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How Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys Proved Us All Wrong

Though the Dallas Cowboys looked like a mediocre team entering the season, Jerry Jones has built one of football unlikeliest contenders.

Jerry Jones

If Sunday afternoon’s triumph over the Seattle Seahawks proved anything, it’s that the Dallas Cowboys are very much a contender again in 2014.

We were beginning to see that these were not the same old Cowboys early on this season, but wins over the Rams and Titans pale in comparison to knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions in their own building — where, by the way, they have been dominant — proves that the Cowboys are a team to be feared, a team to be taken seriously, and a team that will be around when the playoffs roll around.

So what has been the difference in America’s team this season?

It’s the dominant play by the offensive line, which has paved the way for the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, a legitimate MVP candidate. With success running the football comes less of an urgency to force plays in the passing game, and as a result Tony Romo has been effective managing the games and making big plays in key spots.

Defensively, it’s a cast of no-names leading the unit. A twice-retired Rolando McClain has underwent a resurgence as the third-string middle linebacker in Dallas. Brandon Carr is leading a secondary once considered the worst in the NFL. And without a true ballhawk or pass-rusher, the Cowboys have managed 10 takeaways, which is where the best teams in the league stand.

In the preseason, the Cowboys had the making of a bottom-10 team. Jerry Jones let DeMarcus Ware leave, failed to address the needy secondary, and nearly drafted Johnny Manziel to change the course of the organization. But in allowing us to criticize, question, and count out his team, he wound up piecing together a roster … the right way.

The Cowboys have drafted an offensive lineman in the first round in three of the last four drafts. The building blocks that are Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick have become stalwarts for the offensive as Jones assembled his team from the inside out. That’s where he had been swinging and missing in years past, going after top skill players and failing to address the play of his team at the line of scrimmage, where ball games are either won or lost.

With the newly built offensive line, Murray has emerged as the NFL’s best running back this season, eclipsing 100 yards in each of the team’s first six games. His success has changed the direction of the Cowboys’ offense, which once relied on Romo to be the do-all, end-all playmaker, a role he was not cut out to be in.

Murray being a dependable runner has eliminated costly turnovers, helped the team continually win the time of possession, and successfully move the sticks on a consistent basis — a formula for the NFL’s most successful teams over the years.

Getting tougher in the trenches is what the Cowboys lacked the past couple of years. Romo had suspect protection. Murray, when healthy, lacked enough running lanes. And against teams such as the Seahawks, they would be out-physicaled at the line of scrimmage.

The loss of Ware has been noticed. Dallas isn’t generating much in terms of sacks recorded, but the pass rush is still effective. Releasing Ware helped Dallas save more than $7 million. And so far, Jeremy Mincey, who cost $3 million to sign this spring, has made Ware’s absence unfelt. He leads the pack of unknowns that are collectively slowing down opposing quarterbacks instead of relying solely on Ware to be the do-it-all pass-rush extraordinaire.

And finally, there’s the impact that the reserve backers are having. McClain and Justin Durant have surfaced as legitimate starting linebackers as opposed to mere fill-ins for Sean Lee and Demarcus Lawrence. McClain is unquestionably one of the best surprises we’ve seen in the NFL this season — a former first-round pick that was cut by both Oakland and Baltimore. Durant, who is on his third team since being drafted back in 2007, has overcome numerous injuries to finally earn a starting job, and is excelling with the opportunity.

Simply put, Jones has actually done a credible job assembling this Cowboys roster, particularly by building his team from the interior out and making a more physical version of his previous teams. Jones has put together a strong offensive line, found adequate replacements for his injured stars, and is getting the most out of mediocre talent — a job that perfectly fits football’s version of Money Ball.

A .500 season isn’t what this year’s Cowboys are capable of — not when the team is so dominant in the areas that it is. Jones has built this Cowboys team the right way, and Sunday’s win over Seattle proves that this 5-1 start is no fluke.

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