Weren't the Cowboys supposed to be terrible?
College Contributor Network
Heading into this season, the expectations for the Dallas Cowboys were apocalyptic. The defense wouldn't be able to stop a high school team, Tony Romo would show fans (and Jerry Jones) that the team should have drafted Johnny Manziel and Jason Garrett would be one of the first coaches fired. Through the first five weeks of the season, the Cowboys (4-1) have shut up a lot of people.
The big story is fourth-year running back DeMarco Murray. Murray's 670 rushing yards lead the NFL by more than 200 yards and he's averaging over five yards a pop while doing it.
By any measure, this is a breakout season for the former third-rounder out of Oklahoma, but it should hardly come as a surprise. Murray always had the talent, last season he rushed for 1,121 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, but injuries have stopped him from being regarded as one of the league's best. Since 2012, Murray has missed eight games due to injury, including a sprained MCL last season that sidelined him for two games.
With a clean bill of health, Dallas has trusted Murray with the lion's share of the carries. With 130 rushing attempts to his name so far this season, Murray has nearly 40 more carries than the next closest player, Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy (94). As a result, Murray became the first player since O.J. Simpson in 1975 to rush for at least 100 yards in the first five games in a season.
Of course, no one is perfect. Murray has put the ball on the ground four times this year already and all four have been picked up by the other team. Nobody likes a running back with a fumbling problem, but when he's on pace to rush for over 2,100 yards some issues can be overlooked. Those Murray fumbles would also look worse if the Cowboys defense was as bad as advertised.
Last season, Dallas gave up the most yards in the NFL and 27 points a game. The pass rush came up with only 34 sacks, tied for the sixth-worst mark in the league, and the secondary allowed 33 passing touchdowns, tied with the Raiders for the second-worst mark. Add in a DeMarcus Ware departure to Denver in the offseason and there wasn't much optimism about this unit.
But give credit where credit is due, this defense has been, well, average at best. That doesn't sound like a reason to celebrate but given where expectations were heading into the season it's a revelation. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has his defense overachieving. The entire starting unit has a combined one Pro Bowl appearance, belonging to defensive tackle Henry Melton.
Rolando McClain, a former first round pick in 2010, who has been arrested multiple times and almost retired after last season, has found a second wind as the starting middle linebacker. McClain is tied for second on the team with 23 combined tackles, and also has a sack and forced fumble along with an unbelievable interception of Jake Locker in Week 2.
There have been low points for this defense as well however, namely in Week 3 when it made Austin Davis, in just his second professional start, look like Drew Brees. But the very next week, the Cowboys forced three turnovers from Brees and the Saints in a 21-point thumping.
Of course, the first player that always comes up when talking about the Cowboys is Tony Romo. Romo hasn't gotten off to a blazing start, but he's not throwing away games like every media and Twitter pundit has come to expect of him.
Luckily for Romo, and Murray, the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football. Opposing defenses have sacked Romo just nine times, which is on pace for the fewest times he has been sacked in a full 16-game season since 2007. Because of this protection, Romo is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and trails only Philip Rivers in completion percentage for quarterbacks with a minimum of 100 attempts.
The Cowboys have won four games in a row, and it's due in large part to Romo. During that streak, he has thrown for eight touchdowns against two interceptions and has an average quarterback rating of over 110. And yes, it really helps when he has a receiver that can make this catch.
More good news for the Cowboys? After a date with the Seahawks in Seattle, they face a winnable stretch of three straight home games against the Giants, Redskins, and Cardinals, then a road game against Jacksonville before the bye week.
By Week 11, the Dallas Cowboys could very well have won seven or eight games already. That will help Jerry Jones get over not drafting Johnny Football, right?
Hunter Kossodo is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is a rabid supporter of Boston sports having lived there for most of his life. Follow him on Twitter: @HKossodo