Are the 2014 Dallas Cowboys the best team in the NFL?
The story so far...
With the departure of DeMarcus Ware, and a pre-season injury to inside linebacker, Sean Lee, many experts predicted the Dallas Cowboys defense was going to be terrible.
Aging linemen, overrated corners, Ro' McClain?! EW...
And then on offense? You had Tony Romo returning from surgery, making many of us wonder if he'd be able to throw those clutch interceptions we've come to love so dearly.
And the first game of the 2014 season lived up to expectations.
The defense couldn't slow Colin Kaepernick down or even contain the ageless Anquan Boldin, Dez Bryant only caught four passes, barely getting over fifty yards, and Romo threw three interceptions.
It looked like it was going to be a long season for "America's Team"
The week after that, they would blow out the Tennessee Titans.
I mean, completely dismantle the Titans in all phases. They forced a fumble and snagged two interceptions while Tony Romo kept his passing numbers down but also avoided turning the ball over.
But it was just Tennessee, right? Who cares about the Titans.
In week three, something happened that didn't boost anybody's confidence in the Cowboys.
They were down 21 points...
To the St. Louis Rams.
Not Kurt Warner's Rams, not Deacon Jones' Los Rams...
Austin Davis' Rams.
The Austin Davis who threw for 3 TDs and 327 yards in only his second career start.
An uncharacteristically clutch Tony Romo and a couple of big interceptions helped the Boys overcome the deficit and win the game, but many people attributed the win to luck and foretold the collapse of Jerry's Boys.
The next week they hosted the offensive juggernaut of the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints.
And all of the haters were waiting patiently with their forks, desperate to stick a fork in the Cowboys.
As in, by three touchdowns.
Romo started to come out of his shell, was able to toss 262 yards and 3 TDs, and the Saints never had a prayer.
But you know, the Saints can't win on the road, so...
It wasn't a Dallas victory as much as a Drew Brees loss.
And an overtime win over the Houston Texans the following week was enough to support that theory as well.
And everyone was ready for the wheels to come off last week when the Cowboys traveled to Seattle to face the best secondary in the NFL surrounded by the toughest home field advantage in all of sports.
Surely the Cowboys would be embarrassed by the red hot Russell Wilson and his outspoken teammate, Richard Sherman.
And they won again.
Despite playing in a stadium that's allowed one loss in the last three years, the Cowboys were able to march into the den of the champions and come away victorious.
The Cowboys defense made Russell Wilson a non-factor, completely shut down Marshawn Lynch and the run game, as well as containing the explosive returner (now NYJ), Percy Harvin.
Tony Romo went for 250 yards and 2 TDs against the Legion of Boom, and the game wasn't as close as the scoreboard would lead you to believe.
Now the Cowboys are perched at 6-1 in one of the worst division in the NFL, with only the Eagles standing between them and their first NFC East championship since 2009.
How are they doing it?
It's a valid question.
It's not like there was a ton of roster overhaul between last year and now, yet this team is mere weeks from passing their win total from last year.
There wasn't a big coaching change, though many, myself included, felt there should have been.
I don't think the doctors put some kind of clutch enhancer in Romo's lower back when they were operating on him.
What is it that has the chumps looking like future champs?
It's actually hilariously simple.
I mean, simplicity so hilariously simple that I can't even think of a way to dress it up.
They're feeding the ball to DeMarco Murray.
Despite whatever their psychopathic owner says, the Cowboys made one of the most underrated moves in the draft by selecting offensive lineman, Zack Martin with the 16th pick in the first round.
With Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Jeremy Parnell, and Travis Frederick, Martin has transformed the Cowboys from a team that couldn't protect Tony Romo to a team that is punishing front sevens all over the NFL.
Behind that line, the Cowboys have been giving defenses more DeMarco Murray than they can handle.
So far in 2014, the fourth year runningback has done something he hasn't seemed to be capable of doing in his career to this point, and that's staying healthy.
Murray has racked up an astounding 785 yards and 6 TDs in the first seven games of the season, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
While the yards and the TDs are greatly appreciated by the Cowboys, that's not even his greatest contribution to the team.
Teams can't sit back in safe coverages and attack the receivers anymore. Opposing defenses can't afford to break out the nickle and dime defenses against the talented pass-catchers of the Cowboys like they have been for years.
This takes a load of pressure off of Tony Romo.
Less pressure means he can check down more often and fewer forced passes.
You're taking plays that would've been Tony Romo interceptions and turning them into at the very worst, a gain of a couple yards.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.
Not only is the resurgence of the run game helping the passing game, but it's kept the Cowboys defense off the field.
It doesn't matter how good or bad your defense is, they're not giving up any points if they're off the field.
To sum it up.
Making DeMarco Murray the focus of the offense has given the Cowboys long, fruitful drives, which are exhausting the opposing defenses, and keeping the ball away from opposing corners.
So with two of the toughest teams out of the way, and a classic but effective strategy on offense, are the Cowboys the best team in the NFL?
They're not the best team in the NFL.
Ironically, the reason that I don't believe they're the best team in the NFL is the same reason that they're even being considered.
Murray has carried the ball 159 times through 7 games...
That's almost 27 carries per game.
For an injury prone guy to being projected to carry the ball well over 400 times?
It makes me uneasy.
Especially so early in the year, where more teams are inclined to take advantage of the weather and throw the ball.
Here's why I'm worried.
The Cowboys will continue to lean on Murray throughout the year and it will continue to be successful, until the wear and tear starts to take hold. It might be an injury, or he might just run out of gas, but as Murray approaches the NFL record for rushing attempts in a season, his production will start to decline.
As Murray becomes less and less effective, Romo will have to put more passes in the air and the defense will be exposed.
It's rough, but I think the eventual decline of Murray will lead to the Cowboys making a swift exit from the post-season.
Having said that, they are an exciting team with a ton of talent, and I hope I'm wrong. I'd like to see Romo get that elusive championship and shake the shadows of Aikman and Staubach off.