Tony Romo, with his jagged peaks and valleys, will always be a centerpiece of Dallas Cowboys conversations. And DeMarco Murray has been so hot lately he could bring any water cooler to a boil.
But the biggest surprise of the NFL’s shocker team this season isn’t the quarterback or running back. It’s what’s happening on the other side of the ball.
Amazingly, almost inexplicably, Dallas has a defense.
That’s the rub-your-eyes takeaway in the wake of the Cowboys’ 30-23 victory at Seattle, just the second home defeat for the Seahawks in the Russell Wilson era. The Cowboys have won five in a row, their longest winning streak since 2007 when they finished an NFC-best 13-3.
“Rod Marinelli has just done an unbelievable job with a defense that was so maligned a year ago,” former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said by phone Monday of the team’s defensive coordinator. “That defense was atrocious last year.”
Somehow, the ragtag remainders have come together and formed a unit that’s significantly stronger than last season, a defense that has outplayed its No. 15 ranking.
“You watch them now and they fly around,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, a Fox analyst for the game at Seattle. “They give unbelievable effort. Just put on the tape and watch them play, and you never would have guessed that this was a unit that was a liability going into the season.”
Aikman, who quarterbacked Dallas to three Super Bowl victories, said in a phone interview that he had no expectation that these Cowboys “would be an overly competitive team” this season, he too putting it kindly. He thought they would do well if they simply w weren’t embarrassed in the hostile confines of CenturyLink Field.
“Everyone looked at that game as, well, can these Cowboys prove they’re a legitimate team? Can they at least stay in the game?” he said. “They got down, 10-0, in that environment and were unfazed by it. They came back and really dominated the game. It wasn’t even close. It was an unbelievable performance, and I know from experience that those types of games can carry you a long, long way. Dallas is as confident a team as there is in football right now.”