threw a jump ball to shield it from the safety sliding over. But as great as Dez, Romo and Ogletree were, the story of the night has to be the defense. Impressive display by Rex Ryan's unit that finally has some talent in the secondary.
Tjarks: People want to act like NFL coaches are wizards who can conjure up elite defenses with "smoke and mirrors". But at the end of the day, talent is talent. There are a lot fewer guys capable of being an elite NFL CB than there are of being an elite NFL defensive coordinator. The Cowboys invested a lot of resources in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne; since I believe in over-reacting and jumping to conclusions, that sure looks like a good decision right now. There aren't many WR combo's better than Cruz and Nicks and Dallas DB's more than held their own. Also -- nice to see Martellus Bennett scoring a TD for the first time in four years last night.
Funk: When you have a blitz happy defensive coordinator, you need guys who can cover -- i.e. guys not named Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins. I'm with you on calling the investment a good one, too soon be damned. You also saw Bruce Carter playing well after dealing with a knee issue all of last season. He and Lee make an exciting combination in the middle. But back to the offense briefly, the line really did a pretty decent job creating holes for Murray and protecting Romo. They let some pressure get to Romo, but it's one of the better defensive lines in football, and I really liked seeing Romo get out of the pocket. He even showed a willingness to run for yards, a skill I thought he seriously underutilized last year. All in all, I'm ready to call the Cowboys at least a playoff team -- I'll wait 'til next week to pencil them into the Super Bowl.
Tjarks: Way ahead of you on the bandwagon: I picked Dallas to win the Super Bowl and beat the Giants 24-20 tonight. On Sportscenter, Stuart Scott said that "everyone outside of the state of Texas" was shocked by the result. Well, everyone needs to step their football knowledge up then, cuz this is serious business down here. Carter fell in the draft for the same reason that Lee did -- a college injury. That's three (along with Murray) that may have landed in the Cowboys lap the same way. Can't talk about the defense without mentioning DeMarcus Ware. Second fastest player (behind only Bruce Smith) to get to 100 sacks. He might go down as the best OLB of all-time ... he's like Lawrence Taylor w/o the drug problem.
Funk: You really can't say enough about what DeMarcus Ware has meant to the Cowboys. From a potential tweener when he was drafted to the dominant pass rusher of his era, I can't help but feel he's been underappreciated on the national level; a true great. As far as the injury-concern draft picks the 'Boys have on the roster, it's a seriously risky drafting philosophy, but a quick way to get a potential bargain. But you always have the fear they're one hit away from having their careers totally compromised. And we always say the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl, but one win in, I'm starting to believe it. Wonder what those odds are looking like after tonight ...