Big things in big D

BY: CHRIS MAHER

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A return to identifying itself as America’s Team. That is exactly what the Dallas Cowboys are doing so far in this 2014 campaign. The 6-1 NFC-best club is off to its best start since 2007 mainly in part to a solid rushing attack led by MVP candidate Demarco Murray. This ground game currently is the NFL’s best at nearly 160 yards per game and Murray set an NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard performance in a Week 7 victory over the division-rival New York Giants.

What could be paramount for all of the success of the fourth year back out of Oklahoma is some of the drafting done. Dallas spent its first-round selections in each of the last three years on offensive linemen: Tyron Smith out of USC, Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin and Zack Martin from Notre Dame. This trio of Cowboy linemen draws some comparison to the championship teams of the 1990s, not to mention a good tight end combination of Jason Witten and second-year player Gavin Escobar out of San Diego State University.

Collectively, it paved the way for Murray, who averages nearly five yards per carry. What may have been a concern early on is the defense. The Cowboys have forced 12 takeaways which is good for a tie for fifth in the NFL, despite losing Sean Lee to injury and DeMarcus Ware to free agency, two of its best tacklers and pass rushers.

This fast start may be a breath of fresh air for the Dallas faithful, but what is not is the recent history of the club. Each of the last three seasons ended with the Cowboys missing out on a playoff spot by virtue of losing on the final Sunday of the season.

Back in 2007, when the Cowboys had their last great start, it dropped the final two games of the season and the divisional playoff game at home to the Super-Bowl Champion Giants, a team that it beat twice that year as well.  This year’s team has had the benefit of playing the Titans and the Rams early on, however wins over New Orleans and Seattle thrusted it into serious consideration as one of the top teams in the NFC.

The road gets a little bit tougher for the Cowboys as it will host another longtime-division rival in the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football followed by a date with another surprise team, the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.