1. I think we spend so much time talking about the three first-round picks on the Cowboys' offensive line that we lose sight of how much left guard Ron Leary has improved since making the team as an undrafted free agent and spending much of his rookie season on the practice squad.
He did an excellent job, for the most part, in his battles against J.J. Watt. He played with power and toughness. He’s a big part of the offensive line success and he’s only 23.
2. I think it’s amazing that Rolando McClain has become the unquestioned leader of the Cowboys’ defense, considering he didn’t really join the team until training camp.
He brings a physical nature to the defense we haven’t seen in years. When he hits people, he knocks them backward. And at 6-foot-4 with long legs, he covers a lot more space than you think, which is why he can be effective in pass coverage.
He says he really enjoys playing with this group of players and the Cowboys. I would bet it’s because he finds the structure under Jason Garrett and the culture Garrett is creating much like the structure and culture he had at Alabama under Nick Saban.
3. I think the Cowboys’ defense is really starting to understand how to play the Tampa 2 scheme under Rod Marinelli.
These guys are flying to the ball. When an opposing receiver catches the ball, there are four to five defenders on him immediately. Maximum effort won’t compensate totally for talent deficiencies, but it can hide a lot of flaws.
This defense is playing as hard as it can, and Marinelli is getting the unit to maximize its potential. With the offense this team has, the Cowboys’ defense doesn’t have to be great for the team to win. It can be average. Right now, it's a little better than that.
KEY STAT: 15
The Cowboys rank last in the NFL in creating negative plays with only 15 so far -- and it’s not just because they have only five sacks.
Dallas has dropped opposing runners for losses just 10 times in 117 carries. This is not good for a defense that’s based on having a disruptive line that wreaks havoc and forces offenses into long-yardage situations on second and third downs, at which point the Tampa 2 scheme is at its best because it takes away the deep ball and forces teams to throw underneath.
If the Cowboys can create more negative plays, you’ll see this defense take another step forward.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tyrone Crawford
For some guys, like Crawford, it takes the Cowboys a while to figure out how to maximize their talent.
Now that Dallas understands he fits much better at defensive tackle than defensive end, you’re going to see him making much more of an impact. Henry Melton's groin and hamstring injuries provided an opportunity to play tackle and Crawford has responded well.
He has good pass-rushing moves for a defensive tackle and average moves for a defensive end. He can also play with power, and his average quickness at end translates to good quickness at tackle.
This is a good find for the Cowboys because it means they don’t have to rush Melton back into a larger role. Melton has played 24 and 20 snaps the past two weeks, while Crawford played 42 and 45 snaps.